How can conversational AI benefit insurers - and customers?

Artificial intelligence
The Holy Grail of customer support?

Lars Selsås, Co-Founder and CEO of Boost.ai, posits that conversational artificial intelligence is key to truly 21st Century customer service

In recent years, rapid and increased technological innovation has significantly changed customer behaviour and expectations in the insurance industry. Consumers expect the same, customer-centric, omni-channel experiences that they have become accustomed to in other industries when they deal with their insurers.
The Holy Grail of customer service is now made up of three distinct components – constant availability, personalisation and giving customers access to instant solutions for their problems. Powered by conversational AI, insurers are finally taking heed and returning to the core of what service really is: a conversation between a company and its customers.
 
Insurers are out of time
Before there was internet or telephones, companies helped their customers through one-on-one conversations. You had to seek out a local branch and talk to an adviser to find the right policy for you and your family. In the digital era, physical availability is no longer a constraint. But somewhere along the way, customer service teams retreated from the reception areas and were hidden away in isolated support centres, and since then, many customers have felt the frustration of being put on hold or waiting days for a response to an email with even the simplest question. 

Empowered by smart devices, where all information is easily available at their fingertips, customers live in a world of almost infinite supply

 

Now the waves of digitisation are making insurers rethink how they approach customer service. Empowered by smart devices, where all information is easily available at their fingertips, customers live in a world of almost infinite supply. As a result, they are increasingly dictating what they want and demanding more personalised services. They want it right now too, not in 20 to 30 minutes, while being subjected to awful hold music. If any part of the process is too long or feels complicated, unforgiving modern customers will simply take their time and money elsewhere.
 
We need to talk
Messaging has been on a dramatic upward trend over the past several years. Eighty-five per cent of consumers want to engage in a conversation with businesses when they have questions or need help. Any company who still tries to steer the conversation over to email, contact forms or FAQ pages on their website risks losing out to competitors who are more willing to engage customers where they actually want to spend their time. 
Simply adding chat functionality to your company website will not, on its own, make things better. Practical implications and a major challenge of succeeding with messaging are 24/7 availability and responding instantly to hundreds of incoming inquiries. Plus, there’s a little problem of there not being enough hours in the workday! Even within office hours, customer service agents have to manage dozens of conversations at a time. 

We may live in a world where technological innovations are happening at an unprecedented pace, but time travel is still a way off. Does this mean that the Holy Grail of always available, instant and personalised customer service is forever out of reach? 
Not necessarily ...

No humans needed - just AI

The era of conversational AI
Recent advances in AI and chat technology are transforming online customer service, enabling insurers to supercharge the experience and make wait times a thing of the past. With a virtual agent on board, a business can provide reliable and instant customer service and save both the customer and the company time and money. 
The idea is not to replace humans, but supplement their efforts. Virtual agents are well-suited to provide 24/7 service for simple questions that represent the tedious, repetitive tasks that drain the energy of human service agents. But not all problems are created equal. A human touch is still essential for complex cases that, if solved adequately, can result in a lifetime of loyalty from a satisfied customer. 
In other words, the combination of a virtual agent working alongside human support staff is a win-win. Employees are alleviated of time-consuming low-level repetitive tasks, and customers get immediate answers to easy questions that would otherwise cause unnecessary frustration if they had to wait for a human agent to finish other conversations before helping them.
The full potential of conversational AI has already started to materialise and yielded amazing results. In a noteworthy case study, Tryg, one of Europe’s largest non-life insurance companies, is now resolving 97 per cent of all internal chat queries using conversational AI, amplifying both the capacity and quality of their outbound customer support.

Simply adding chat functionality to your company website will not, on its own, make things better

Tryg’s objective was to build a tool that would make internal operations as streamlined and efficient as possible, alongside uncovering the collaborative potential between humans and machines, and boosting its team’s ability to respond to customer enquiries.
“The insurance industry has been waiting a long time for technology that can help us manage complexity,” said Tryg’s Head of Process Excellence, Bjartmar Jensen. “It gets in the way of good customer experiences and has resulted in a lot of silo-organisations, limiting the ability to efficiently cross-sell or develop and sell package products.”

The right answer 97 per cent of the time
“When our outbound support teams speak to customers, they have all of the knowledge from the virtual agent instantly available and at their fingertips,” added Jensen. “If the customer asks a question the operator doesn’t know the answer to, he or she can simply ask Rosa and get an immediate response.
“In fact, 97 per cent of the time Rosa has the right answer, or can provide useful relevant links, explain contract conditions, and provide guidance to internal processes.”
By enabling faster, more efficient service, Tryg’s outbound customer support teams have been able to substantially resolve more cases, while decreasing the number of calls from support to back-office teams.
More companies are following the example of Tryg by setting up a virtual agent as the first point of contact for incoming chat traffic and as a resource for their own customer facing teams. As this becomes the new standard, the Holy Grail of customer support may finally be within reach. ■