EXCLUSIVE: ‘The New CXcellence’ – Barry Webb, BGL Group and Stuart Dorman, Sabio in ‘The Fintech Magazine’
If insurance is over ‘peak churn’ created by price competition, and the competitive advantage now is in CX – as Barry Webb, who leads contact centre technology and strategy at BGL Group, believes – then how should organisations respond? Here, Webb shares his thoughts with Stuart Dorman, Chief Innovation Officer at CX technology provider Sabio
Since the emergence of price comparison sites in the 90s, cost has been the primary driver of consumer purchasing decisions in insurance.
With customers reluctant to part with any more cash than necessary for something many regarded as a necessary evil, let alone proactively engage with providers, there was little incentive for service innovation. The mood is changing, however, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced insurers and customers alike to urgently review their priorities.
We asked Stuart Dorman, chief innovation officer at customer experience technology provider Sabio, and Barry Webb, who leads contact centre technology and strategy at BGL Group, which manages the insurance documents of three million customers via the contact centres ofleading UK insurers, what lies ahead.
The Fintech Magazine: How has the pandemic affected customer experience in insurance?
Stuart Dorman: The pandemic has forced an entire new cohort of customers down the route of using digital technologies to go about their daily lives – grocery shopping and banking online, and using platforms like Zoom to communicate with family and friends. The nation’s digital savviness has progressed massively, and that’s having a huge impact on how people engage with organisations, including insurers.
Although the insurance sector has been well on its way to digitising, the big challenge has been getting customers to engage with it, using digital channels to access their documentation, log claims, etc. This has seen insurers, in recent years, going to where the customers are, applying digital strategies on the voice channel, and conversational artificial intelligence (AI) on web channels.
Barry Webb: The insurance industry has been behind the digital curve compared to broader financial services, but, in the last few years, there’s been some catchup. While the purchasing cycle was quite heavily disrupted, years back, by price comparison, customers have been reticent in adopting digital
for servicing, though we’ve seen some traction, particularly in the last year.
Insurance isn’t a highly-engaging product, unlike other financial services that customers use more frequently, where they’re willing to invest more time in learning to use new digital channels.
However, we are seeing customers who we’ve struggled, for years, to demonstrate the value of digital channels to, starting to take advantage of our broader digital services, such as online portals and messaging apps, due to their experiences elsewhere. And we’ve seen an emphasis on trust – where customers have wanted to flex their products because, for example, they’re not using their car as much, and have needed reassurance that this would be done, simply and clearly.
TFM: What is the technology of the moment, when it comes to great customer experience (CX)?
BW: Until now, certainly in heavily-commoditised market areas like private motor and home, customer experience has had less value than we would’ve liked because it’s been so price-based. But I think we’re close to reaching the peak of customers shopping around and churn, and that’s a really fantastic opportunity for those of us that are customer experience enthusiasts.
With price becoming less of a differentiator in the future, CX will become king, and delivering service through the right channel, in the right way, in the moment when it really counts, will be the real opportunity for us to retain customers.It’s about using multiple modes or media. Attempts to do this in the past might have felt like deliberate channel-shift efforts to customers, and they’ve resisted it, but they’re adopting technology differently now, and recognising that it’s helping them, not just the organisation.
SD: There’s been this long-standing, ‘omnichannel’ vision, that customers should be able to do anything via any channel. I disagree. We’ve got to think about the most appropriate way to communicate, as humans. We speak faster than we can type, we read faster than we can listen, and we can absorb lots of information very quickly through visual means. So, we have to design experiences that take advantage of all the different benefits channels have to offer, and this is how organisations will communicate with their customers in future.
In terms of the customer journey, when buying a product there’s an opportunity for insurers to leverage digital channels, alongside voice, to visualise products and help customers understand what they’re buying. Banking has been really successful around this, with significant uplifts in re-sell and cross-sell opportunities. And it’s particularly interesting now more people are at home – they’re initiating contacts via screens, often on phones, so organisations can use that to provide their call centre agents with an extra tool.
The claims part of the journey is different again, and we’ve seen telephone usage increase significantly, mainly because customers want to speak to somebody and have confidence that their problem is being taken seriously. That’s the opportunity – to show the customer the value they’re getting in insurance, leveraging messaging channels to reassure them about progress in resolving their case.
We’re doing a lot of work with insurers, using AI and machine learning, to tap into customer conversations, both upfront, before the call hits the call centre, and in real time during the conversation, using models to understand the customer’s intent, what they’re looking to achieve, and presenting information that allows the agent to advise them, using the right amount of knowledge. The more forward-thinking insurers will be able to leverage innovation to differentiate themselves, drive better efficiencies and deliver more personalised experiences.
TFM: Who has the customer experience advantage – insurtechs or incumbents?
BW: It’s a bit of both. The insurance industry has certainly been slow to move [to a digital approach], due to factors like legacy technologies. We speak to some really long-established general insurers that have, through merger and acquisition, hundreds of different technologies in their stack, which makes it very difficult.
There is a natural risk-aversion in the industry, as well. But, equally, there is an element of customer choice.
Some of the insurtech startups that have brought radical new products or service models to market, have had an appeal, but a relatively small one, in terms of overall market share. That’s down to customers electing to engage with the big, established players they’re used to, out of trust, brand recognition and familiarity with the service.
SD: The advantage more established insurers have is the contact centre, which enables that human interaction which has really come to the forefront over recent months. The customer service department, or contact centre, has never been viewed as such a strategic asset to engage with customers before, but is now being featured in board-level conversations.
There is a perception that digital interactions mean humans get taken completely out of the loop, but digital is just a set of tools that enable you to enhance the interaction, and embedding humans in that process, making sure they’re there to step in, when needed, and leveraging digital technologies to enable them to do a much better job, is how we should be thinking about digital, and where the established providers have a real advantage.
They also have access to huge amounts of customer interaction data. The insurers that will succeed in the future will be the ones that find a way to use that to nudge the customer, or call centre employee, to add value to their real-time interactions.
TFM: What lasting changes do you think might result from the pandemic?
SD: Homeworking will definitely be a key part of the mix, going forward. People are often on smaller screens, and therefore we need to design the experiences so that they have the information at their fingertips to deliver a better service. That means thinking about design, both from a customer-facing and an agent user interface perspective.
BW: We surprised ourselves at how fast we changed to 100 per cent homeworking. Like most organisations, we were firmly of the view that it wasn’t a particularly attractive – or even viable – contact centre model, but circumstances forced us to rethink. I agree it’s important to recognise the different challenges call centre workers have when fulfilling their role from home, whether that’s the physical hardware or even pets appearing on screen!
As a society, there’s been a shift and it brings us, as a contact centre operation, a whole new operating model, potentially. That’s at the front of our thinking now: it’s not just about technology, it’s about how you work with people, and the servicing opportunities you can bring to customers.
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