While some insurance companies weather the storm of COVID-19 business interruption claims, the motor insurance sector has seen an estimated £1bn reduction in claims as customers’ vehicles have sat idle.
Many motor insurers have capitalised on the opportunity to boost customer loyalty by returning a portion of the premium to their customers. Admiral has set aside £100m to repay £25 to each of its 4.4 million motor insurance customers. In the US, AllState announced that it would repay 15% of customers’ premiums for April and May. Geico stated that it had committed $2.5bn (£2bn) to repay customers who had not used their vehicles during lockdown. American Family also announced plans to reimburse customers $50 (£40) per insured vehicle.
Call Volume Spikes Hurt
Whenever lockdown measures, travel restrictions, or reimbursement schemes are announced, this drives up calls to insurers’ contact centres, as customers scramble to find out where they stand. This can cause a lot of stress to contact centre employees, while also driving up operational costs for the insurer. This effect is compounded when insurers are having to maintain customer service while agents are working from home.
Using AI to change the conversation
In the first week of March travel restrictions were announced in Ireland and the contact centre in Dublin saw a rapid increase in calls from travel insurance customers. By 9 March its COVID-19 digital assistant was launched via its interactive voice response (IVR) menu.
The digital assistant directs customers to the information that they need, deflecting them to the convenience of a self-service channel but it can also escalate more complicated issues to contact centre agents. This avoids customers being caught in a ‘bot loop’ if their query has not been resolved by the digital assistant, or if they specifically request handover to a live chat agent.
Once the digital assistant went live, 11% of incoming calls were deflected, allowing customer service agents to focus on answering more complex queries.
Five steps to serve customers, while safeguarding employees:
1. Call deflection:
Callers were offered the option, via the IVR, to choose to engage with the digital assistant and have their issue dealt with more promptly. This offered customers the advantage of 24/7 availability, without being held in a queue.
2. Help customers to help themselves:
Customers were then sent a link to the COVID-19 digital assistant, via an SMS on their mobile. This allowed The AA to automate conversations, while making customers fully aware at the outset that they were interacting with an AI bot, not a human agent on livechat. Once customers clicked on the link in their SMS, a COVID-19 message popped up to direct them to related updates.
The bot was also programmed to assist customers with other common service queries: offering them multiple options, in addition to COVID-19 information. This allows customers to use the same digital assistant to supply relevant documents, gain assistance on policy renewals, and access information and assistance on changes to their policies. By acting as a signpost to relevant information, customers can use the bot to self-serve and dip in and out of the process whenever it is convenient for them.
3. Always allow customers to speak to a human
The insurer integrated its COVID-19 digital assistant with its existing Zendesk live chat platform. This seamless integration between the digital assistant and livechat system allows for seamless escalation to customer service agents. Customers only have to type, “I want to speak to someone,” for the bot to hand the conversation over to a contact centre agent.
4. Measure results
Post-contact analysis was carried out to quantify how many conversations with the digital assistant were escalated to a live agent. This allows the conversations to be improved over time. A/B message testing was also used, to optimise the digital assistant’s conversations.
The insurer measured an 11%deflection in calls after the COVID-19 digital assistant went live.
5. Tap into existing expertise
Conversational AI platforms have matured to the point that insurers don’t require coding knowledge to benefit from implementing digital assistants. What is required is an understanding of customer processes and conversations and contact centre professionals already have this expertise.
Digital AI assistants can initially be programmed with queries and consistent responses that are based on realistic contact centre conversations and live chats. They then need to be tuned and optimised on an ongoing basis, in response to changing market conditions, customer feedback and A/B message testing.
Using AI, a digital assistant can be trained and tuned so that its conversational ability improves quickly in the early weeks of deployment. It can also be designed to automate routine workflows and reduce the costly labour-intensive steps in resolving customer issues.
Employing AI post-COVID
Besides deflecting calls and offering customers a self-service channel during busy periods, digital assistants can be deployed to automate pre-quote and post-quote online processes, keeping customers engaged towards a successful completion and conversion to a sale. They can also help automate customer onboarding and reduce delays in gathering multiple proof documents that are required to activate a policy. Or they can be used to proactively contact customers when their policies are due for renewal. Digital assistants can handle these routine customer interactions extremely efficiently: increasing conversion and renewal rates, reducing agent handling time and lowering the cost of service for insurers.
The development of natural language technology is enabling insurers to understand more precisely what customers are looking for when they submit their query, so that automated responses match their needs. However, it is vital to allow your customers to speak to a customer service agent when they request this, or when a digital assistant doesn’t provide the information that they require.
As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, this blend of automation and human agents is enabling insurers to rapidly scale their service operations to meet the needs of customers, without overwhelming employees, while keeping costs in check. In the post-pandemic era, digital assistants are likely to be viewed as less of a luxury and more of a life raft.
By from Cathal McGloin, CEO of ServisBOT