Empowering agents to deliver great customer experience in the current climate
2020 has been the year of the unexpected. No business could have anticipated the disruption that would result from social distancing, lockdown and economic crisis. The insurance industry, like so many others, had to rapidly accelerate its digital plans in order to continue to serve during a period of unprecedented disruption and dislocation. Panellists on the recent Insurance Innovators’ Empowering agents to deliver great customer experience in the current climate webinar weighed what has been achieved to date and, importantly, what comes next.
“For insurance, this has been an opportunity. It’s validated things we needed to do.”
“For insurance this has been an opportunity,” said Amir Farid, Chief Operating Officer & Chief Business Transformation Officer at Westfield Insurance, who highlighted the acceleration of digital transformation across the industry in response to the COVID-19 crisis. “It’s validated things we needed to do.”
“Things that would take years in normal times have been achieved in months”
Neal Keene, Field Chief Technology Officer at Smart Communications, said the industry had really accelerated its digital transformation. “Things that would take years in normal times have been achieved in months,” he said.
Insurers rapidly mobilized to ensure employees and agents could work safely from remote locations and that customers could continue to be served by accessing new digital channels.
“With handshakes and foot traffic virtually eliminated, the relationship between customers and agent was challenged,” said David Edgerton, VP of Personal Lines Technology at Erie Insurance, which offers auto, home, commercial and life insurance through a network of independent insurance agents. “Most customers adapted and we saw a huge uptake in digital self-serve but agents also went above and beyond, meeting customers outside wearing masks and standing six feet apart to answer their queries and provide advice.”
Indeed, Neal Keene of Smart Communications said that in uncertain times, the human touch is proving more important than ever before. “Customers are looking to agents to be a trusted advisor and counsel,” he said.
There’s an opportunity here for those carriers that deliver support and advice with empathy and understanding – and well-crafted digital journeys can play a part in this.
“One life insurance carrier found customers were asking for more information for loans against their policy value because they needed the cash in this time of hardship,” explained Neal Keene. “So, the company took a proactive stance to automate, streamline and make this process digital end-to-end to get the money into the hands of people more quickly.”
“There’s increased digital dexterity, with people embracing digital in a way they didn’t just five months ago.”
This sudden surge of digital activity has seen widespread adoption by customers – and Amir Farid of Westfield thinks this change is here to stay. “Anything that works will stick,” he said. “New customer expectations are being formed, new behaviors are being formed and there’s increased digital dexterity, with people embracing digital in a way they didn’t just five months ago.”
As insurance companies have learned to innovate at speed, increasing customer engagement and improving productivity, it will be important not to let things slip back to the old ways of doing things, cautioned Farid. “Let’s harness this,” he said. “Let’s not take a step back.”
A trusted partner
“In insurance, trust is everything. As we transition to digital, the challenge will be to humanize the digital to continue with that empathy and trust.”
Despite the increased importance of digital, our panellists said it was essential not to lose the trust and empathy that are so important to customers. “In insurance, trust is everything,” said Neal Keene of Smart Communications. “Agents build entire careers on trust and relationships. As we transition to digital, the challenge will be to humanize the digital to continue with that empathy and trust.”
He highlighted how carriers could reach out to businesses struggling to access capital during the crisis. “Even if it’s not something the insurance company could help them with, there’s a case for being proactive and reaching out to make sure they’re aware of the different state and federal support programs that are available and how they could access capital to keep their business running,” said Keene. “Carriers that do this really well now will see dividends for years to come.”
Technology can help with this. Using data streams from the Internet of Things, for example, whether it’s connected cars or smart homes, insurers can generate data insights that add real value to the customer. “It really makes the relationship with the customer a lot stickier because they are receiving so much more value rather than just having a policy that’s a little ambiguous unless you have a claim,” said Kasey Ketcham, AVP, Commercial Product & Underwriting Enablement at Nationwide. “That additional value from some of the Internet of Things elements is really significant.”
Tools that work
“There’s still a lot of money moving into the InsurTech space, particularly into acquisition and distribution solutions.”
It’s clear that it will be essential for insurers to rapidly access the right tools to deliver slick, seamless and personal service. Kasey Ketcham of Nationwide said it was encouraging that carriers are investing in smart solutions to help accelerate their digital transformation. “Last year InsurTech spending was setting a record for investment quarter by quarter and while there was a pull back in Q1 because of the pandemic, it jumped back up in Q2,” he said. “There’s still a lot of money moving into the InsurTech space, particularly into acquisition and distribution solutions.”
Ketcham highlighted those tools that show particular promise, whether it’s white label solutions that agents can bolt onto their own websites to act as a 24/7 store front, smart usage-based solutions for auto carriers or the ability to take data from wider data sets to help customers better manage and mitigate their risks.
“Some are trying to go it alone but we see that as the hard track. We see these partnerships as collaborative rather than disruptive.”
And, he added, InsurTech is no longer seen as a disruptive threat. “Some are trying to go it alone but we see that as the hard track,” said Ketcham. “We see these partnerships as collaborative rather than disruptive.”
“Innovation is great but you need to operationalize it at scale to bring that innovation to life.”
Amir Farid of Westfield agreed, “Innovation is great but you need to operationalize it at scale to bring that innovation to life. There has to be partnership with carriers to make it work.”
New ways of working
It’s not just new technology that’s needed; companies also need new way of working. “You need cross-functional teams,” said Neal Keene of Smart Communications. “Rather than being traditionally a tech-driven activity, you need to bring everyone along.”
Kasey Ketcham of Nationwide agreed. “You need to break down silos and iterate together on the solution,” he said. “Agents need to be engaged in continuous dialogue with the carrier and you have to open up feedback loops to capture those learnings and bring them into that development process.”
David Edgerton of Erie Insurance said it was important to involve agents in the process of designing, piloting and scaling new technology. “Time with agents is so valuable,” he said.
Neal Keene of Smart Communications added that partnerships with vendors will be increasingly important. “Learn lessons from third parties,” he said.
Amir Farid of Westfield Insurance said it was important that digital transformation isn’t just the digitalization of existing manual processes. “Leave your current state at the door,” he said. “Do not re-engineer current state processes using new technology.”
The human touch
“Agents will always have value. Whether it’s dealing with more complex queries, providing behaviour nudges or developing new capabilities, their value will evolve with this technology.”
The roll out of automation and new self-serve channels doesn’t mean the end for human agents. “Agents will always have value,” said David Edgerton of Erie Insurance. “Whether it’s dealing with more complex queries, providing behaviour nudges or developing new capabilities, their value will evolve with this technology.”
“Technology is not a differentiator, it’s what you do with it. Invest in people because they are the differentiators.”
Amir Farid of Westfield Insurance agreed. “Technology is not a differentiator, it’s what you do with it,” he said. “Invest in people because they are the differentiators.”
Kasey Ketcham of Nationwide backed this. “Technology is not a silver bullet. It’s how you marry technology to human interactions to deliver extraordinary experiences.”
As the industry rises to the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and its economic fall-out, this will be more important than ever.
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