Tag Archives: Donna Peeples

5 Key Customer Experience Trends

2017 is going to be a transformative year in many ways but none more so than in the business-consumer relationship. The way in which these two entities connect and interact is undergoing a massive overhaul. Most importantly, the communication now flows both ways. The days of a one-way monologue, at the customer, are over. Instead, there must be a real-time, two-way dialogue with the customer.

Consumers have an abundance of channels at their disposal and can effortlessly communicate with brands – or about brands — like never before. As such, they have more control over how brands communicate and interact with them. They’re empowered, and this changes how businesses approach their customer experience. So, in the spirit of the New Year, here are my top five customer experience predictions and trends for 2017.

1. Brands learn what it means to be conversational

The challenge for brands is that the model for communicating is shifting. It’s moved away from a model where people adapt to computers and apps, to one where the computer must listen, learn, interpret and ultimately anticipate the person’s demands and deliver the desired outcome. According to Forrester Research, investment in artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to triple in 2017. The new conversations will optimize natural language interaction by both text and voice with digital systems powered by artificial intelligence. Chatbots will become less assistants and more advisers. We’ve moved away from pure transaction-based customer relationships. Now, we’re in the age of the interactive customer relationship — those built over time, based on meaningful two-way communication between a brand and the consumer.

The premise of the conversation will be central to customer experience success in 2017. Customer interactions will be focused on engaging interactions that drive value for both businesses and customers.

See also: How to Bottle Great Customer Experience  

2. Brands get text-savvy

If messaging is the new channel for customer communication, brands need to learn the lingo to connect with consumers in a meaningful way. Think about it: Data has become the No. 1 use of our smart phones, surpassing telephony. Optimizing this channel extends beyond the premise of what tone a brand uses to engage with users or if emojis align with their brand, and really zeroes in on mobile messaging best practices. Messaging is the No.1 communication method for people to talk to each other.

Here’s a newsflash: Customers are people, too! If brands can’t replicate the same peer-to-peer messaging experience — i.e. short, to-the-point exchanges that respect the consumer’s time — then they’ll likely miss the opportunity to strengthen and capitalize on the interaction. Vibes recently released The Transactional Messaging Consumer Report, which indicated that 70% of customers prefer service-based messages be sent to their mobile phone. On top of that, messaging boasts a 99% open rate. To meet customers in the place where they want to do business, brands must develop strategies that deliver transactional messages that create real value across channels in real time.

3. “Silver-surfers” re-emerge as key target demographic

Just about every brand has its sights set on connecting with millennials. This comes as little surprise — the millennial generation is a massive demographic. They’re growing quickly into their peak consumption years. But amid all the fanfare around millennials, it’s important not to lose sight of the buying power and might of the more mature consumer. Take the baby boomers as an example; despite the fact that they’re no longer the largest U.S. demographic, they still represent a huge chunk of the U.S. population — more than 74.9 million people, in fact (the millennial population is only a touch larger at 75.9 million). But what’s interesting about the baby boomers is that they have the disposable income to spend on what they want — something many millennials can’t do, thanks to the rising cost of living. According to a recent article in BloombergTechnology, millennials will spend more than $200 billion annually beginning in this year and $10 trillion during their lifetimes. But the spending power of baby boomers is predicted to be much higher, with estimates at $15 trillion worldwide by the end of 2019.

And the baby boomer population has a huge potential for growth in the mobile sector. While they may not have grown up as digital natives, they’re making up for lost ground and using their mobile devices and technology more than ever. This means brands need to pay special attention to ensuring their digital and mobile strategies align with the needs of seasoned consumers, in addition to millennials.

4. Big data gets bigger

Remember the big buzz about big data? I’m predicting that big data will get even bigger in 2017! We’ve been furiously collecting raw data and information but have not yet optimized for better business results and enhanced customer interactions. We’ve reached the point where it’s time to put the massive amounts and wide varieties of data to work. We will use the combined power of IoT, a cloud environment and sensors serving up data, increasing the variety, volume and velocity of information — both structured and unstructured — to more evenly distribute the availability. According to Statista, in 2017 the global consumer internet traffic in web, email, instant messaging and other data traffic use, excluding file-sharing, is projected to reach 11,061 petabytes per month.

