Tag Archives: pypestream

Touching Customers in the Insurtech Era

Customer Experience

This is a concept that has been and will continue to be written, talked and debated about for years.

In our currently connected society, it is imperative that all companies (not just in insurance) find better ways to interact and engage with their customers.

There are a few key points when those offering insurance (carriers, agents, brokers, etc.) interact with their prospective clients and policyholders:

  • Initial Interaction — What is it like when prospective clients first interact with you? How do they uncover their needs and go through suitability with the person/chatbot/online?
  • Purchasing — What is the purchase process like? How are forms filled in?
  • Policy Issuance — What is the policy issuance like? How is it ensured that the policy customers purchased and contract they just entered is fully understood?
  • Engagement — What sort of interactions does the company have in terms of engaging with policyholders while they are a client?
  • Reactive Customer Service — How are the interactions when the policyholder reaches out to the company for non-claims-related issues?
  • Claims Process — What is it like to file a claim with the company, and what is the engagement throughout the process of approving/rejecting the claim?

Having an easy way to communicate with customers at these various steps are crucial to creating a successful customer experience.

An ideal state would be one in which customers can choose the method in which they prefer to interact with their Insurance provider.

This week I cover:

  • Three different types of insurance customers
  • Different ways to communicate with insurance policyholders
  • A solution that incorporates many different tools for customer engagement

See also: How to Collaborate With Insurtechs  

Three types of insurance customers

Broadly speaking, there are three types of insurance consumers:

  1. Self-service — These are people who like to do it themselves. They do all the research themselves (through aggregators, customer reviews, etc.), prefer to purchase their policies online (either through an app or website) and love using AI-powered chatbots in their queries, claims handling and any other matter that comes up.
  2. Through someone — These are consumers who prefer to have someone alongside them when they make an insurance purchase or have any queries. They will likely use an agent, broker or financial adviser to help identify the best policy for them and fill in application forms, to call on with any queries/policy changes and to be the first to call when a claim comes up.
  3. Hybrid — This is where probably the majority of people fit these days. They may be OK to buy insurance online, but they like to have someone they can refer to for any questions that come up during the process. They may also be OK to file a claim or change policy details themselves and also like the option to do it “through someone” if they so choose.

I don’t see these three buckets changing for a long, long time (though the percentage of people who fall into each one may shift).

As such, it is important that insurance carriers know their current and future customers to build an experience that will best engage with them.

Different ways to communicate with policyholders

There are numerous ways that insurance carriers and agents can communicate with their prospects and policyholders.

The traditional ways are via:

  • Email
  • Phone – for purposes of this article, I will call this Voice 1.0, including calls between agents and customers as well as call centers (including interactive voice response (IVR))
  • Text – this has some challenges, especially between agents and customers due to the fact that they are not secure/non-trackable (something that companies like Eltropy solve for)
  • Post (i.e. snail mail)

The newer ways include:

  • Live Chat — Something that has been around for some time and that we are seeing provide very interesting progress for a variety of industries.
  • Video — For the same reasons as text, video was not as prominent due to the lack of security/auditability around it, but we have seen this starting to expand in banking as well as the insurance claims process, with companies like DropIn Inc.
  • Voice 2.0 — Think Alexa and Google Home. Coverager has done a summary of the insurance carriers that are currently offering Voice 2.0 solutions for their customers. Expect the functionalities and list of companies to grow as these tools become more popular.
  • Chatbots — This has to be one of the most common and overused terms within our industry over the past couple of years (I am also guilty of it!). Many carriers felt that they were at a massive disadvantage if they didn’t have one (even if they fully didn’t understand what it meant to have one!).

This article by Richard Smullen, CEO and founder of Pypestream, pours some cold water on the term “chatbot” and ends with something that also explains the feelings I had when writing this article: “If I had one wish for this industry, it would be that we get rid of the term ‘chatbot’ and instead call this user interface built around conversations a CI, or conversational interface.”

A solution that incorporates many different tools for customer engagement

A few weeks ago, I experienced a string of customer service failures. I won’t mention the companies they were with, but one was with an insurance company, one was with a big tech firm and the last was with a flower company (I had some delivery issues with some flowers that I ordered for my girlfriend).

These experiences, especially the one with the insurance company, had me thinking about what tools could have been in place to make the overall experience better.

Just days later, I was fortunate to meet the co-founders of SaleMoveDan Michaeliand Justin DiPietro.

