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Spitch: will it be a happy Halloween for the insurance industry?

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Director of Sales and Consultancy for Spitch, Gary Williams, discusses the impact of Brexit on the insurance industry and new technologies.

Few people in the insurance sector expects a “treat” this Halloween. October 31st is, of course, the latest deadline in the interminable Brexit debacle and, unsurprisingly, the financial services industry finds itself ill-prepared for an uncertain future.

That’s not to say that they haven’t tried to ready themselves: for example, in their attempts to keep money moving in the event of No Deal, these businesses have even opened subsidiaries in the EU. For the insurance sector, however, Brexit preparations require much more than managing the relationships with partners and international money markets. They must also think about their customers.

The lack of clarity over what Brexit will actually entail means that ordinary consumers are in the dark over the likely effect on, say, their travel insurance plans or their car insurance premiums. Naturally, they will call their insurers to try to get an answer – and this is where the industry faces both challenge and opportunity.

If insurers cannot provide a great call experience – with short waiting times and informed contact centre staff – then they’ll face the ire of their customers. And while they probably won’t react Halloween ‘treat or trick’ style, they are very likely to take their custom elsewhere.

The opportunity, of course, is that insurers can strengthen their relationship with customers and win over others by improving their call centre operations, reducing queues and making sure that advisers can answer the most complex questions accurately and without delay.

Brexit aside, this should be the ambition of any customer-focused industry, whether it’s insurance, retail, travel, or any other. We all know what irritates and infuriates customers when they call to complain or seek information: long waits, complicated voice menus, ill-informed advisers. Identifying the problem has always been much harder than fixing it but, thanks to technology, the insurance industry is now in a position to do so.

New developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and natural language Machine Learning (ML) can bring significant benefits by improving voice-driven customer experience thought pioneering speech recognition technology.

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AI and natural language processing (NLP) are now delivering real value to organisations, including those in the insurance sector. Industry analysts Gartner predicts that by next year half of analytic queries will be generated using searches based on natural-language processing. Meanwhile between 20-25% of searches made with the Google Android App in the US are already voice searches, according to Google.

One key development is in voice-driven customer service, a perennial bugbear of callers. Today, AI is far more capable of understanding voice commands; what’s more, it can now also identify callers’ intent and sentiment, perform voice biometrics non-intrusively, transcribe calls and flag issues in real time. AI can also ensure that the caller doesn’t lose focus and that they remain interested in what is being communicated to them via a speech-enabled Interactive Voice Response system.

Voice-driven technology can also provide rich data and insight which will empower them to improve their operations and deliver better, more personalised services.

For example, one international insurance company sought to improve customer service by analysing the data collected on calls between customers and call centre agents. This has enabled the business to identify where calls are going wrong, analyse the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, as well as evaluating the performance of their agents.

In Switzerland, meanwhile, a car insurer is improving the customer experience by shortening call queues with an AI-powered self-service system. The system extracts the required details before giving customers the option to have their vehicle fixed by their local garage, a partner garage or a drive-in; in the case of the first two options, the system will automatically issue a ticket to get the work done. A crucial part of the system is that a caller can get through to a human at any stage by saying “agent”, ensuring the smoothest customer experience possible.

Incredible as it may seem, AI can even understand customers better than human agents. It’s now capable of understanding callers’ sentiment and intent, their speaking habits, conversational linguistics, dialects, idiosyncrasies, slang, foreign accents, intonation, emphasis, intention and enunciation.

That’s not to say that humans will no longer have a role in the contact centre. Many people prefer speaking to a real person, especially when dealing with complex queries. Rather, we should see AI as an augmentation of people’s skills and experience.

Whatever the future holds, AI- and NLP-based technologies can enable the insurance industry to provide the highest levels of customer service while also delivering other important operational benefits. There’s no reason for insurers to fear Halloween – as long as they use it as an opportunity to treat their customers to the service they expect and deserve.