Tag Archives: richard smullen

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.

3 Keys to Success for Automation

With the rapid adoption of messaging and artificial intelligence hitting the mainstream, it is “go” time for enterprises to modernize and meet their customers where they want to be met: in mobile chat.

Remember what email did to the fax machine? It won’t take long for email to meet a similar plight with messaging usurping email’s pole position in B2C communications.

In 2016, we saw the rise of chatbots. You couldn’t read a reputable editorial outlet without the term “chatbot” appearing somewhere on the first page. But the hype quickly turned to a sad reality as many bots on Facebook, KiK, WeChat and other platforms failed to deliver on their promise. But, then again, what was their promise? Do consumers really want to “chat” with brands and have relatively meaningless “conversations”?

I say no, and, as a result, pragmatic AI is winning the day.

Pragmatic AI is the key to enterprise transformation in 2017 and beyond. It is the idea that machines can interact with humans through messaging conversations to resolve an issue quickly, efficiently and securely. Consumers are busy people. When they need something from a business, they want it immediately. Pragmatic AI doesn’t put you on hold, it doesn’t give you the wrong answer and it is always available — 24/7/365.

See also: Hate Buying? Chatbots Can Help  

So, with this in mind, here are three ways enterprises can cut through the hype and modernize for the next generation of consumers:

1. Choosing the right AI

There are two flavors of AI: open and pragmatic.

Open AI — like the large-scale cognitive services with high-end AI capabilities — is the kind we’re accustomed to seeing in the headlines. But for the enterprise, this type of AI is often too ambitious to be put to any good use beyond data analytics. It lacks the performance-based capabilities and transactional components that are needed for day-to-day enterprise applications. It is extremely costly and requires a small army of system integrators to install and operate it.

Pragmatic AI, as defined above, works on a functional level. It takes IVR, call center and other scripts to create decision trees, and it  plugs into various backend APIs to execute a myriad of business processes. From changing passwords, to canceling accounts, binding policies and tracking claims, if a human can do it, Pragmatic AI can do it too.

We see the fallacy around deep learning and Open AI catch up with many enterprises that are sometimes six to 12 months in on deployment (after feeling the pressure to adopt AI). These companies see no real solution in sight. Roughly 80% of call center inquiries don’t require cognitive services and deep learning. You have to start small, be practical and use bots that are nimble and functional. If you do this properly, your bots can actively engage consumers and replace email and social media as the primary channel for revenue-driving promotions and marketing initiatives.

2. Increasing loyalty by enabling transactions through automation

Enterprises exist in a world filled with a need to serve and deliver on consumer demands. Consumers are transaction-driven — when they want something, they want it instantaneously. So, when enterprises expand their communication strategies to explore new channels — such as chatbot-powered messaging — they need to ensure the new channels support an even greater level of functionality than all their other existing channels.

A major problem we’re seeing in the industry is enterprises deploying bots on third-party channels that lack basic transactional functionality — whether that be payment processing, scheduling, file transfer and storage or authentication. The resulting experience is usually a negative one for both the customer and the enterprise.

The technology exists to support rich customer interactions over messaging. After all, it is the next frontier for enterprise communication. Enterprise platforms are meant for enterprises. Social platforms are meant for socializing. Let’s keep business with business and pleasure with pleasure; mixing the two can result in major repudiation and fraud issues through identity theft.

3. Protecting customer data through an end-to-end solution

Right up there on the mission critical list of every CIO is data privacy and protection. Mobile messaging is generating newfound challenges for businesses as consumers flock to apps that aren’t secure and can’t support the needs of enterprise communication. This means when businesses add social messaging apps into their communication mix, they can’t provide the functionality for customers to do anything more than merely “chat.” The result is poor customer experiences and lost revenue. The same is true for bots. To avoid potential security risks and wasted investment, businesses need to ensure the platform they intend to use meets the desired requirements so they can adequately serve their customers.

Enterprises in the healthcare, financial services and insurance industries face significant challenges in this respect. Whether it is HIPAA, FISMA, FINRA or other, these enterprises need to meet the various state, federal and international regulatory criteria. A poorly devised automation and bot strategy where one vendor’s bots are bolted onto another vendor’s messaging system almost guarantees compliance failure and legal recourse.

See also: Why 2017 Is the Year of the Bot  

Find an end-to-end solution where the automation, messaging, transactions and consumer experience are all one and the same — built around compliance, privacy, scalability and security.

Driving customer satisfaction and cost savings for the enterprise

There’s been enough hype about chatbots and AI to make a portion of consumers and enterprises a little disillusioned with the technology’s promise. Skeptics begin to question the practicality of bots. But it’s more a case of a tradesman blaming his tools than the tools letting him down. With a strategic and carefully planned approach to bots and automation, the results can transform any enterprise, driving up NPS and dramatically reducing costs. These are just three examples of how enterprises can launch their own thorough and ROI-driven automation strategies to connect with consumers in new and engaging ways.