Tag Archives: chatbot

How to Keep Humanity in Online Sales

It’s no secret that the small business insurance industry is creeping online, representing the start of an insurtech revolution. More insurers are realizing that customers are getting comfortable buying directly from them — and aren’t shy about asking for specific products. There is a huge opportunity for insurers making the jump online, but I would argue that it’s not going to be the first online insurance brokerage that wins…

It’s the one that won’t lose its humanity in the face of the digitalization.

Here’s a deeper look at how online insurers can provide a more comfortable and human experience for their customers:

Follow the Golden Rule

It’s a timeless piece of advice, and for good reason: If you wouldn’t accept a certain level of treatment as a customer, you shouldn’t treat your own customers that way.

Think about every part of your customers’ journey and how your brand interacts with them at key touchpoints. For example, if they call with questions about their policy, are they able to speak with an adviser immediately, or are they on hold for several minutes? Is your site copy easy to understand, or would it take an insurance agent to decipher what you’re trying to say?

See also: 5 Digital Predictions for Agents in 2019  

Analyzing your customer journey with this empathetic lens can help you better understand opportunities for a more human touch.

Don’t make it complicated

It’s a huge understatement to say that the insurance industry can be complicated. That’s why, as insurers move to the online world, it’s important to make it easy for customers to get what they need. Don’t overcomplicate things for them or add information that they really don’t need to know. A large number of small business owners are probably shopping online for insurance before or after putting in a full day’s work; they just want what they need, and that’s it. Your digital experience is the face of the company, so make sure it provides a smooth process.

Leave industry jargon at the door

Be smart about what you’re presenting to the customer because, as I mentioned in my last point, our industry is overwhelming. Creating a more humanizing digital experience involves leaving behind the jargon and framing the conversation in a way that’s easier for the customer to understand.

Deliver on your promises

A lot of insurtech companies are jumping on chatbots as a platform for engaging with customers. But bots can quickly lead to a negative brand experience if you don’t have the logistics to support chats. Recently, I left a query on a brand’s chatbot and was told that I would get an answer about three hours later (already unacceptable). Seven hours later, I got a response — but the answer didn’t even relate back to my question. Needless to say, the frustrating experience hurt my opinion of that brand.

See also: Best of Both Worlds: Humans and Tech  

If you’ve promised your customers something – like support or an easy claims experience – you need to deliver on your promise. It’s as simple as that.

Insurmi’s Leslie Pico

Leslie Pico, Vp of Carrier Engagements for Insurmi, talks about the companies’ digital customer engagement technology for insurers and how it delivers better communication tools and data to enhance the customer experience.


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Emerging Technology in Personal Lines

Personal lines insurers are investigating emerging technologies and developing strategies and plans related to individual new technologies. Technology is advancing so rapidly that it is even difficult to define what should be considered an emerging technology. For the past several years, SMA has been tracking 13 technologies that many consider to be emerging. These include technologies such as autonomous vehicles, AI, wearables and the Internet of Things. In our recent research, five of these technologies have emerged as “power players” for personal lines insurers, based on the level of insurer activity and the potential for transformation. The specific plans by insurers for these and other technologies are detailed in the SMA report, Emerging Tech in Personal Lines: Broad Implications, Significant Activity.

See also: 2018’s Top Projects in Personal Lines  

Some big themes for emerging tech in personal lines stand out:

  • Artificial Intelligence dominates. AI is often a misunderstood and misused term. However, when specific technologies that are part of the AI family are evaluated, much activity is underway – by insurers, insurtech startups and mature tech vendors. Chatbots, robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, natural language processing (NLP) and others are the subjects of many strategies, pilots and implementations.
  • The Autonomous Vehicle frenzy is cooling.There is still an acute awareness of the potential of autonomous vehicles to dramatically alter the private passenger auto insurance market. But there is also the realization that, despite the hype, the transition is likely to be a long one, and the big implications for insurers are probably 10 or more years out.
  • The IoT is going mainstream. Discussions continue about the transformational potential of the IoT for all lines of business. But rather than just talking about the possibilities, there is now a great deal of partnering, piloting and live implementation underway. We are still in the early stages of incorporating the IoT into strategies and insurance products and services, but their use is becoming more widespread every day.
  • UI Options are dramatically expanding. The many new ways to interact with prospects, policyholders, agents, claimants and others should now be considered in omni-channel plans. Messaging platforms, voice, chatbots and more are becoming preferred ways to communicate for certain customer segments.

See also: Insurtech and Personal Lines  

Certainly, other trends and much emerging tech activity are happening outside these main themes. Wearables, new payment technologies, drones, blockchain and other technologies are being incorporated into strategies, pilots and investment plans. The next few years promise to be quite exciting as advancing technologies spark more innovation in the industry.

