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Hate Buying? Chatbots Can Help

If you wanted to buy health insurance, how would you do it? I’d probably Google “health insurance,” click on the first link (maybe skip the ads out of an irrational disdain) and reach a website that looks something like this:

Once I am here, I find that I am woefully unprepared to carry on. What is basic sum insured? Pre-hospitalization? Post-hospitalization? Convalescence benefit? Ideally, I would have known what all these terms meant before I started searching for insurance, but I didn’t.

Insurance providers such as HDFC Ergo know that many people don’t understand these terms and provide more information. In the picture above, clicking on the little circled “i’s” next to each plan feature reveals further information. This is helpful — but only to a point. If I expand too many boxes, the screen starts to look like a jumble of words.

At this point, I would do what all people do best: procrastinate. I would return to Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat or Instagram and indulge myself in the endless stream of instant gratification I can get by simply picking up my phone or opening a new tab.

Suffice it to say that websites can only take you so far. Too much text clutters the user interface (UI) and makes the experience unpleasant. Too little text, and the user is too uninformed to make a decision.

See also: How Chatbots Change Open Enrollment  

Consequently, insurance providers add the option for real human interaction in the form of instant call-backs and live chats.

Through these media, an insurance broker could answer all the questions a potential customer has and tell him exactly what he should or shouldn’t buy. The customer doesn’t need to do any digging or reading on his own.

However, this, too, is not a perfect solution.

Hiring real people is not scalable.

They need to be clothed, fed and given days off.

If you are a multinational insurance company, you can throw money at these problems and minimize the inconvenience. If you are a smaller company, though, this is not an option. You might as well say goodbye to on-the-fence customers and focus on the informed ones.

But what if there was a solution?

What if you could have human interaction without the cost? Or could inform users without human interaction?

This is the promise of chatbots.

Chatbots make conveying information easier than in traditional media. They take a daunting and impersonal process like reading up on insurance plans and turn it into a simple conversation.

Imagine if all those uninformed leads could be funneled into a familiar WhatsApp-like interface, where a piece of software living on Amazon’s servers personally answered all queries as if it were a human. Chatbots interact with potential clients as a real human would to collect basic information about a person’s level of knowledge and stage in the buying process. Thus, when a human does eventually get in touch with each potential client, that human doesn’t need to waste time figuring out what the client knows and can begin helping immediately.

See also: 4 Hot Spots for Innovation in Insurance  

Here is an example of how Securenow, an insurance brokerage company, uses chatbots to help customers.

And this is how you can even showcase the best-suited insurance plans over a chatbot.

Chatbots are still in their early stages, but it is hard not to see their game-changing potential in the insurance space. In an industry where information is important — if not necessary — in making purchasing decisions, chatbots have the potential to make the buying process easier for all parties involved.

The 5 Personal Persuasion Styles

Can you imagine a world where everyone was inspired to go to work? Do you inspire your team to greatness as a leader, or are you one of those leaders who are quite comfortable with your staff coming to work every day without any sense of purpose? The No. 1 problem facing many organizations today is leadership.

A Simon Sinek YouTube video titled “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe” tells the story of a group of Marines that came under heavy fire from three sides in an ambush in Afghanistan, when one Capt. William D. Swenson repeatedly ran into the line of fire to bring injured men to safety and saved at least a dozen lives. A GoPro on one of the medics captured Swenson and a comrade carrying a wounded Marine to a helicopter for evacuation. After putting the man down, Swenson gave him a kiss on the forehead and then ran back into the kill zone.

I said to myself, wow, if a man is willing to give his life for me, I will follow him to the ends of the earth. (Swenson received the Medal of Honor.)

While a business environment is obviously not a war zone, even though we sometimes use war as an analogy, the sort of deep-seated love that Swenson showed needs to be present in a workplace, and it is missing in many organization today. People don’t feel safe, and they do not believe their leaders will have their backs when they are in the line of fire.

The greats of leadership have a persuasion style that allows them to sell their ideas and inspire people to follow their vision. One of the most critical skills in the repertoire of any leader is the power to inspire and influence people by their words and actions rather than coercion.

See also: How High-Performing Salespeople Persuade  

In a fascinating book, The Art of Woo, Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas, by G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa, the authors discuss five different leadership personality approaches to persuasion: Driver, Commander, Promoter, Chess Player and Advocate. Some people are comfortable using three or four of these styles, while others prefer to play only one or two.