In the past, we’ve largely forecast and designed based on historical data; we now have expansive access to vast amounts of data in real time that can be used in a predictive way. For large enterprises, swimming in a sea of aggregates and hiding behind the law of large numbers where you can’t see the tree for the forest is no longer a smart strategy. Not only do customers demand personalization, but understanding and leveraging more discrete segmentation can improve processes, product development, service design and delivery strategies that increase profitability for the company.

5. Back to the basics

Predictions pieces always offer up new exciting technologies for companies to take advantage of. But, merely keeping up with the pace of global change and technology advances is overwhelming for many. This is why I think we’ll start to see companies opting to spend some of their limited resources and time toward refocusing on the fundamentals. After all, technology for technology’s sake is never a good idea. And getting the right foundation in place is a prerequisite to the introduction of new technology. Much of what is lauded as the next big thing is often not ready for prime-time — especially in highly regulated environments. Virtual reality is one example that comes to mind. Some time in the future, I’m sure we’ll see immersive customer experiences in the mainstream, but, for now, the ideal solution may be something as simple as introducing a pilot program or creating an innovation lab for testing, adding messaging as a communication channel or fixing broken processes before you automate them. Or the solution may be as complex as designing a solution to connect all those disparate systems.

So, for many companies, especially those incumbents in industries that have traditionally lagged in innovation (like insurance, healthcare and telecoms) and that face disruption, 2017 will also be about exploiting core competencies, mastering the basics and making the incremental improvements that will simplify customer experiences in ways that can quickly scale.

See also: Want to Enhance Your Customer Experience?  

Taking action is the key to 2017 success

Although it is impossible to know the future, it’s clear that doing things the way we’ve always done them or past decision-making practices can’t simply be retrofitted and forced to solve for a completely new set of problems. In this increasingly dynamic, fiercely competitive world of business, we all face new leadership challenges that cut across industries and markets. I believe they affect us all both personally as consumers and professionally as businesses. For me, the secret to success around managing these new challenges is to anticipate them to the point that their inherent complexity is minimized or mitigated.

Sounds simple, but it’s not. It means getting ahead of the curve and not just being a thought-leader, but a do-er. Having a bias to action is more critical now than ever. Those who move quickly will increase their chance of growth, success and survival — those who anticipate and act will thrive.

No, Brokers Are Not Going Away

In 1997, the CEO of a Silicon Valley company told me I should give up on being an insurance broker and look for a new job because I was about to be disintermediated. Technology would let carriers and clients connect directly, and nothing I did could stop the movement of history.

Well, I ignored his advice, and the brokerage part of the insurance supply chain has grown by a factor of 25 in the past two decades.

But many people are now warning again of disintermediation. Was my friend just too early in his prediction? Will the doomsayers be right this time?

In a word, no.

First of all, disintermediation rarely happens as rapidly or completely as the technologists tend to think, with their binary, one-zero, on-off approach to the world. There are actually many more bank tellers today than there were when ATMs were introduced decades ago and were supposed to put tellers out of business. Remember when realtors were going to disappear, as buyers and sellers connected directly? Realtors are thriving. Even travel agents are still around despite the spread of sites like Expedia. There are only about 40% as many as there were two decades ago, but they deliver more value now, because they handle more complex problems or have developed specialties, such as exotic fly-fishing vacations that few have the expertise or confidence to plan on their own.

See also: Why Aren’t Brokers Vanishing?  

Insurance is even less likely to face disintermediation than bank tellers, realtors and travel agents because, if you think finding a fishing guide in Alaska is hard, try explaining how a workers’ compensation “experience modification” is factored or how the Affordable Care Act will affect the buying public if the new administration has its way. Even though the rise of comparison sites suggests that policies are easily comparable, they are not. It takes sophistication, based on lengthy experience, to help a client evaluate his or her needs and to sort through all the carriers and policy options to find the right fit. Product, price and relationship all have to fall into the right place at the right time.

Besides, as the founder and chairman of Insurance Thought Leadership, I have a ringside seat on the startups that are providing tools that will make the broker’s role even more important than it is now. In addition to the main site, where nearly 800 thought leaders have published more than 2,500 meaty articles on innovative ideas, we recently launched the Innovator’s Edge, which is tracking the more than 725 insurtech startups. I can say with confidence that the role of the broker will broaden for the foreseeable future.

