Since the start of lockdown in March, businesses across the UK have faced a multitude of disruptions and had to come up with creative solutions to overcome them. Naturally, some businesses have been more successful than others.

One sector that’s had to adapt their approach quickly has been the insurance industry. There was a flurry of holiday insurance claims, for example, once travel was no longer possible and destinations shut down. On top of that, the quick transition from office-based working to remote working forced firms to cope with a significant change in a short period of time.

Perhaps the most important change, and one which some insurance firms have struggled to cope with, is how they interact with their customers now. Where before much of the customer interaction took place over the phone, especially when dealing with concerns, it’s now largely taking place over email. This has proven to be a much slower and less efficient method. However, it doesn’t have to be.

Dwindling customer experience

Claims handling staff, particularly those who work in call centres, are at the heart of the customer experience in insurance. Often, when a customer has a problem, they will be able to call and speak with an advisor who will help them with their problem directly and quickly.

However, due to both lockdown and social distancing rules, the number of claims handling staff working in call centres dramatically reduced. This means that, aside from emergency contact, many customers are being asked to contact their insurers via email instead. At the same time, there is an estimated £1.2bn in claims to be settled associated with the pandemic.

For insurers, what this means is that there is still a constant stream of customer requests and concerns coming in, but the capacity to deal with them has reduced. While this may seem more of an immediate pain point which will ease as lockdown measures relax, insurers should be and – in many cases – are looking to improve the customer experience.

Far too often, even in more regular circumstances, customers are left on hold while trying to contact the firm to resolve an issue, which leads to frustration and lost business.

While some customers may be more understanding of a less streamlined customer experience given the circumstances, this reprieve will not last for long and insurance firms must act on this gap in their customer experience.

Your request is now complete

Moving forwards, how can insurance firms improve their customer experience? The most important factor is to be able to deal with customer requests both accurately and efficiently. Having an effective online customer experience can help with this dramatically.

Currently, for many insurance firms, the online customer experience has been a pain point, particularly in recent times. The handling of claims sent in via email or online forms is currently a slow and laborious process, especially when relying solely on staff to review.

A solution to this problem would be for firms to implement text analytics to assist staff with this process. Nationwide Building Society did exactly this and to great effect.

Using AI and natural language processing, Nationwide Building Societ was able to identify elements of customer communication that could be improved. They realised that over half of all email enquiries could have been resolved by guiding customers towards digital channels.

However, to achieve this insurance firms must get their ducks, or in this case their data, in a row. For the technology to work effectively, the algorithms must be fed by strong and relevant data to enable the best decisions.

Getting your ducks in a row

First thing’s first: insurance firms must ensure that they have full visibility of their data before they start implementing analytics technology. To make this a reality, customer data cannot be siloed within a variety of different environments, as is often the case. Instead, it should ideally all be accessible from a centralised cloud system so that it is all in one place.

From this vantage point, insurance firms can assess all of their data and cherry-pick the data which is strongest and most relevant. This is particularly important for insurance firms, given much of their data comes from online completed customer forms. These often have unique fields such as policy ID, customer names and dates of birth, which can be difficult to manage as the data is sometimes inconsistent or formatted strangely.

With full visibility over all this data, firms can clean up any data issues, while ensuring only the most pertinent data is fed into the algorithms which power AI and natural language processing.

However, they must also be realistic about what they aim to achieve. A manageable target would be to aim for a prioritised list of customer interactions with key data items validated and passed to other systems where appropriate. This will allow insurance firms to enjoy a similar experience to Nationwide: identifying customer concerns which can be redistributed to digital channels while prioritising the concerns which need human interaction.

While nobody could have predicted the recent disruptions and their magnitude, it has highlighted deficiencies in business models which must be addressed. Insurance firms cannot afford to leave their customers in a waiting room. Now is the time for them to properly manage their data and implement analytics to simplify and streamline the customer experience exponentially.

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