This book draws from many other brilliant authors and expertly highlights the value of authenticity and self-awareness in your ability to persuade and influence. The book says you need to make two basic choices: Are you other-oriented or self-oriented? (In other words, are you going to tailor your messages for your audience, or are you going to make unmodified announcements rather than spin them for each audience?) And, will you be loud or quiet?

The book then goes through five styles; one of the keys to great leadership is understanding your unique persuasion style. While you are reading, consider your present environment, your employees, values, etc. and ascertain which communication approach is best aligned to your natural persuasive leadership personality.

Driver (Higher Volume and Self-Oriented Perspective)

According to Shell and Moussa, when individuals are high-volume and prefer to announce their perspective without a lot of adjustment for their audience, other people are likely to experience them as demanding. They can be overly one-dimensional and prefer to persuade people by saying things like “Do this my way, the right way or you can hit the highway.”

I remember working as a plumber’s assistant in my younger days, and all the employees called the founder of the company Frank Sinatra — because he liked everything his way.

But if drivers are dedicated to the organization mission, they can be effective persuaders. The book mentions former Intel CEO Andy Groves, who personified a high-volume, self-oriented CEO and was hugely successful.

Grove kept a wooden bat near his chair. One day, just after a meeting had gotten started, several executives slipped into their seats. Grove fell silent at their arrival, then grabbed the bat, slammed it onto the table, and shouted, “I don’t ever, ever want to be in a meeting with this group that doesn’t start and end when it is scheduled!” Intel was subsequently famous for on-time meetings.

See also: Should You Use a Coach/Mentor?  

Grove wasn’t a nut; he was very aware about his communication style and the culture he wanted to create at Intel.

Commander (Low Volume and Self-Oriented)

A commander speaks from a position of quiet confidence and authority, using expertise combined with finesse to make a point in an understated way. The book highlighted J.P. Morgan as someone who conducted himself from a position of quiet confidence and credibility.

You don’t have to be an aggressive Driver when you want people to know exactly what you think. Indeed, a quiet, understated demeanor can often be much more efficient. People listen. The Commander keeps his counsel and puts a premium on maintaining as much control over decisions as possible.

In a financial panic in 1895, Morgan played the Commander with finesse, saving both America and his financial empire from a fiscal catastrophe.

The Promoter (Higher Volume and Other-Oriented Perspective)

Promoters are outgoing, optimistic and assertive. They are friendly. When played well, this role features a gift for gaining and maintaining a wide circle of relationships. The CEO of SAP, Bill McDermott, immediately comes to mind.

During his 17 years at Xerox, where he became the youngest divisional president, he was assigned to turn around the Puerto Rican unit, which was ranked 64th out of 64 divisions in the world. The following year, that same division was No. 1 in the world.

When asked about the spectacular turnaround, Bill McDermott said that he listened to the people, because they know why things aren’t working. McDermott said people told him two things:

  1. They wanted a vision, so they could be inspired when they came to work.
  2. The staff wanted their holiday party back.

When the division went from 64th to 1st in the world, they got their holiday party back, at the Old San Juan Hotel.

The Chess Player (Lower Volume and Other-Oriented Perspective)

The Chess Player style involved plotting a set of moves that brings about the desired outcome. Leaders with this type of personality prefer to operate in more intimate settings, quietly managing strategic encounters behind the scenes. A Chess Player is an effective strategist who is less extroverted than the Promoter but shares with the Promoter a keen interest in what makes other people tick.

Shell and Moussa point to John D. Rockefeller. In 1865, Rockefeller wanted to end a partnership with four men, but the firm could be dissolved only if all the partners consented.

Rockefeller went to work behind the scenes, lining up support from some banks. When he got the support required, Rockefeller provoked a quarrel over an oil industry investment and quietly extracted himself from the unsavory business partnership. If Rockefeller was more prone to a driver personality, he may have engaged his partners in a shouting match or threatened litigation, demanding they release him so he could follow his dreams. However, Rockefeller took the path of the Chess Player by carefully plotting a set of moves behind the scenes.

The Advocate – Moderate Volume and a Balance Between Self-Oriented and Other-Oriented Perspectives.

The Advocate uses a full range of tools to get her points across. The Advocate strives for balance — persistence without shouting, being mindful of the audience without losing perspective. A classic example used in the book is the founder of Wal-Mart, Sam Walton.