Here are just some of the companies that will help ensure that all of us brokers have a Happy New Year – and many more to come:

RiskGenius – This startup, run by Chris Cheatham, uses artificial intelligence to instantly compare and contrast policy coverage and produce a report in layman’s terms. That helps clients see what’s going on. It also helps brokers keep track of changes in policies, making back offices much more efficient — serving clients better, at lower cost.

The RiskGenius solution plays into a trend that seems to be generally missed but that will be profound, in insurance and elsewhere. While some entire jobs will be automated — look at what robots are doing to many manufacturing jobs — the broader effect is that pieces of jobs will be automated. It used to be that every senior executive had a secretary, but as typing, some answering of phones, some scheduling and so forth have disappeared from assistant jobs, the span has become one assistant for every two, four or even larger numbers of executives. The same sort of winnowing of functions will happen with brokers, because of solutions like RiskGenius’. Brokers and brokerages will take on more strategic work as they let go of the more mundane tasks that can be taken on by technology.

Refer.com, run by Thomas Gay, likewise makes brokers more efficient as we prospect for business. While social marketing and social selling have attracted so much attention, but haven’t panned out, Refer.com scours the internet 24/7 to find topics of interest to prospects and puts them in an email format. The system prompts the broker about the optimal pace at which to send the emails, providing a high-tech, high-touch approach that can build the sort of referral network that brokers crave.

Agency Revolution, whose CEO is Michael Jans, offers complementary capabilities by automating marketing campaigns — for instance, sending out emails on clients’ birthdays, as policy renewals near, etc.

Pypestream, which has the good fortune to have ITL advisory board member Donna Peeples as its chief customer officer, can greatly improve customer service for larger brokers. Pypestream’s chatbots mean that customers can text queries to brokers — a means of communication that so many prefer these days — rather than call and wait on hold, negotiate a phone tree or face some other indignity. The chatbots filter through the texts, query any and all back-office systems that have anything to contribute and answer routine questions so fast that Pypestream sometimes has to slow the response so the client isn’t tipped off that it’s really dealing with a computer. Clients are happier, and brokers offload routine questions so they can handle more substantive issues.

GAPro, where Chet Gladkowski is chief marketing officer and chief information officer, also can make brokers much more efficient by providing what it calls verification as a service. GAPro addresses the huge time sink that is certificates of insurance. These are important, because they let parties to a deal know that other parties are carrying the requisite insurance — but they’re only as good as the paper they’re printed on (or the PDFS that contain them). Just because someone can show he had insurance a month ago doesn’t mean that certificate is still in force today, when the deal is finally coming together. Brokers spend an inordinate amount of time verifying these certificates — but GAPro automates all that, so it’s possible for everyone to know in real time the insurance status of all relevant parties. Again, this means faster and better service for clients.

GroundSpeed automates loss runs and the processing of claims data, simplifying a complex, painful process and letting clients and brokers see on a dashboard all the claims they’ve made under an insurance policy.

Risk Advisor, whose founder is Peter Blackmore, helps brokers extend risk management services to small businesses. These services had previously been practical only for larger businesses, because of the expense of the work involving in identifying and mitigating an individual business’ risks. But Risk Advisor has automated the process so much that far smaller companies can enjoy the sort of attention and expertise that big clients have traditionally received. That change pushes brokers in the direction that both they and clients would like to move: The brokers will increasingly help prevent losses rather than coordinate payment after losses occur.

WeGoLook, whose founder and CEO is Robin Smith, provides arms and legs (and brains) to brokers for any sort of service. Her 30,000 “Lookers” across the U.S. are currently handling tasks such as taking photos and gathering other information after car accidents, but their work is really limited only by our imaginations, because they give us the sort of inexpensive, free-lance workforce that Uber has brought to transportation. How valuable is the sort of service that WeGoLook can provide? Well, Crawford just announced that it was buying 85% of WeGoLook in a deal that puts a $42 million valuation on this young startup.

See also: Calling all insurtech companies – Innovator’s Edge delivers marketing muscle and social connections

This list of seven companies is just the start, as a visit to the Innovator’s Edge will show you. So, my bet is that if my Silicon Valley friend and I reconvene in 20 years, we’ll see that the role of the broker has become even more strategic and has moved by leaps and bounds beyond where it is today.

How to Reinvent Call Centers

The landscape for customer service is changing.

