Tech should enhance customer service, not replace it

How many of us dread contacting a call centre? With few exceptions call centres have evolved into partially automated service points of last resort and customers have low expectations of an effective resolution. Low customer satisfaction ratings remain a huge pain point for the insurance industry and I want to make the case for bringing back human interactions as a way to build profitable businesses with content customers.

Digital-only customer service is not enough 

In many respects the move to digital-first customer services, supported by answers to frequently asked questions enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots, is a welcome change, allowing non-urgent and straightforward service and sales requests to be handled without human intervention from the insurer.

I am a firm advocate of digital business models, however a digital-only experience is not enough to engage many customers and it ducks the fundamental need for people to interact with well-trained staff on complex products such as insurance. The pendulum has swung too far towards these digital-only customer services and people are craving more intimate experiences with the companies they do business with. Human DNA simply doesn’t change as fast as technology. Call centres, as currently architected, do not provide the solution.

Fortunately, if we stand back and recognise the power of human interaction and the new technology capabilities available, we can design and execute a concierge-type level of customer services that can be delivered more cost effectively than ever before.

How? Great customer service begins with accountability and I would start by allocating a named client account manager and a dedicated client service executive team to each customer. Then, deploy a microsite for customers of the client account manager that is a personalised digital shop front, which includes the profiles of the supporting team. The customers can use this digital front in a digital-only mode, safe in the knowledge that when they need support, they can escalate to known and named individuals.

Use technology to streamline the customer service process

AI-enabled chatbots can indeed be deployed to deal with many of the customer requirements, as long as there is a clear and easy path to get one-click connectivity to a reliable and trusted team.

These benefits extend to the teams themselves, who are empowered with a full view of customer activity that enables them quickly to identify both sales opportunities as well as customer service problems. The customer service teams will be able to refer more specialist inquiries to internal teams, but at all times retain responsibility for solving the customer’s problem. Support team bonuses should be linked to customer satisfaction metrics.

If this seems like a relatively simple prescription, it’s because it is and the technologies are available today. In essence, technology can be used as the fulcrum to filter out the less essential interactions, while at the same time providing a much more personal and accountable level of service.

So why hasn’t it happened already? In the insurance industry, and perhaps more broadly, people have focused on the efficiency of human interaction over its effectiveness. Short-term costs that are directly measurable have been allowed to overtake building customer relationships, even though these same relationships are an excellent source of future sales, whether directly or indirectly via referrals.

My hope is that insurers commit themselves fully to developing customer service capabilities that are digital first with the right amount of human contact. Beyond insurance, I think this is the template for society to move ahead and take full advantage of digital opportunities, while reflecting on the reality that our basic human values do not evolve as quickly as technology, nor do they need to.