Walton visited one of his stores and noticed someone at the front greeting customers. Walton was fascinated with the idea and told his team that all the stores should have greeters. Now, Walton could have simply ordered people to do what he wanted. But he was seldom the Driver that Andy Grove was and instead relied on a more moderate combination of vision, persistence, relationships and reason to get people to see things his way.

There was a lot of conflict over this new initiative, and Walton went to lengths to explain why this greeters program would be good for the company. He let the debate go on in an attempt to fully explore all the ideas. After 18 months of discussion and experiment, Wal-Mart finally adopted the practice company-wide.

Walton did not dictate or say things to his executives such as “Don’t you trust my judgment?” or “Don’t you think I know a thing or two about what is good for Wal-Mart?” Instead, Walton sold his vision, and his team eventually brought into the concept.

As a leader, you need to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses in persuasion. You need to understand your preferred communication channels, and likewise, you must take into consideration the dynamics of your environment, your organizational values, culture, people, etc.

Some companies are fierce guardians of their business values, and if there is a misalignment it can cause havoc within the company. For example, you cannot be an Andy Grove in a culture that promotes family values, teamwork, collaboration, etc. The culture is completely different.

See also: Systematic Approach to Digital Strategy  

Woo-based persuasion is all about aligning interest, values and relationship as people find it easier to say yes rather than no. Regardless of your personality, when your team trusts you, when you figure out which channels of communication your counterparts are best attuned to, your will gain tremendous credibility within your company.

My personal persuasion style is more of a Chess Player. I prefer to quietly managing strategic encounters behind the scene. What is your personal persuasion style?

The Insurance Renaissance, Part 3

This is Part 3 of a four-part series. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 can be found here.

What if Leonardo Da Vinci had been alive to witness the digital revolution? Perhaps he would have been a sought-after consultant and speaker (after his start-up had gone public and his paintings were selling for millions)! Da Vinci was, according to historian Will Durant:

“The most fascinating figure of the Renaissance… [He] took fondly to mathematics, music and drawing. In order to draw well, he studied all things in nature with curiosity. Science and art, so remarkably united in his mind, had one origin — detailed observation.”

According to Da Vinci, a scientist should look at experience and observation before applying reason to any experiment. He uniquely had both a right brain and left brain perspective, the art and the science view, that looked at facts but then creatively used them to innovate — highlighting the power of observation. And Da Vinci’s observations are still with us today.

For insurers, the power of observation is no less important than it was during the Renaissance. In fact, observation’s power for change and growth, using nearly any measurement (e.g. dollars, longevity, capacity for change, lowered risk) would certainly far exceed its Renaissance power. Insurance’s pervasiveness and necessity (it underpins economies to enable them to grow) make it globally and individually life-altering.

If insurers wish to tap into the power of observation, in which direction should they look?

The simple answer is that they should look at trends. But to fully explore trends, it will help us to split them into subcategories, such as purchase trends, lifestyle trends, customer preferences and commercial/industrial trends.

Observing Purchase Trends

This is the most obvious of the trends, yet it may be one of the most overlooked trends. How do people buy? What differences are there between segments such as millennials, baby boomers and small business owners? This goes beyond, “Well, they seem to be using the internet and mobile phones.” Observing purchase trends takes everything into consideration — Where are people when they are using their mobile phone or other mobile device? Where are people when they realize they have the time, need and inclination to purchase insurance? Is there a cosmic moment when the right offer at the right time with the right channel yields a magical response?

See also: Data Science: Methods Matter (Part 2)

This kind of observation can certainly be informed by trends and disruption within other industries. For a quick example, consider how iTunes created a profitable shortcut in the music purchase process (as well as dispensing with a physical product, all of its delivery methods and costs). Then think about how Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube, Pandora and SoundCloud have all dented iTunes demand and caused its prices to look exorbitant. The lesson for insurers is twofold: 1. Capitalize on opportunities to be in the right place at the right time with market targets, and 2. Be vigilant in price response, service response and capitalizing on the next idea.

Now that insurance is changing, it won’t stop. Perpetual observation, along with incubation and concept testing, will provide a foundation of market safety — if the organization is committed to acting on what it learns. This means continuous incubation and market testing of innovative products and services, likely outside of the normal insurance operations and systems structure — being creative and acting like a start-up.