They describe their solution as a digital-first, omnichannel platform and have built three solutions that can be used together or separately, depending on their client’s choosing (the platform is currently being used by many top-tier banks and insurance companies):

OmniCore — a complete omnichannel digital solution that offers live phone (voice 1.0), live chat and live video in the solution. For carriers and agencies looking to engage with their customers digitally, while having the power of a human behind it, this has it all.

OmniBrowse — a great solution for front-line agents and call center employees. This solution allows a co-browsing solution to enable employees to have context of what their customers are viewing. One thing that frustrated me so much with the customer services failures I had above was that the person I was speaking to in the call center (with the exception of the big tech company) could not see what my actual problem was. At a bare minimum, if your call center personnel do not have co-browsing capabilities for your online platforms (whether it be purchasing sites or customer web portals), you are living in the stone age.

OmniGuide — has incorporated AI into the solution, but not exactly in the way we see many chatbots out there today. This solution provides agents and call center personnel with AI-assisted responses to the customers they are chatting with, that they can accept, amend or discard. This solution rapidly increases the response time to consumers. If incorporated with OmniCore, it also gives the customer the ability to jump on a call with the human behind the chat in a matter of seconds.

See also: Where Will Unicorn of Insurtech Appear?  

SaleMove integrates onto a company’s website, through a single line of code, with no changes to the website required, and customers do not need to download or install anything on their end to be able to use the SaleMove platform. Video chatting or co-browsing with an agent is seamless.

Please see a demo of this in the video below. Please note that the video is simply a demo and that SaleMove Insurance Agency is not an actual insurance agency. Also, I’m not so naive about my property that this was my first experience in acting.


Michael Dell was once quoted as saying, “Our business is about technology, yes. But it’s also about operations and customer relationships.”

When I first started as a financial adviser in 2006, my boss came in to my office while seeing me on the phone making cold calls and said “Get out of the office…this business is built on belly-to-belly conversations with people, and, if you aren’t out there meeting people, you’re never going to get business.”

Both gentlemen are right. We are social creatures at heart, and my strong belief is that relationships are built on human-to-human interaction. This is why I currently and will always feel that an agent will be relevant in the years to come.

Technology helps to enable and enhance the relationship-building process, and a hybrid model (one that has technology tools to engage with customers and humans available when customers want it) will likely be the winning solution.

For organizations looking at upgrading/enhancing/introducing engagement solutions, they need to think about two things:

  1. What communication problem are we trying to fix?
  2. What is the preferred method for our customers (either policyholders or internal employees).

They should then build a solution based on the answers.

One of my fellow insurtech enthusiasts, Patrick Kelahan, keeps using a great line in many of his LinkedIn posts  It’s, “innovate from the customer backward.”

Instead of finding a cool, new, emerging technology and trying to implement it in hopes of being more innovative and engaging – figure out what your customers want and need and then find the solution that best fits.

Chatbots Aren’t Dead, but I Wish…

Around two years ago, the term “chatbot” shot into our vocabulary and onto the agendas of CIOs and CMOs everywhere. The idea that a customer could simply “chat” with a robot any time, anywhere made so much sense — or did it? Any technology solution or product implemented without a clear problem in mind is just wasteful. And it is this lack of planning that put chatbots on a fast path to nowhere in many companies.

Two and a half years ago, there were only a handful of chatbot providers. A year ago, there were thousands. Any remotely adept coder could whip a bot together in a few hours and, surprise, surprise, VCs went in hot pursuit of companies to fund.

Fast forward to today, and we’re constantly hearing the phrases “our chatbot proof of concept was not what we hoped,” or “we tried chatbots, and they didn’t work” rolling off the tongues of those same CIOs and CMOs.

But we’re not surprised. In fact, we welcome the demise of pointless technology. When we last checked, Facebook Messenger had more than 100,000 chatbots. Many of them are failing to impress, leaving users underwhelmed and frustrated.

See also: Chatbots and the Future of Interaction  

Automation needs a purpose

So, is this the end of chatbots?

It certainly is the end of companies creating chatbots for the sake of having a chatbot. But it is the beginning of a major technology shift, a quasi-revolution called AI-based automation, and chatbots certainly have an important role to play.

Companies waste resources when they implement new technologies without first establishing an actual problem to solve. The same theory applies to automation, AI and chatbots.

For chatbots to survive, they have to solve a business problem. Period. Executives must clearly define this problem and distill it into real use cases that have true ROI or Net Promoter Score implications — meaningful implications.

