home Artificial Intelligence - AI, Contact Centre The benefits Conversational AI can bring to Australian insurance contact centres

The benefits Conversational AI can bring to Australian insurance contact centres

The beating heart of every insurance company on the planet is indisputably its contact centre. That’s where hard-working agents handle enquiries, renew policies, process claims and collectively determine how the public face of their organisation looks and sounds.

To say insurance contact centres have been up against it in recent years is something of an understatement. The onset of the Covid crisis triggered an extraordinary wave of enquiries, and forced institutions, ready or not, to adopt distributed service delivery models; arming their agents with laptops and sending them home to work, as best they could.

The subsequent pivot to digital – high tech industry watchers have posited that the pandemic was the catalyst for a decade’s worth of transformation and growth globally – has led to millions more customers around the world looking to transact with their insurers online, rather than in person or over the phone.

Millennials and newly adult Gen Z customers, in particular, have very low tolerance for hanging on hold for hours. They expect to enjoy swift, seamless online experiences when purchasing policies and lodging claims, and they’re likely to take their custom elsewhere, should it not be forthcoming.

Coping with product complexity

Hence, having the capacity to deliver efficient, effective omni-channel service, to customers and brokers, is a must, for Australia’s $70 billion-plus insurance industry.

It’s also a significant challenge, given the complexity of the average insurance product. Sure, buying a couple of weeks of travel cover may be a straightforward transaction that can be completed online but larger, higher value policies – home, business, car, life – are less commonly purchased this way.

While some institutions have implemented automation technology, customers still need to speak to a human being, in order to have their enquiries resolved, in 80 per cent of instances.

High quality, Amazon-style self-service, epitomised by the famous Jeff Bezos quote that ‘the best customer service is if the customer doesn’t need to call you, doesn’t need to talk to you. It just works’, remains the unattainable dream for most insurers.

The Conversational AI edge

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

With the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence has come Conversational AI – powerful technology that can slash the number of human transactions in the average insurance contact centre and improve the quality and speed of service to boot.

Virtual agents powered by Conversational AI have the capacity to conduct dynamic conversations with customers in natural language. Natural language processing capability enables them to gauge context, understand multi-intent requests, accommodate conversational variations and provide relevant, helpful responses to complex enquiries.

Importantly, they can finalise a wide range of interactions, rather than merely leading a customer a couple of steps down the path to resolution before redirecting them towards a human counterpart.

Reaping the returns

Experimental technology that’s yet to be proven ‘out in the wild’? Far from it. Conversational AI virtual agents have already been deployed in the contact centre of one of the largest insurers in the US.

And the metrics speak for themselves: a seven-fold improvement in the quality of conversations, a four-fold improvement in the quality of the interactive voice response experience and a 20-fold improvement in routing effectiveness, when human intervention is necessary.

Conversational AI technology has also helped the institution in question mitigate the challenges posed by staff shortages and employee absenteeism; both significant issues in the wake of the pandemic.

Unpacking the opportunity

The potential benefits for local insurers are every bit as compelling. Recent research by DXC found that just 10 per cent of enquiries to insurance contact centres are made by customers whose issues can only be resolved by speaking to a human agent.

The remaining 90 per cent could, potentially, have their requests attended to by Conversational AI virtual agents that have ‘learnt’ to recognise and respond to a wide range of enquiries.

In today’s times, speed and efficiency are the hallmarks of a great customer experience and virtual agents’ ability to resolve enquiries at speed will almost invariably surpass that of their human counterparts, however motivated and experienced the latter may be.  At the same time, offloading tasks to Conversational AI gives human employees more time to focus on resolving the 10 per cent of tasks that require human engagement.

The net result? Improved customer engagement and satisfaction, and substantial cost savings for the insurer.

Maintaining a competitive edge

New generation AI technology is fast revolutionising traditional industries, practices and processes, and the Australian insurance sector is far from immune.

Conversational AI has the potential to cut costs, mitigate staff shortages and transform hard pressed contact centres into highly efficient customer experience powerhouses. As always, early movers will have the advantage while laggards that are slow to explore the possibilities will all too quickly find themselves left behind.

Andrew Winlaw

Andrew Winlaw is Vice President and General Manager – Australia and New Zealand at Amelia, the enterprise leader in trusted artificial intelligence.  He has more than 20 years’ experience in the IT industry during which time Andrew was ANZ National Sales Director at CSC and also worked for IBM Global Services for more than ten years in several roles, including as National Sales Manager and Client Solutions Executive.  He also previously worked at IAG in business analyst and sales consultant positions.