Observing Lifestyle Trends

Insurance is so tightly bound to lives and lifestyles that it is imperative that insurers keep tabs on how lifestyles are changing. For example, in 2014, single adults in the U.S. began to outnumber married adults. How does that affect insurers with products that may seem to reward families with discounts and lower rates (i.e for multiple vehicles)? The sharing economy is also becoming mainstream, not only with services like Uber and Lyft, but also with shared office spaces, shared living arrangements and shared vacation residences growing in popularity. The sharing economy is all about the sharing of assets rather than ownership of them. Is it time for insurers to start thinking less in terms of insuring property owned or mortality and instead begin thinking in terms of insuring life experiences that may occur over short spaces of time, rather than for years? The rider in the Uber and the vacationer in the Airbnb may feel far more comfortable if they have the insurance for that specific time and need  — knowing that no matter where they are, and no matter what happens, they have access to insurance.

Once again, this requires direct observation and then using the observations to creatively rethink insurance. Demographic studies that account for the next three, five and 10 years can even help insurers predict lifestyle patterns before they become mainstream, capturing the opportunity early and gaining market share.

Observing Customer Preferences

Many newspapers are losing money or are fading away. Bookstores are closing. Large department stores are somewhat outmoded. Bricks and mortar retail outlets are struggling to stay relevant. Purchases of used goods have never been higher. Online purchases have never been higher. What does this tell us about consumer buying preferences? What does it mean to insurers?

The digital transformation of buying that is playing out is unprecedented. But does it mean agent sales aren’t the future or that un-tailored, high-volume products are no longer needed? The answer is no. In many cases, the answer is to increase an understanding of preferences at both a high level (market trending) and an individual level (preference trending). Preferences change frequently, so market analysis and segmentation underpinned by data and analytics play an important role in understanding where reality is at any one point in time. For observant insurers that care about growing their business, building an excellent customer experience and acting on a real knowledge of market trends and individual preferences will strengthen customer satisfaction and retention. It will also build loyalty among market segments that are changing or traditionally hard to keep.

See also: 3 Skills Needed for Customer Insight

Observing Commercial/Industrial Trends  

What do Samsung clothes dryers, FitBits and connected cars have in common? All of them have IoT sensors, all of them have digital connectivity to mobile devices and … they are all relevant to insurers.

When skateboarders started using GoPros (and posting videos to YouTube) and iPhones started locking themselves in cases of theft, insurers should have started paying attention. Drone technology, camera technology, GPS tracking, step measurement — all of these advances will play a role in insurer offerings, capabilities and services. But technological advancements are only the beginning of commercial trends that insurers can use. As commerce changes and as processes and products adapt, informed insurers will be able to support the changing needs of organizations. Start-up businesses and small businesses will be looking for ways to insure venture capital and other investments against loss. Drone and unmanned aircraft insurance needs will grow. Data protection and cyber security insurance needs will continue to grow.

The insurance Renaissance will change the needs of companies and individuals as they embrace new market trends, technologies and as they reshape their preferences. This will likely mean a decrease in demand for some traditional products such as auto insurance or individual life insurance. But, at the same time, it opens the door for new products that embrace the changes. Just look at companies like John Hancock with its Vitality product, as well as insurers providing risk avoidance services using IoT in their homes or those offering shared transportation insurance. For observant insurers that grasp the way financial and business models are changing, there will be excellent opportunities to supply innovative products and risk preventive services. The key will be in the observation.

Insurance is the economic foundation for economies, businesses, families and individuals, enabling them to operate or live life fully and with confidence. Our responsibility as an industry is to continually observe the changes that are happening inside and outside of the industries we serve, adapt to those changes with innovative products and services that meet changing customer needs, and do it with speed, capturing the opportunities unfolding before our eyes.

In my next post on the insurance Renaissance, we’ll see how re-envisioning financial and business models may be one of the ways that insurers can prepare for a new era of progress and success.

Will Connected World Make Us Sloths?

The possibilities of a fully connected world are unfolding before us. Technological progress has always been about making our lives easier and providing us with more options to enjoy life – to travel, be entertained, buy stuff and communicate with others. But, the connected world promises to shift progress into overdrive. Many of the smart home, connected car and sharing economy capabilities already allow us to sit back and control the world with our mobile apps or via voice commands. Even today, a person can adjust a thermometer, launch a music playlist, check flight schedules and order a box of Twinkies – practically without lifting a finger or moving a muscle. Will this ultimately result in a populace that doesn’t think, exercise or know how to do anything except control the world through devices? Will we all end up as unthinking, lethargic, good-for-nothing sloths?