As soon as a team clearly maps out the use cases, the case for automation comes next. Can the company solve this problem by removing the human element in the back end? If so, there will undoubtedly be a cost benefit to the company. A smart design here will allow for escalation to human agent in the (let’s hope) shrinking contact center.

Once the higher-ups give automation the green light, the company must spin up myriad other technologies to create an effective system that solves the problem in the long term. As an example, if the business problem were around customer service and the use case were automating bill pay, then payment gateways, an asynchronous messaging channel, an authentication system, encryption and privacy layer, feedback loop, API bridge into the billing system and others would need to work in unison to provide a complete solution.

Rethinking the word ‘chatbot’

You’re now probably wondering where the chatbot comes in. Well, therein lies the point of this article: A chatbot only has a role to play if it delivers utility to the customer. In the case of bill pay, the visual experience the bot presents to a consumer is in the form of a chat. Developers program this conversation inside the chatbot using either decision trees or natural language understanding.

See also: How Chatbots Change Open Enrollment  

If I had one wish for this industry, it would be that we get rid of the term “chatbot” and instead call this user interface built around conversations a CI, or conversational interface.

CIs done properly, with a true business problem in mind, will reach deep into the back end through a persistent and secure messaging channel, allowing the customer to do business — any time, anywhere and, most importantly, happily.

Chatbots and the Future of Interaction

When it comes to the list of disruptive technologies, are we giving chatbots enough credit?

Chatbots are only beginning to show their potential, garnering initial headlines primarily due to Lemonade and its chatbot called Maya. That is interesting, considering that chatbots and AI will likely have a greater overall impact than many of the up-and-coming technologies we have grown to accept, such as autonomous vehicles. How is it possible that chatbots are silently sitting on the sidelines?

It’s simple. They aren’t sitting silently. Chatbot development and use is in full swing. The headlines are picking up. Research organizations are putting forward more predictions about chatbots than ever. Chatbots are easier to implement than many technologies and, operationally, they will provide real value. Text-based or voice-carried artificial intelligence and service-focused functions can readily swap with current human-based adviser/service functions. As complex as they are on the back end, chatbots don’t require major hardware investment, such as sensors, and they don’t require an inordinate amount of coding. So, for all of their disruptive potential to the way we do business, they may be far less disruptive to operations and IT, though operations and IT (and customers) stand to benefit from chatbots.

See also: Chatbots and Agents: The Dynamic Duo  

In an era where impatience is growing and speed is rewarded, chatbots can dramatically improve service levels and meet or exceed expectations. They can also make the economics work for providing service and executing transactions for the growing ranks of high-volume, on-demand, low-premium risk products coming to the market. They are the future of nearly all personal business transactions. For insurers, chatbots can be their own distinct channel as well as augmenting existing channels, supporting a multi-channel world.

Chatbots are growing in use and importance

In Majesco’s Future Trends 2017 Report, we discussed the impact and potential of chatbot growth. Chatbots aren’t growing merely because they have service potential — they are growing because automated non-human service is gaining acceptance among the Gen X, Millennial (Gen Y) and Gen Z cohorts.

Chatbots’ appeal and growth will likely make them one of the technologies to break out of age-based stereotypes. WeChat, China’s most popular chat app, is a great example. With nearly 1 billion users (889 million people), its impact is felt across generations and is even spurring older generations to adopt mobile technology. WeChat is popular — its users interact for an average of 90 minutes per day. Because it uses voice commands, it is also learning from conversations, illustrating the potential of chatbots to gain something from each interaction.

Business Insider said that 80% of businesses will be using chatbots by 2020, with 42% believing that chatbots will improve the customer experience. In addition, 29% of customer service positions in the U.S. could be automated with chatbots or other technology.

Chatbots offer immense potential for customers to interact with an insurer, through direct interactions within messaging or other social media apps.

Other technologies and their impact on chatbots

The “automated home” race between Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home, Apple’s HomePod/Siri and many other technology providers will enhance chatbot adoption and use. The more people become comfortable with interactions that are non-human, the easier it will be for people to feel comfortable in a chatbot purchase and service environment. Insurance is already adopting chatbot use and ramping up chatbot availability.

In the past year, for example, insurtech saw a rapid rise in the use of chatbots within startups ranging from Elafris, which enables customers to download auto ID cards and pay bills, to Denim, which markets to consumers and links them with insurers or agents for renter or homeowners insurance.

Robo-advisers represent a chatbot with real AI integration and rules management that can go beyond outside customer service and well into day-to-day executive assistance.

