Balancing Bots and Human Support
The past decade has taught us that insurers need to manage the feelings side of their relationship with customers much better. But with new technologies primarily being used to digitize processes, insurers are in danger to become even less human. Advanced algorithms generate a lot of headlines because they can replace humans and save costs. What is increasingly meant by the word ‘personal’ is personalization, ‘personal offers’ based on personal data. And when we speak of ‘social’, we immediately think of the use of social media. But that is not social by definition. It should be about being social, in everyday interactions. A social person is kind, honest, friendly, generous, giving; someone who makes time for me, listens to me, keeps promises, goes the extra mile. Humans inject emotion, empathy, passion, creativity, they are able to smile and surprise, and can deviate from the procedure if needed, which algorithmic systems are unlikely to do at this stage. These talents are essential parts of successful customer engagement.
We believe there are ample of opportunities to leverage technology to enhance being ‘simply human’. We actually wrote a whole chapter about this in our latest book ‘Reinventing Customer Engagement’. By creating a hybrid model, the best of both world, insurers can deploy technology to empower human front-liners even more, in order to produce an even better experience and performance. For instance, by combining and integrating robo-adviser systems with human brokers or customer contact agents, insurers can deliver better conversations and higher customer satisfaction, which result in better advice and higher conversion rates.
We asked Jeffrey Mack, director of marketing at SaleMove, one of the leaders in applying bots, to share his vision and learnings on how to create this winning combination of humans and bots.
We believe that excellent customer service agents still outperform the current chatbots. But unfortunately, many agents are not delivering excellent customer service.
Jeffrey: “When used together, humans and bots are a winning combination for providing excellent customer support. Determining which tasks are allocated where, however, is the critical part of the partnership between the two. With bots on the rise, there are lots of businesses who balance the human and bots in different ways; some lean towards the human, while others lean toward automation. Although each business is different, the ones who get the partnership correct thrive – often delivering a superior customer experience, while being rewarded with more satisfied, loyal customers and their accompanying share of wallet. Businesses who fail to achieve the balance between human and bot often find themselves struggling to not only attract customers, but also to differentiate their core products and services.”
So how do you integrate new technologies like bots, while maintaining the human touch?
Jeffrey: “The first step is to ensure that your customer is at the center of everything you do. Many companies claim to be customer-centric, but when you look more closely at the experience they deliver, it’s clearly not the case. Decisions should be made in the best interest of the customer, not in the best interest of business. Doing so will foster relationships with customers through empathetic connections. Having a customer-centric mentality allows businesses to view new technologies in a whole new way. The key to balancing technology and human support is understanding the reality of the technology in its current state. What technology can be in five years’ time is not relevant to what the technology is today. This is the biggest lesson we’ve learned at SaleMove while helping our clients responsibly integrate AI and chatbots into their online support offering.”
What is in your view the current state of the art of bots?
Jeffrey: “While bots might one day be capable of completely replicating the human experience, that is not the case today. The current state of chatbot technology leads to significant failure on the bot’s part, especially when the complexity of the conversation with a customer continues to increase. In our minds, chatbots aren’t ready for primetime. The technology simply isn’t there yet. We feel it’s perfectly acceptable for bots to handle simple inquiries, like password resets, but for more complex conversations, a human is better suited to deliver a positive customer experience.”
Does this mean that businesses should hold off on deploying AI chatbots?
Jeffrey: “Not necessarily. By properly balancing the bot and their human agents, companies can begin leveraging the many benefits of AI, while maintaining the benefits of human-to-human conversation. We believe this is the most responsible rollout of this technology today – and one we’ve done several times with some of our largest clients, including several forward-thinking major insurers. Our balanced approach to bot implementation and deployment squarely puts a human at the center – both the customer and the support agent. Whereby most companies employing bots simply interface their bot with customers and hope for the best, our bot technology is designed to interface directly with the agent … not the customer.”
Bots specifically designed to support agents and not customers … what exactly is your vision behind this approach?
Jeffrey: “We strive to help companies deliver the best customer experience possible. This means that we must ensure that customers have a seamless journey where each engagement with a company ends positively. If a customer is chatting with a bot and the bot fails, we fail. Not only do these instances try the patience of a customer, but they also increase customer effort, which is perhaps the strongest influence on customer loyalty.”
Your solution flips the script …
Jeffrey: “Yes. We have found that by interfacing the bot directly with an agent, we not only provide a better experience for the customer, we also provide a better experience for the agent. Similar to other bot technology, our solution, affectionately referred to as OmniGuide, scans all conversations with a customer in real-time. Based on the inquiry, OmniGuide will present a suggested answer or action to a human agent who can then either pass that answer on to the customer, modify the message, or discard it completely. This method allows human eyes to decide how accurate the bot is and removes the possibility of bot failure. Additionally, companies are able to leverage their human agents to ‘train’ their bots – ensuring greater accuracy for the day when bot technology is good enough to interface directly with customers.”
So at some point bots will support agents and interface with customers simultaneously …
Jeffrey: “In our opinion, this approach allows a near perfect balance between technology and humans. As the technology improves, companies can slowly transition from human-to-human engagement to bot-to-human engagement based on tangible improvements in the bot’s confidence level. In this scenario, easy tasks like resetting passwords or finding a policy number can be comfortably handled by a bot. More complex tasks like understanding which insurance policy is best suited to a customer can be handled by a human.”
Digital transformation is not just about technology, but more importantly about change and culture …
Jeffrey: “Absolutely. We’ve leveraged this framework for rolling out bot technology with several clients and have learned valuable lessons which we’ve incorporated into future implementations. For one, striking a balance between technology and human typically relies on a new mindset that understands the importance of not only what technology can be, but also what it is. Too often companies rush to be first – often to the detriment of the customer experience. Keeping the customer at the forefront should allow you to really evaluate how best to leverage new tech. We’ve also learned that many companies see AI and bots as a standalone strategy. We view AI and bots as part of an overall shift to omnichannel customer engagement. When viewed as a part of a larger plan, we’ve found companies to be more conservative with how they roll out the technology, which is a good thing.”
Bots as a part of a larger plan. What should that bigger picture be?
Jeffrey: “We’ve learned that companies are just beginning to understand that the bigger picture is the customer experience. In world where there’s becoming less differentiation on the product side, the biggest differentiation between Company A and Company B is how they treat their customers. This should come as no surprise as study after study have shown that customers place greater importance on experience than price. But, in our experience companies have taken too long to adopt this. The good news is that we’re hearing more and more from companies who deem customer experience to be their highest priority.”
Jeffrey Mack – SaleMove