I suppose some would argue that we are already there. The YouTube-Netflix-Facebook culture spends enormous amounts of time entertaining themselves, and it conjures up images of people with eyes fixed on screens, ranging in size from tiny handheld devices to enormous, wall-mounted TVs to those giant screens on buildings in places like Times Square. Those at home are in danger of becoming couch potatoes. Others in more public places are just as mesmerized and are so attached to their devices that some fall into fountains in shopping malls or risk walking into traffic on busy streets.

See also: How to Think About the Rise of the Machines

But the developments in the emerging tech arena are made for more than just entertainment purposes, and the resulting changes in society demand a deeper exploration. The full truth is always a bit more complex. Consider the following connected world possibilities and the positive effects they can have on individuals and society:

  • Fitness Wearables: Sales of wearables for fitness and health monitoring continue to climb rapidly. Athletes and non-athletes alike are tracking a variety of biometrics and being given incentives to improve their health.
  • Smart Homes: In addition to entertainment and convenience capabilities, smart homes offer considerable opportunities to improve security and safety, reduce accidents and enable the elderly or disabled to have more options for independent living.
  • Robotic Exoskeletons: Workers in warehouses, airports and other locations are being outfitted with exoskeletons that allow them to lift heavy weights while reducing injuries.
  • Connected and Driverless Vehicles: Developments in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and progress toward autonomous vehicles hold the promise of dramatically reducing vehicle accidents and the related injuries and deaths.

These are just a few of the hundreds of examples of the emerging, connected-world opportunities that may improve our health, promote wellness and enrich our quality of life. In addition, the entrepreneurial spirit and venture capital related to emerging tech and the connected world are engaging legions of individuals, both young and old. There may be one group of individuals that is looking forward to binge-watching Netflix while interacting with their world from the comforts of their living room couch. But there are many others that are actively engaging in the connected world to better themselves and the world around them.

See also: How Connected Will Connected World Be?

You may be wondering what this has to do with insurance. The answer is – a lot. Just as mobile and social media technologies have changed expectations, patterns of communication and the business environment, so will the connected world. Positive and negative implications of the connected world will affect human health, traffic patterns, accidents, population distribution, employment opportunities and many other areas of life and society. In short, virtually everything that the insurance industry covers will be affected in some way. There may be some who will sit on the couch as their health deteriorates and their societal contributions decrease, but there will also be many more who thrive on the opportunities of the connected world. Either way, the needs and risks of customers will change.

Are You Still Selling Newspapers?

“Who is that guy, and what’s he doing?”

Shaun called me, laughing. He explained that he had just heard about a teenager who was at his friend’s house. As they walked through the den – he saw an older man reading a newspaper in a recliner and asked the question above.

The man’s son said, “That’s my dad, and he’s reading a newspaper.”

The next question was, “What’s a newspaper?” followed by, “Where does he get it?” The son apologized for his dad’s eccentric behavior by explaining that there are stories about news, politics and sports in the paper.

It’s like what we can read on Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram or WhatsApp, or view on YouTube. Every morning a man drives by the house and throws a paper (usually in a plastic bag) out of his window and into our yard. Rain or snow, sleet or shine, dad walks outside to get it. Then he comes in and reads it like he’s doing now.

“Why doesn’t he have a smart phone? What’s wrong with him?” the friend asked.

These questions may shock those of us who walk to the curb at 5:00 every morning, anxiously awaiting our daily delivery. The newspaper is important to me. It is more than news or journalism. It is a ritual in my life, a daily ritual I’ve enjoyed for more than 50 years.

To the teen above, my ritual probably is crazy. To me, he seems stupid. In yesterday’s world, I’m right. In tomorrow’s world, he is.

Consider the profits made by the publishers of newspapers in yesterday’s world. Consider the Big 3 broadcast channels, CBS, NBC and ABC, and their dominance in the media world.

Now recognize that they are dinosaurs – smoking around the tar pits while awaiting their demise.

Is your agency or carrier or brokerage selling yesterday’s products to a population that is the past, or is your agency a living system that is growing with the marketplace as it will be and adapting what you sell and how you sell it to the buyers of the future, or are you focused on your reminiscences?

What populations/niches will you serve in tomorrow’s world? What will they be buying? How will you deliver it to them profitably?

I can promise they will be different than I am, and you must be different than you are – if you don’t want to go extinct! Will your model be paper or virtual?

Think new! Act now!