Since I reported last week that we were trying to arrange a debate between State Farm and Lemonade following the State Farm ad dismissing chatbots such as those used by Lemonade, I'm happy to say we've made some progress. We've penciled in a date around Dec. 6 or 7, when so many of us will be in New York City for the annual EY Insurance Executive Forum. Daniel Schreiber, the CEO of Lemonade, has accepted, while making clear that he's not interested in any sort of contentious debate or gotcha moment. He's hoping for a discussion that respectfully explores how today's technology does—and does not—enhance interactions with customers. We're still working with State Farm to see who, if anyone, the company will send to the conversation. In any case, we will take on the topic in a face-to-face conversation that will be webcast and available to all of you. In the meantime, I called my go-to person on chatbots, Donna Peeples, president and global head of insurance at Pypestream, which has staked out a leading position on the technology over the past few years. Her take:
"It’s not one or the other [bots or people]. It's everything. To say it's all going to be human interfaces isn't right. To say it'll all be automated isn't right, either. It's like saying one size fits all, when one size fits one.
"I mean, people are still using fax machines."
She says there's lots of low-hanging fruit that chatbots can grab, especially in customer service. First notice of loss is the biggest at the moment for Pypestream. The company also automates lots of updates on the status of claims, including letting customers know that their file isn't complete and that they need to take some sort of action. For some clients, Pypestream is automating 40,000 interactions per week, reducing costs while making customers' lives a bit simpler.
To the State Farm ad's point about chatbots' inability to show compassion, she says:
"Chatbots should never pretend to be human. That's a design error. Empathy, common sense, morality, imagination, creativity are all things that people will still have to do. Even the best automation isn’t ready for those things."
Sounds about right to me. But stay tuned.