New platforms are emerging that change how consumers seek service and engage with brands. In doing so, these platforms are disrupting the traditional call center model. Today’s call centers range from the ancient and decrepit to the ultra-modern and technologically streamlined. Despite the differences in capability, though, they still rely on the telephone to call and connect with customers. As we shift into the messaging era, this is going to change.

The maturing millennial generation is sparking a mobile messaging revolution across all age groups. Text-based communication is fast becoming the most-preferred communication method. And to attract, engage, acquire and retain customers in the text-based era, businesses need a customer communication strategy that incorporates mobile messaging.

Executives are facing three key challenges:

  1. Offering a mobile-native, text-based customer service solution to keep up with changing communication preferences of consumers.
  2. Satisfying the demand for always-on, 24-7 responsive service.
  3. Maintaining cost-efficiency in the call center.

A solution comes in the form of new technology: chatbots and intelligent automation.

Chatbots allow businesses to automate the 80% of general inquiries that are repetitive. This leads to a smaller volume of inquiries requiring live assistance from agents and reduces operational costs while maintaining — or even improving — customer satisfaction ratings. It’s this combination of chatbots and human agents that can usher businesses into the messaging era while reinventing the call center model.

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The Current State of Customer Service

Every business strives to provide exceptional experiences that increase customer satisfaction and raise their Net Promoter Scores (NPS). The reality, however, is that executing an effective customer communication strategy is challenging. Often, exceptional customer service is limited by the capabilities of traditional service channels: email, social media and call centers.

By 2020, customer experience will have a such a significant impact on business success that it’s expected to play a bigger role in competitive differentiation than price and even product quality. Customer experience and NPS are fast becoming the new business battlegrounds. Providing experiences that meet or exceed the ever-increasing demands of customers could be the difference between success and failure.

Call center performance has a significant impact on a company’s NPS and customer satisfaction ratings. Given the direct and personal connection a call center enables between a business and its customers, the overall experience of the interaction can have a major influence on how that person perceives a brand on the 1-10 Net Promoter Score scale.

And while call centers work positively by enabling direct connections between businesses and consumers, there are endemic problems for both sides. Businesses are faced with high operating costs and are vulnerable to changing communication trends. Meanwhile, consumers often have to deal with long hold times, outdated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, inter-departmental transfers and inefficient service.

See also: 4 Hot Spots for Innovation in Insurance  

As new technology such as chatbots and intelligent automation emerges, any business that relies on strong customer service can benefit from innovation.

There is a significant opportunity to gain competitive advantage and lead the market by developing call centers that are not only technologically advanced, but also resolve issues with far greater customer satisfaction.

The ideal result is customer service that improves the relationship with customers while maintaining cost efficiency for the business.

What follows is an outline of the current state of customer service in today’s fast-moving, on-demand and customer-driven world. We also detail how the call center can be reinvented through mobile messaging and intelligent automation to deliver a win-win solution for both businesses and customers.

Connected and Demanding: Generation Z, Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers

There is a reason why there is so much buzz around millennials: Their generation is one of the largest in U.S. history, and they are maturing into their prime spending years.

Starting in 2017, they will have the purchasing power of more than $200 billion annually. The opportunity for businesses to drive revenue and gain market share with this generation is unprecedented.

The driving force for new technology and communication trends

Millennials are driving mobile and instant messaging adoption. Because they have grown up with technology and information at their fingertips, millennials are highly connected and expect 24/7, on-demand access to the businesses and brands in their lives.

Gen X, baby boomers

In addition, the millennial obsession with mobile messaging is influencing older age groups, with text-based customer service now an increasingly popular choice for generation X and baby boomers.

Generation Z

Millennials have also set the precedent for generation Z. Mobile messaging use is even higher among the first true digital natives; they place even more emphasis on personalization and relevance when interacting with companies.

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The Challenge of Delivering What People Want

The adoption of mobile messaging as the preferred communication channel is forcing companies to change how they approach customer service. Today’s call centers no longer meet customer expectations. From long wait times to frequent departmental transfers and ineffective IVR systems, customer service can be a frustrating experience for consumers.

Now, in 2016, with the proliferation of new technology and 24-7, on-demand services, the shortcomings of customer-contact centers are even more apparent.

The competition is fierce, and customers have no forgiveness for poor service. A sub-par experience can destroy a consumer’s relationship with a business.