When Incumbents Downplay Disruption…

An unmanned car driven by a search engine company? We’ve seen that movie. It ends with robots harvesting our bodies for energy.

That is a line from a 2011 Chrysler car commercial mocking Google’s self-driving car project.

Another Chrysler commercial was even blunter: “Robots can take our food, our clothes and our homes. But, they will never take our cars.”

Chrysler’s early mocking of Google’s efforts exemplifies the fact that few cling to the status quo tighter than the companies that best understand it and have the most stake in preserving it. It is human nature to value what one does well and look askance at innovations that challenge the assumptions underlying current success. Sprinkle in some predictably irrational wishful thinking and you have the mindset that too quickly dismisses potentially dangerous disruptions.

Ironically, seven years later, those Google “robots” are now mostly driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Those robots have taken Chrysler’s cars and driven more than 10 million miles. Chrysler benefits by selling cars to Waymo, the spinoff from that Google project, but not nearly as much as it might have from building the robots themselves. Waymo is valued at $175 billion, about five times Chrysler’s market value.

History brims with other examples.

When Alexander Graham Bell offered to sell his telephone patents to Western Union, the committee evaluating the deal concluded:

Messrs. Hubbard and Bell want to install one of their ‘telephone devices’ in every city. The idea is idiotic on the face of it… This device is inherently of no use to us. We do not recommend its purchase.

Ken Olsen, who disrupted IBM’s mainframe dominance with his DEC minicomputers, mocked the usefulness of personal computers in their early days. He declared, “The personal computer will fall flat on its face in business.” Olsen was very wrong, and DEC would eventually be sold to Compaq Computer, a personal computer maker, for a fraction of its peak value.

See also: Why AI IS All It’s Cracked Up to Be  

Steve Ballmer’s initial ridicule of Apple’s iPhone is also legendary, though the words of the then-CEO of Microsoft were mild compared with the disdain on his face when asked to comment on the iPhone launch.

Years later, after he retired, Ballmer insisted that he was right about the iPhone in the context of mobile phones at the time. What he missed, he admitted, was that the strict separation of hardware, operating system and applications that drove Microsoft’s success in PCs wasn’t going to reproduce itself on mobile phones. Ballmer also didn’t recognize the power of the business model innovation that allowed the iPhone’s high cost to be built into monthly cell phone bills and to be subsidized by mobile operators. (Jump to the 4:00 mark.)

The biggest challenge for successful business executives—like Ballmer, Olsen and those at Western Union—when confronted with potentially disruptive innovations is to think deeply about potential strategic shifts, rather than simply mock innovations for violating current assumptions.

Another perhaps soon-to-be classic example is unfolding at State Farm Insurance.

State Farm released an TV ad that is a thinly veiled attack on Lemonade, a well-funded insurtech startup. Lemonade makes wide use of AI-based chatbots for customer service. State Farm, instead, prides itself on its host of human agents. In the ad, a State Farm agent says:

The budget insurance companies are building these cheap, knockoff robots to compete with us… These bots don’t have the compassion of a real State Farm agent.

As I’ve previously written, AI is one of six information technology trends that is reshaping every information-intensive industry, including insurance. In fact, as I recently told a group of insurance executives, I believe insurance will probably change more in the next 10 to 15 years than it has in the last 300.

See also: Lemonade Really Does Have a Big Heart  

That doesn’t mean that Lemonade’s use of chatbots for customer service will destroy State Farm. But, as State Farm should know, customer-service chatbots are only one of numerous innovations that Lemonade is bringing to the game. As several McKinsey consultants point out, AI-related technologies are driving “seismic tech-driven shifts” in a number of different aspects of insurance. Lemonade has also adopted a mobile-first strategy and is applying behavioral economics to drive other business model innovations.

State Farm executives need to get beyond the mocking and think deeply about how emerging innovations might disrupt their strategic assumptions.

One way to do so is being offered at InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, where ITL editor-in-chief and industry thought leader Paul Carroll has offered a “State Farm Lemonade Throw Down.” Carroll offers to host an online debate between the two firms’ CEOs about how quickly AI technology should be integrated into interactions with customers.

Lemonade’s CEO, Daniel Schreiber, has accepted. I hope Michael Tipsord, State Farm’s CEO, will accept, as well.

Better for Mr. Tipsord to face the question now, while there is ample time to still out-innovate Lemonade and other startups, than to be left to reflect on what went wrong years later, as Steve Ballmer had to do with the iPhone.

And the Winner Is…Artificial Intelligence!

