The sweet spot between customer service and technology, Marketing & Advertising News, ET BrandEquity
By Ashish Rao
In the 2008 Academy Award winning feature film for best animation – WALL-E – the audience get to experience a dystopian future, where oversized humans are seen travelling on a hyperloop-driven concept car, served entirely by robots. It was in the realm of science fiction back then, but not anymore. In the last two decades, companies across the world are experimenting with deployment of a wide range of customer service innovations that is fundamentally altering the way we interact with brands.
Be it room service robots designed to deliver towels and beverages, waiterless restaurants in China, robots manufacturing pizzas, or Amazon’s cashierless store called Amazon Go, companies are increasingly deploying pioneering technology solutions at every customer touch-point to facilitate more convenience and create memorable experiences.
However, humans are social creatures and customer service is inherently an emotional value-added service. Eliminating the emotional quotient in customer service could undermine service performance. For instance SoftBank’s humanoid robot Pepper, when deployed at Japans’ Buddhist monasteries to help people hold funerals at a fraction of the cost of what a Buddhist monk would charge, was first met with a muted response.
Also read: The Quad Matrix: Content and Commerce, India and BharatLikewise, in the life insurance industry, which deals with people’s hard-earned savings, executives should carefully evaluate the implications of eliminating human connection completely, when it comes to customer service. That’s because it’s important to understand that human emotions are attached with it. Service providers tread a very thin line in deciding which services can be automated and which cannot. Here are some insights on which touch-points work best with a digital interface and the ones that require a human touch.
Automating sympathy – Imagine your nominee calling the life insurance company to settle the death claim where the person is greeted by a digital condolence, delivered through an IVR system. Would you like it? No matter how accommodating the robot’s voice may sound, deploying automation at such sensitive customer touch-points at first could come across as a cheaper option but the trade-off is highly unlikely to sustain for a long-term. For the life insurance industry, servicing claims is a decisive moment. And it’s more so in case of a death claim. When nominees of policyholders call or walk in to the office, they are anxious, grief stricken and mostly seeking advice. A healing touch offered by a customer service professional at this juncture is essential and cannot be substituted by technology.
Automating claim processing – Claim processing is a tedious process and often involves customers filling out many forms and submitting documents. It’s only after that the insurance company verifies them and the claim is processed. The entire process is time consuming and often causes anxiety for the claimant. As the process is largely transactional and technical in nature, the life insurance industry should look at automating the entire process using AI chatbots that fill up customer application forms and deploy robotic process automation for faster and efficient claim processing. In the coming decade, claim-processing turnaround time would prove to be a significant differentiator in the customer service space.
Ambiguity warrants human touch – We live in times where Amazon tells us what should be our next purchase, Netflix recommends us what we should binge watch next and Google has answers to all our questions at the click of a button. Still, at times financial products may prove to be difficult to understand for an average customer and it requires critical thinking and access to creative solutions before investing one’s life savings in it. The life insurance industry has done well by putting out all its information related to products in the public domain. However, when a customer gets stuck and there is ambiguity related to specific information, they should have the luxury of reaching a person in minutes. Our experience at ICICI Prudential Life Insurance suggests that making this transition seamless allows customers to feel more secure and supported, thus increasing both customer satisfaction and stickiness in the long run.
Automating routine service requests – There are certain service requests in all industries that are very common and occur repeatedly and periodically. Identifying them, understanding their pattern and automating them is a crucial step towards enhancing customer service. In the life insurance industry, customers often get in touch with their insurers after purchasing their product for basic service requests such as renewal payment, switching funds, address change, premium redirection and premium receipt for filing taxes. Our experience suggests that transitioning these services to a self-help mode using technology could save insurers a lot of money and give customers the freedom to avail these services as per their convenience.
Finding the sweet spot between face-to-face and digital may be a challenge, but we need to embrace it with open arms because designing the perfect experience can increase customer retention and loyalty. Digital cannot replace the ‘human touch’, nor does it aim to. Making the best of how digital compliments the service industry is the way forward.
-The author is chief – customer experience and operations, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Company. Views expressed are personal.
Also read: The Future-Ready CMO: ‘Modern brands are defined by the experiences people have with them’, Adobe’s Ann Lewnes