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Key Business Challenges Affecting Call Centers and Customer Loyalty

The shortcomings of the current call center model and its inability to effectively meet the needs of today’s customer also represent a significant opportunity for businesses. There has never been a more appropriate time to dissect the call center and explore new ways to increase its effectiveness.

Executives and business owners need to address the following three business challenges to ensure the future success of their contact centers:

  1. Offering a mobile-native, text-based customer service solution to keep up with the changing communication preferences of consumers.
  2. Satisfying the demand for always-on, 24-7 responsive service.
  3. Maintaining cost-efficiency  in call centers.

Each of these areas needs to be explored to maintain, or even improve, customer loyalty and Net Promoter Scores.

Challenge 1: Offering a mobile-native, text-based customer service solution

One of the drawbacks of telephonic customer service is the limit imposed by the phone on call center agents; they can only answer one customer inquiry per call. This limit drives costs up. In comparison, using mobile and web-based chat, agents can effectively manage as many as five inquiries simultaneously. This significantly reduces operational costs while providing a better experience for customers.

Fortunately, thanks to mobile messaging’s rapid rise in popularity, it’s now easier than ever to incorporate mobile chat into an existing customer communication strategy to better engage consumers. Mobile messaging is the modern vehicle for businesses to deliver great customer service at significantly lower costs. The result is a better customer experience that drives loyalty while improving the bottom line.

See also: How Chatbots Change Open Enrollment  

Using an intuitive interface familiar to more than two billion people, businesses can effectively engage with customers and fans using simple decision trees for fast and convenient issue resolution.

Benefits of mobile messaging solutions:

  1. On-demand customer service that allows consumers to get the information they need, when they need it, without having to look for it.
  2. Faster issue resolution thanks to an agent’s ability to manage more inquiries simultaneously.
  3. Reduced, or potentially eliminated, hold times.
  4. Real-time conversational connections with customers.
  5. Improved customer experience with greater omni-channel service capability.
  6. Secure identity authentication and user verification.

Challenge 2: Satisfying the demand for always-on, 24-7 responsive service

The role of automation, bots and artificial intelligence in customer communication has become an increasingly popular topic. And as the technology continues to develop, more businesses are starting to realize the benefits of automated customer service and how it can drive customer service ratings higher.

Chatbots are virtual agents that operate through natural language processing, meaning they are able to absorb, identify and react to a number of different queries. These sophisticated programs and targeted automated strategies provide an efficient solution to handle the high-volume, repetitive inquiries that overwhelm call centers. Businesses are then freed to devote more time and resources to customers who need one-to-one conversations. They can deliver a far better customer service experience at a far lower cost.

As with any emerging technologies, automation and chatbots need to be approached with tact. Currently, the best strategies use both human agents and chatbots. Businesses can test bot technology and assess what’s right for them without drastically affecting customer satisfaction.

A good starting point is a website’s frequently asked questions. Today, people are more inclined to seek information themselves than engage with a human agent. Using chatbots to automate FAQs is a cost-efficient test that can form the foundation for larger automation plans as the technology develops.

Chatbots can be used as the front-line customer service interface to answer the majority of repetitive inquiries. This combination helps businesses improve efficiencies without compromising customer satisfaction ratings.

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Challenge 3: Maintaining call center cost efficiency

Businesses can improve customer communication and drive customer satisfaction ratings by following a simple five-step process to automation:

1. Opportunity Analysis

  • Review customer service data
  • Examine IVRs and CSR scripts
  • Conduct Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis
  • Identify all opportunities for automation

2. Chatbot Design

  • Sketch blueprints including flow designs for all areas
  • Identify integrations needed to enable bots

3. Engineering and Integrations

  • Receive blueprint approval
  • Develop bots for intuitive user experience.

4. User-Acceptance Testing

  • Demo bots in test environment
  • Adjust as necessary

5. Activation and Optimization

  • Conduct marketing efforts for Phase I onboarding
  • Track usage analytics and fine-tune
  • Benchmark performance against key performance indicators.

With this approach, businesses are able to automate as much as 80% of low-level, repetitive inquiries, saving call center agents for the complex and uncommon issues that require the nuanced knowledge of a live agent. This results in faster issue resolution and more efficient service.