In July 2015, Zurich shared how it was using robo-advisers in two ways: First to accelerate and improve policy processing and issuance that improved quality and accuracy for international casualty programs. Second, Zurich used them in the U.K. to conduct routine diary reviews for open claims that traditionally required attention by human operators.

In the quest for improved customer service, quality, accuracy, speed and efficiencies, robots and robotics have significant opportunity for insurers. From automating processes to interacting with customers, the potential seems limitless, as well as creating a starting point for cognitive applications.

A natural link: AI and Chatbots

Cognitive systems help visualize, use and operationalize structured and unstructured data, pose hypotheses based on data patterns and probability and understand, reason, learn and interact with humans naturally. As a result, the systems help organizations create knowledge from data to expand nearly everyone’s expertise, providing continuous learning and adapting to the environment to out-think the competition and the market.

AI and cognitive computing technologies like IBM’s Watson have been touted as the link between data and human-like analysis. Because insurance requires so much human interaction and analysis regarding everything from underwriting through claims, cognitive computing may be insurance’s next solution to better analyze and price risks using new data sources, while adding an engaging and personalized advisory interface to their services.

A savvy insurance technologist can easily begin to draw the lines between that kind of intelligence management and its potential when linked to chatbot advisory and directive services. Just as many of today’s advisors and agents have experience in underwriting, tomorrow’s chatbot may carry with it the ability to market, gather data, quote, underwrite, issue policies and settle claims without human intervention. Putting one face on an insurance company probably couldn’t get more complete than that.

See also: Hate Buying? Chatbots Can Help  

For now, we can see the seeds of this complete chatbot value chain in its beginnings. At the recent SVIA InsurTech Bootcamp in August that we were involved in, we saw and discussed the array of opportunities to leverage chatbots, AI and cognitive … highlighting the opportunities unfolding.

In June of this year, PolicyPal, a Singaporean startup, announced the launch of its AI-enabled mobile app, which includes a chatbot supported by IBM Watson Conversation technology. The app not only helps prospects through the insurance selection process, it explains complex insurance concepts to consumers to enhance their overall insurance knowledge. The AI, having educated itself, is in effect giving back through chatbot interactions. That is the future of insurance interaction, a market where both parties have something to learn and gain from the insurance relationship.

When Gartner asserts that, “Chatbots will power 85% of all customer service interactions by the year 2020,” that may be enough to drive some business leaders to look into all that chatbots have to offer.

Harvey: First Big Test for Insurtech

As Hurricane Harvey finally relents, the insurance industry is about to experience the flip side of a famous line from Warren Buffett. Talking about how investment portfolios shouldn’t be judged in good times, Buffett said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” Well, with the rain and the rain and the rain that Harvey inflicted on Houston and surrounding areas, we’re going to get to see who in the insurance world can swim.

That question will take two forms, one that we’ve seen in every disaster since time immemorial, but the other a new one, about insurtech.

The normal one is about whether insurers will perform in their moment of truth, or whether we’ll find the kinds of dubious decisions by adjusters and faked engineering reports that led to improperly denied claims and gave insurance a black eye after Superstorm Sandy.

In the case of Harvey, the question for the industry is, essentially: Do insurers want to be Joel Osteen or J.J. Watt?

As you may know, given that he’s all over TV, Osteen is the senior pastor at a megachurch in Houston who was mocked on social media for being slow to open the doors of his “prosperity gospel” Christian church and provide shelter and aid for those displaced by the hurricane. He says that he has been maligned and that he was always ready to help, if the city had asked, but his many critics have noted that nobody had to ask Houston’s mosques to open their doors and made Osteen the king of memes this week. Osteen is damaged. The only question is how badly.

On the flip side is J.J. Watt, the all-everything defensive lineman for the Houston Texans. Very early in the storm, he made a personal pledge of $100,000 and asked for others to kick in, stating a goal of $200,000. Well, his sincerity and concern went viral, drawing donations from tiny to huge, from Drake to Walmart. Last I checked, total donations exceeded $20 million. With the waters receding, Watt and teammates will be personally going around the city, delivering water, clothing and everything else he’s bought to hand out. He could run for king in Texas, and nobody would get in his way.

While acknowledging that insurance is a business that has no obligation to pay more than it owes policyholders, I think the choice is clear: Be like J.J. Watt as much as you can. Don’t be Joel Osteen.

