Using technology to deliver customers a premium experience

By Gary Williams, Director of Sales and Consultancy, Spitch
Gary Williams, Director of Sales and Consultancy at Spitch, explores the impact of COVID-19 on the insurance market...

If customer experience was the key to success for insurers before, the past year has taken things to a whole new level. At a time when many of us are being urged to stay at home due to a global pandemic, consumers have become ever more reliant on voice and digital channels to engage with brands and acquire their services. Technologies such as voice steering, chatbots and all manner of self-service platforms have gone from being a luxury to an absolute necessity if companies are to retain their customers and acquire new ones, without compromising on the customer experience itself. 

For those companies that had already made headway with their digital transformation strategy, the storm caused by the pandemic might have been a little bit easier to weather. Those businesses still leaning on outdated technologies or high street interactions, however, will have felt their grip on great customer experiences slowly begin to loosen. Unfortunately, companies operating in the insurance sector tend to fall into the latter. If they don’t begin to meet customer expectations soon, they run the risk of getting left out in the cold. But therein lies an incredible opportunity for those insurance providers willing to adapt and put the customer experience first.

Escalating expectations

It must be noted that with great technology comes great expectation. The moment a new technology is onboarded that advances the customer experience, it becomes the benchmark of quality that all customers come to expect. We have seen it time and again in the banking and retail sectors and it’s how trends like voice banking, money management apps and contactless (NFC) phone payments caught on - they add value to the user in time-saving and convenience, and therefore become the new standard. 

This feedback loop of advancement and expectation isn’t new, but the pandemic accelerated the process considerably. In a bid to retain customers, able businesses have already embraced new technologies, once again moving the bar of expectation that little bit higher for the rest of the industry. If 2020 was about customer retention in a difficult market, 2021 will be about customer acquisition in the so-called ‘new normal’, and the advancements made in technology will be here to stay. 

From ‘low touch’ to ‘high touch’

Traditionally, insurance has been considered a fairly ‘low touch’ industry. Once a year, customers would check-in to renew their policy and then continue to pay their monthly premiums, usually via direct debit. Or they are making last minute arrangements for an upcoming holiday, which was more commonplace before the pandemic. While all this might sound like business as usual, it’s not what the modern customer necessarily wants. According to a 2020 Insurance Survey Report entitled ‘The Voice Of The U.S. Customer’, people are far more likely to choose insurers that meet their digital expectations. In fact, more than half (54%) said they would like their insurer to have a smartphone app, and that it should be as easy to use as Facebook or Instagram. 

While the insurance industry itself might be content to let things ‘tick-over’, consumers are signalling that they would like more interaction and engagement. In fact, more than two-thirds (64%) of those surveyed say they’d be perfectly happy to share more data with insurers in exchange for lower premiums and other benefits. This is a golden opportunity for providers to join the relatively ‘high-touch’ ranks of banks and online retailers and overhaul their customer experience. 

Many of the more dynamic companies have over the years expanded their traditional range of services and products beyond house, car and travel and into life cover, pensions and even BPO services. This has in turn expanded the quality of interaction needed with the customer and a greater need for automation, analytics, compliance monitoring and so on. If adding the new products is to be a profitable venture, yet one in which the level of service is maintained, companies need to redirect investment into new digital solutions.

Below are just some of the trends we are likely to see emerge in line with customer expectations in 2021 and beyond:

Voice technology

According to Gartner, more than 30% of interactions with technology will soon be handled through ‘conversations’ with smart devices and machines. Thanks to the wonders of Natural Language Processing (NLP), automated chats or ‘virtual agents’ are currently able to handle around 80% of all customer communications. It’s a natural progression from a traditional IVR (interactive voice response) system which would allow users to speak a word or say an account number in order to be quickly routed to a particular department. This kind of voice technology is of mutual benefit when handling high call volumes - it dramatically reduces waiting times for customers and also reduces running costs for businesses by making them more efficient. 

Artificial intelligence

Insurers have always been data-driven organisations, leveraging AI and machine learning to maximise profits and streamline their business. We’re likely to see these capabilities extend to the user too, using algorithms to help with insurance plan selections, analysis and even claims settlements. If consumers are willing to give up data for more perks, why not reward them with tailored policies curated using automated AI tools? Insurers get to reduce their costs and free up staff, and customers get bespoke policies with reduced premiums as a result. 

Digital sales channels

While NLP and voice technology will make call handling easier, there are still customers that will prefer to do their research and set up a policy online. To that end, we’re likely to see insurers extend their digital presence beyond basic websites and into mobile apps, smart speakers and entire digital advertising campaigns. What if a customer could renew their insurance policy or get a quote by simply asking Alexa or Google? It’s more user-friendly and less time consuming than filling out web forms.

While the pandemic may have accelerated the adoption of some of this technology in the sector, it’s far from temporary. Customers are open to insurance companies and brokers using technology, with many actively crying out for more ways to interact and engage with insurance brands. Ultimately, the effects of the pandemic will go on to mould the sales strategy for insurers and brokers who will be looking to capitalise on their short-term gains in shaping the customer experience. 

This article was contributed by Gary Williams, Director of Sales and Consultancy at Spitch.


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