Customer service is rapidly shifting to self-service, digital, and mobile, with the next wave including chatbots, natural language processing, and AI/machine learning. This new era of customer service promises to be more efficient, more effective, and even fun in some cases. And from a customer perspective, the opportunity to save time and ensure accuracy is a big benefit. For insurers, the potential to optimize resources and reduce expenses is a major driver of activity in this area. However, before we rush headlong into these new customer service options, it might be beneficial to take a look at the reality of technology-based customer interactions today.
Most of us have already benefited from digital, mobile self-service, but have also been victims of tech gone wrong. At a recent panel discussion at the SMA Summit, Helen Thompson from ESRI noted the frustration we have all experienced in dealing with interactive voice response systems (IVR), as we struggle to work through the options tree and ultimately end up shouting at the phone “REPRESENTATIVE” in a vain attempt to connect to a Live Human.
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Another recent encounter I had with self-service is painfully demonstrative. My plan to cancel a subscription for an online magazine that cost about $8 per month took 3 phone calls, the filling out of two web forms, and waiting for a chat session that never happened. In the end, my only recourse (suggested by the one real person I talked to) was to block the transaction through my credit card company. What should have been a simple cancellation turned into a 45-minute ordeal.
I could go on citing examples, like my car’s Bluetooth that continuously fails to recognize simple, familiar names when I request it to dial and, instead, launches calls to random individuals. I’m certain that you can think of your own experiences and interactions via chat sessions, IVR, or online web forms that were less than satisfactory.
What does this mean for insurance customer service? I believe there are two primary implications for our industry. First, there will be a role for humans for a long time, whether it is for agents, contact center representatives, field adjusters, or other professionals. This is not to suggest that insurers and insurance professionals should be complacent. On the contrary, it is vital that new technology options are understood and adopted to augment human capabilities. The agent, adjuster, and contact center rep of the future will look very different than they do today.
Second, insurers must move toward a true omni-channel environment. There will be multiple ways to communicate with agents, prospects, and policyholders, including many digital and human interaction options. The challenge (and opportunity) is to enable the smooth transfer of those interactions and the related information between the different channels in real time, so that the customer is provided with choice, and the use of digital and human capabilities can be optimized.
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Right now, there appears to be a dichotomy with a wide gulf between the potential and the reality of automated customer service. But the shortcomings of the technology today should not result in insurers ignoring the potential. The best way to create an omni-channel environment that offers and delivers customer service that suits every customer is to move forward now.
One final note – great customer service will always be a function of culture. Whether an insurer is delivering customer service through bots or people, through digital means or a variety of human interactions, the secret sauce behind superior customer service will be the commitment to customers and a passion for excellence.