Universal Assistance was founded more than 40 years ago. Tell us what you think the biggest changes have been in the industry in that time?
Universal Assistance was founded during the awakening of the industry and is one of the early pioneers in Latin America. We have witnessed and led many industry changes – the first one being the establishment of the travel assistance concept itself, which began in the early 1980s.
The second stage was the international expansion, given that Latin America is a multi-cultural, multi-language and multi-country environment, each with its unique regulatory and market environmental factors.
A third trend started when relevant players in the industry joined insurance groups – including Universal Assistance, a Zurich company. Financial capacity, resources leverage, best practices and global reach enhanced the industry significantly.
The fourth one is digitalisation of services, from the adoption of online issuance platforms and purchasing, to services deployed online such as claims tools, travel tips and mobile apps. Nowadays, an ever-increasing number of medical assistance cases at Universal Assistance are opened through the app – with a portion finalising there thanks to its end-to-end self-service capabilities and network integration.
Lastly, the pandemic, in addition to accelerating digitalisation, increased the level of awareness about the importance of health coverage and the need to travel protected.
More than 380,000 travellers use your app. How important is it that you harness the best new technology to help your customers in this digital age?
Consumers all over the world have become proficient in the daily use of technology, and through innovation and adoption came to understand what is feasible, how boundaries and limits are pushed constantly, and expectations are raised across all industries into how services can or should be delivered.
Universal Assistance launched the Mobile Medical Self-Management capability in 2021, which is constantly evolving to provide a faster, more convenient way for travellers to have the best options for medical consultations based on the triage outcome as well as their destination through geo-location services, cutting by 80 per cent the talking time required to manage a case and an increasing number of cases managed end-to-end with no human intervention.
The claims process is 100 per cent digital, through the app and the web, and customers prefer to request claims on the go as they are travelling – aggressively shortening process times across services and increasing customer satisfaction.
To further enhance the travel experience, Universal Assistance added complementary tools. ‘Travel Tips with ChatGPT’ was introduced, providing valuable information on security, tourism, transportation, gastronomy, and documentation.
Our application is breaking performance records every year, accumulating since launch over one million downloads, over 380,000 active users this year, over 3.8 million annual sessions and over 20,000 open medical cases annually.
We are pioneers in innovation and we envision the capabilities that artificial intelligence (AI) in medicine will bring, which is why we are already evaluating and planning possible online medical services offers.
Customer feedback is imperative in this industry. How does Universal Assistance effectively implement and utilise customer feedback loops?
Universal Assistance has evolved in the last few years on the customer satisfaction and NPS surveys, in the different touchpoints of the journey. We thoroughly analyse each response, categorise the feedback in the root cause, and put in place action plans to address the opportunities. It is an amazing way to capitalise and build on this feedback, understanding the pain points, solving problems with our services or with the global network, as well as to evaluate and incorporate in our proposition ideas that come directly from customers.
As we meet monthly to evaluate the results of this work, there is a point of accountability from each team to improve, and every person within the service delivery value chain has a portion of the yearly objectives to achieve or exceed an NPS target in their respective touchpoint.
Global partnerships with medical providers are of vital importance in this industry. How do you choose who to work with and how do you maintain these strategic partnerships?
Universal Assistance has a wealth of experience and knowledge on the territories which are most relevant for our travellers, and through the years has developed the medical provider network. It is classified in three tiers, and based on this we establish the certification requirements to be part of our network, and the medical department periodically evaluates the performance and quality of services.
Knowing that delays in payments to providers are an industry pain, two years ago we introduced RPA technology in audit and payment processes plus a set of KPIs to monitor the end-to-end processing times. As a result, in 2023 we have achieved an average payment time of 17 days from invoice reception through payment. Ultimately, we want to ensure that we have the best network, with the best quality of medical services, in the most cost-efficient manner.
Universal Assistance operates mainly with cashless services. Can you explain more about this and why it’s so important?
We know it is of outmost importance for our customers that medical services are experienced without them having to pay and claim, so this is a high priority. Through a robust global network, Universal Assistance provides most of its services in a cashless manner.
Every month we track and measure those claims that weren’t cashless, which also reflect travel trends, to explore and prioritise on developing capabilities that will address this. This is a constant feedback loop, and we get energised by working relentlessly on this.
You sometimes partner with other assistance companies. Tell us when and why this might happen, and who you might choose to work with.
This is a two-way partnership. On one hand there are travel destinations that aren’t frequent locations for our customers – there we work with other assistance companies that have significant scale locally to handle our cases through their network.
On the other hand, we have a very strong network in North and Latin America, as well as key countries in Europe and cities around the world with diplomatic corps, and we offer our services to assistance companies to manage cases for them. We ensure that those assistance companies share our values on the quality of services to be provided to their customers, as well as having a short-tail business with prompt payments.
At Universal Assistance we strive to provide excellent service so that travellers have the peace of mind they need when travelling, contributing to the growth of the travel industry.