Artificial intelligence stands out as one of the hottest technologies in the insurance industry in 2018. We are seeing more insurers identifying use cases, partnering and investing in AI. 85% of insurers are investing time, money and effort into exploring the AI family of technologies. The focus is not so much on the technology itself as on the business challenges AI is addressing.

  • For companies looking to improve internal efficiency, AI can assist through machine learning.
  • For those working to create a dynamic and collaborative customer experience, AI can assist with natural language processing and chatbots.
  • For those seeking an edge in data and analytics, AI can help to gain insights from images with the help of machine learning.

Through our annual SMA Innovation in Action Awards program, we hear many success stories from insurers throughout the industry that are innovating for advantage. AI was a key technology among this year’s submissions. The near-ubiquity of AI was even more obvious among this year’s insurer and solution provider winners, many of whom are leveraging some type of AI to solve widely variant business problems. They have provided some excellent use cases of how insurers are applying AI and how it is helping them to succeed.

Two AI technologies, machine learning and natural language processing, fuel Hi Marley’s intelligent conversational platform, which West Bend Mutual Insurance piloted in claims with outstanding results. The Marley chatbot lets West Bend’s customers text back and forth to receive updates, ask and answer questions and submit photos. Its use of SMS messaging means that communication can be asynchronous and done on a customer’s own schedule, eliminating endless rounds of phone tag.

  • Natural language processing allows Marley to communicate with customers in plain English – both to understand their needs and to respond in a way that they will understand.
  • Machine learning enables Marley to continue to improve. The platform analyzes every conversation and uses it to shape how Marley responds to specific requests, refining its insurance-specific expertise for future interactions.

See also: Strategist’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence  

Natural language processing is also a critical tool for Cake Insure, a digital workers’ comp MGA with a focus on making the quoting experience easier for direct customers. One of the hurdles that would-be customers had to overcome in obtaining workers’ comp coverage was answering a multitude of questions regarding very specific information that a layperson is unlikely to know about or understand.

  • NAIC codes, for example, are required for every workers’ comp policy, but the average small business owner would be baffled if asked about them. Cake circumvents this by asking usera to type in descriptions of their companies in their own words. Natural language processing parses this plain-language description and searches for its approximate match in the NAIC data sets. This back-end process occurs without the user’s awareness and without exposing potentially confusing content.
  • As with Hi Marley’s chatbot functionality, natural language processing is paired with machine learning to improve its ability to respond to specific phrases and content.

Machine learning can also be deployed in conjunction with other AI technologies. Image analysis and computer vision are combined with machine learning in Cape Analytics’ solution, which can automatically identify properties seen in geospatial imagery and extract property attributes relevant to insurers. The result is a continually updated database of property attributes like roof condition and geometry, building footprint and nearby hazards.

  • Computer vision helps turn the unstructured data in photos and videos from drones, satellite and aerial imagery into structured data.
  • Machine learning allows the solution to train itself on how to do that more effectively, as well as higher-level analysis like developing a risk condition score for roofs.

We are only scratching the surface of how AI can be applied across the value chain. The incredible variety of AI’s potential applications in insurance is difficult to overstate. QBE knows that well: It won a company-wide SMA Innovation in Action Award for wide-ranging activities in emerging technologies and partnerships with insurtech startups, but AI in general, and machine learning specifically, are their top priorities. In addition to partnering with dozens of insurtechs, QBE has also pushed itself to deploy each insurtech’s technology somewhere within its business – meaning QBE has dozens of different creative AI applications in play at once. For example, in partnership with HyperScience, QBE is improving data capture from paper documents through machine learning and computer vision.

These winners’ stories demonstrate the myriad ways that insurers are applying AI to improve business operations. Notably, its deployment helps them to significantly improve the customer experience – or, in the case of data capture, the internal employee experience. The need for this kind of seamless customer experience in the digital world cannot be overemphasized. AI, which struck many as a science-fictional concept, has proven its real-world worth by enabling insurers to transform their customer journeys and experience.

With full-scale implementations popping up across the insurance industry, as well as the pilots and limited rollouts that we have seen in previous years, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are seeing only the very tip of the iceberg in terms of how AI can transform the business of insurance. Applications of more advanced and advancing AI technologies, as well as the combination of AI with emerging technologies such as drones, new user interaction technologies, autonomous vehicles and IoT, are unexplored territory that is bright with promise.

See also: 3 Steps to Demystify Artificial Intelligence  

This much is clear: AI will change the face of the insurance industry. In fact, it’s already happening.

For more information on the SMA Innovation in Action Awards program and this year’s winners, please click here.

To download a free copy of SMA’s white paper AI in P&C Insurance: Pragmatic Approaches for Today, Promise for Tomorrow, please click here.