Chatbots: An Emerging Technology

Other technologies may help improve call centers incrementally, but chatbots offer the best, most revolutionary opportunity to scale their capacity and ensure future success. If archaic call center models can’t innovate and keep up with changing consumer trends, they’ll fast become obsolete.

See also: Mobile Messaging: How to Meet Rules  

As with any emerging technology, chatbots are still experiencing growing pains. They’re not perfect; key development issues must be overcome to improve the flow of conversation. Increased investment in chatbots and NLP will help the technology mature fast. And as it does, chatbots will increase in capability and become more common, providing new opportunities for businesses across all industries.

How to Exceed Customer Expectations

So much is said these days about enhancing the customer experience, “delighting” customers and delivering customer service that goes “above and beyond.” For large enterprises, particularly in the insurance industry, this focus on customer experience is fast becoming a key competitive differentiator.

Disruptors in the e-commerce, retail and hospitality industries have set the standard for new-age customer service. Amazon, Zappos and AirBnB are notable examples. This standard is spilling into other industries. In fact, 89% of companies expect to compete on the basis of customer experience vs. only 36% only four years ago, according to Gartner.

But the question remains: Should every company try to be an Amazon or Zappos with their “whatever it takes” approach to customer service? I argue they shouldn’t. And, quite frankly, they can’t.

Know what your customer REALLY wants

Insurance, for example, is a low-interest, low-involvement category in that people rarely get excited about paying a policy premium or filing a claim. Can insurance carriers and providers delight policy-holders? Do policy-holders want to be delighted? I think about it like a visit to my dentist. My dentist is a great guy, very professional and takes great care of my teeth, but I always dread going and am glad when it’s over. The reality is, no matter how personable he his, how comfortable the chair is or how new the magazines are, I simply can’t be delighted. It is the dentist, after all.

See also: How to Get Broader View of Customers  

In the context of insurance, customers focus more on utility than on the extraneous features. It’s just like going to the dentist. Customers want to get in, get it done and get out as quickly and as painlessly as possible. The same is true for customer service. Customers just need the basics to run smoothly. They want processing their claim to be easy, and they want to move on. Everything else — any extraneous features — comes second.

Despite this attitude, the insurance industry is in desperate need of innovation. In fact, it’s a $1.2 trillion dollar behemoth that’s begging for disruption. The proliferation of technology and innovation across other industries, such as retail and banking, means consumers are expecting the same level of innovation elsewhere — and insurance is in their sights.

How can insurance companies approach innovation without overhauling the customer experience and over-complicating things in the process? The answer is simple: focus on utility over features.

Utility over features

Insurance companies need to determine what their customers’ most basic demands are and must seek to fulfill them before exploring any transformative technology, additional features or new processes. When exploring new ways technology can improve business, it’s easy to get swept up in the sexiness and promise of innovation — the dreaded technology-for-technology’s-sake initiative!

But to be effective, executives should approach innovation and new technology with a clear strategic and connected directive. Often, we crawl into our own heads and, with the best intentions, solve for a business problem without understanding the effect on customers. A thorough understanding from the customer’s perspective is essential, as is an understanding of how to align customer needs with the company’s overall direction. So the key is starting off small. Implement a simple process change to introduce customers to a new way of doing things and expand from there.

Because while innovation is desperately needed, we mustn’t forget that change is hard. People, and especially large enterprises, are naturally resistant to change. Inertia, complacency and “that’s the way we’ve always done it” attitudes are easy and-all-too common in the insurance sector.

Insurance customers aren’t ready for a revolution, either. Nor do they necessarily want one. Changes in technology mean a new learning curve, and if that curve is too steep or not thoughtfully executed with the customer in mind, the satisfaction plummets.

Customer satisfaction is simple

Your goal is to save customers time, save them money or simplify their experience (bonus points if you can do all three!). And at the core of any great experience is getting to the root of the customer’s problem. Customers aren’t always looking to be “delighted,” but they are looking for an answer.

See also: How to Bottle Great Customer Experience  

So I’m not suggesting an “Amazon-ification” of the insurance industry, but I do believe all companies should be aware of companies that are raising the bar and setting customer experience expectations. Think of it as another way to manage risk in the marketplace. There is a price tag associated with increased levels of customer service. Not all customer segments are created equal, but a more granular understanding of cost to serve, customer expectations and profitability are foundational to building the best customer strategy.