See also: Harvey: Tips to Avoid Claim Issues  

The new question is trickier. The insurtech movement has been around for a few years now, but Hurricane Harvey is the first true catastrophe that has happened during a time when the insurance industry is laying a claim to innovation. (For good measure, Typhoon Hato has been hammering Macau and Hong Kong at the same time.)

We’re about to find out how innovative we really are.

Some companies are following the traditional playbook and dispatching armies of adjusters to the afflicted region. But we’ll also see the skies filled with drones and will learn how effective they can be at documenting the damage and how much their work still has to be supplemented by humans.

We’ll learn a lot about the “gig economy” and whether part-time workers, such as the “Lookers” provided by WeGoLook, can efficiently supplement the full-time insurance workforce, speed the process of claims and slash away at the costs of sorting out a full-on disaster.

Supposedly, insurtech is letting everything happen faster. Startups such as ViewSpection and MondCloud provide for self-service on claims, letting individuals send photos and videos and allowing insurers to do triage and pay easy claims quickly. But reality may intrude.

Every time I see a photo of some aid facility and spot a sign saying “Free legal services,” I want to applaud those who are helping the injured pro bono, but the cynic in me sees lawyers fishing for clients. I suspect that the hurricane is a full-employment act for every recent law school graduate in Texas. The lawyers, of course, have a vested interest in avoiding quick settlements, so they can work the insurers, take thousands of cases to court and perhaps find some lucrative class actions.

Insurtechs, meet lawyers. We’ll have to see how that goes. I don’t often bet against the lawyers.

Insurers have begun using chatbots, such as Pypestream’s, in their call centers, which should help handle the deluge of calls that will come in from customers and allow insurers to contact customers more often and more effectively to keep them up to date on the progress of claims. We’ll have to see how insurers do about handling customers’ concerns in these hours and days and weeks of need, as well as what role technology plays.

Better data and analytics, sometimes powered by AI, are supposedly making us all smarter about mitigating risks, underwriting and everything else, but it’s easy to congratulate yourself on being smart when you don’t face a test.

In the real test — accuracy — I’d say insurtech startup HazardHub wins early points for putting out an analysis right before the storm saying that $77 billion of property was at risk in Houston, quite a bit higher than other estimates I saw – though lower than some estimates now circulating, and damage estimates always seem to grow, never diminish.

We’ll see whether the powerful new analytics let any company in particular get away from the risks in Houston – keeping in mind that ProPublica identified the particular risks in Houston, because of lack of restrictions on real estate development, in a story published last year. If the journalists could spot the risks, how did the insurers do?

The verdicts will take weeks and months to come in, because the damage has been so extensive and because problems are still developing in what continues to be a stew of mold, fetid water and chemicals. But we’ll get a sharp sense of where innovation has, in fact, happened and where it needs to go – if we keep our eyes open, evaluate the results honestly and take the lessons seriously.

There’s one other question that needs to be answered, too, this one on the government policy level. Flood insurance isn’t working in the U.S., so what do we do about it? 

Perhaps lulled by a lack of major storms hitting the U.S., homeowners have increasingly declined to purchase policies, so estimates are that 80% to 85% of homes in Houston were not covered. Meanwhile, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which provides so much of the coverage, is already heavily in debt because it underprices risk and hasn’t recovered from Superstorm Sandy. By law, the NFIP needs to be renewed this month, but we’ve all seen how dysfunctional Congress is these days, and Congress has even more pressing priorities this month, such as dealing with the budget and raising the national debt ceiling.

The best proposal I’ve seen so far is to require that homeowners and renters insurance, commercial property policies, auto policies and so on all have a flood piece to them, so that citizens carry the responsibility and so that risk is priced in the market, rather than being dumped on the federal government.

See also: Time to Mandate Flood Insurance?

One person attached a compelling comment to this article on how the federal government, not insurers (and, ultimately, the insured public) will pay for the recovery from Hurricane Harvey:

“Homeowners have three options: 1) buy flood insurance through the NFIP, 2) live in a non-flood plain or 3) accept the risk of living in a flood plain. Option 4 of Harvey victims expecting insurers/taxpayers to compensate them for their increased risk is not an option.”

A century ago, in the earliest days of IBM, founding CEO Tom Watson Sr. placed signs in offices that said, “Think.” When the company sparked fears of bankruptcy 25 years ago, wags penciled in two words underneath some of those signs, so they read, “Think – or Thwim.” Flood insurance in the U.S. is in “Think or Thwim” mode. I hope we think.