4 Hot Spots for Innovation in Insurance

These days, consumers have the control — they’re empowered by new technology and spoiled for choice. There are new rules of engagement for businesses and providers in every sector. We can no longer live inside the safety of our own industry verticals, comparing ourselves with those we think of as the competition. All companies now live on a horizontal where customers compare us with their last best or worst experience. It’s no surprise, then, that businesses are scrambling to produce new products and provide new services to meet the demands of today’s consumer.

The sleek interfaces and one-click payment processing available in products and services in the banking and retail industries have left an indelible mark. People now expect that same user experience elsewhere. Unfortunately, the insurance industry is still playing catch-up with the demand.

See also: Can Insurance Innovate?  

Consumers today expect intuitive technology that knows and remembers them from one interaction to the next. Many companies are adding features without improving the core experience for their customers. For the record, automating a broken or deficient process does not constitute an improvement. Instead, we must thoughtfully and deliberately design an end-to-end architecture that is easy, effective and memorable for the customer yet is consistent and scalable for the business.

With that in mind, let’s analyze the basic elements of the customer experience where insurance companies can improve:

1. Communication flow: In any large enterprise, the communication flow is always going to be both an internal and external issue. The more departments and business units a company features, the harder it is for customers to get the information they need in a timely fashion. That’s why we’re starting to see so much interest from insurance companies in new transactional communications platforms. At Pypestream, it’s a problem we’re trying to solve using a secure, chatbot-powered mobile messaging platform.

The customer experience has to be is about breaking down the barriers to information, streamlining the communication flow and getting a resolution. With everything available at the swipe of a finger or at the end of a text message, people don’t want to have to navigate from department to department, through various channels. Companies need to focus on bridging the silos that exist. Communication should be easy and free-flowing — almost as if you’re interacting with a friend.

2. Access to customer service: Customer service can be a competitive differentiator for companies — for better or for worse. Some do a fantastic job of providing experiences that people love, while others are seriously lacking. A lot of this has to do with the processes and technology in place. For example, there are many repetitive customer issues that only require scripted responses and simply don’t need live agents. Instead, these routine issues flood the call queues and slow the process for everyone.

The solution here is using conversational chatbots to provide a front layer of support, managing the majority of repetitive inquiries while saving the live agents for more complex and higher-touch issues. The best thing is, this technology exists and is becoming increasingly popular. There are tens of thousands of chatbots out there across various messaging channels, and businesses are exploring new chatbot use cases every day.

3. Simplified processes: There are few people I know who actually enjoy processing an insurance claim or dealing with call centers to check on the status of a claim. The process is broken and frustrating. To fix this annoyance, a mobile-first approach is paramount.

Consumers are gravitating toward mobile messaging to communicate in a 1:1 format with brands and businesses because they want service to be personal. In addition, they want to be understood — without having to repeat themselves over and over or follow an antiquated process that takes precious time out of their day. With all the capability that smartphones offer today, there’s no reason why processing insurance claims can’t be simplified to improve the customer experience.

4. Reinventing the call center: In the financial sector, the insurance industry is the most heavily reliant on call centers as the primary mode of customer interaction, with 78% of insurance industry clients contacting their company via a call-center. This comes as little surprise; there are no other options available for people to chat and transact directly with customer service. This distinct lag in the insurance industry reflects a broader reluctance to adopt new technologies. Some of the hesitancy can be attributed to traditional biases that anchor thinking and affect behavior in incumbents. Insurers have also been underserved by technology solutions that address their regulatory constraints.

See also: InsurTech: Golden Opportunity to Innovate  

If we consider how quickly people are flocking to messaging (it’s the most used data service in the world, with more than 6 billion messages sent every day), maybe it’s time the call centers undergo a revamp. Americans alone message twice as much as they call, according to Nielsen, and messaging is fast becoming the most preferred communication method. With this in mind, it only makes sense to incorporate a text-based channel to contact centers and customer service outlets.

It’s always easy to prescribe improvements for industries from afar, and I understand if some readers approach this article with an easier-said-than-done attitude. But, in reality, decision makers know where the industry is lacking. These gaps are opportunities to deepen customer engagement and loyalty.

The solutions are simple when you consider what everyday customers are seeking from their providers. Now it’s about dedicating the relevant resources and time to ensuring the innovation happens so the industry can catch up to the innovators in other industries and future market disrupters.