Talking on the phone is taking a backseat to all of the other ways we can communicate. Writers lament over the loss of our shared habit of jumping to answer the phone, but with the number of robocalls surpassing 3 billion per month in the U.S., we may have been driven away from using the phone, or even listening to voicemails. Sales calls, scams, pollsters and politics seem to ring the most. Should we mourn the sunset of our phone gabbing ways? Maybe not. It’s a bygone era when we sent telegrams to congratulate couples on a their wedding or new baby. Progress and time march on. We see changes taking place right before our eyes, accepting how electronic mail has sped up the way business is conducted nowadays. Less reliance on phone calls may not be bad for business and may even improve our customers’ satisfaction.
All industries are having to cope with the new pressures to change how to interact with clients. Insurance has always been a personal business relying on the trust between an agent and an insured. Agencies will need to take special care when implementing new communication channels to not disturb one of the best aspects of the insurance business. Technological “advances” adopted by insurers in recent decades have been hit and miss with keeping this personal connection going strong. While voicemail and automated call attendants have been convenient for insurers, they spark frustration and dissatisfaction for most customers. The online world promised better information and on-demand answers for policyholders and prospects. We have flooded them with insurance information to help but confusion about our industry is still the norm.
Insurers have fresh opportunities to implement new communications technologies that do respect the human connection that is central to the business. Agencies that want to continue to build their book will benefit most by incorporating some or all of the following channels:
For inquiries that are simple or where a customer needs a reference to resources or documents, web-based chat is effective. Agencies and carriers have offered these instant message channels for a while. There are hundreds of software offerings that can integrate online chat info your current customer service channels. The best setups can service more customers than phone or email responses can. Care should be taken when setting expectations for staff and customers about the limitations of online chat.
95% of Americans have text-capable mobile phones and have demonstrated they are wild about this method of communication. The possibilities of sending alerts, helpful information, quotes, renewal reminders and links to documents makes this a powerful method for insurers to talk with their customers. Automated invoicing systems which integrate phone text reminders with links to payment virtual agents can drastically reduce billing overhead which can run upwards of $9 per policy every billing period.
The public has taken to apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack, Skype and many others. These all offer benefits similar to online chat systems but put the insurer brand in the center of the consumer’s communication universe. Consider a policyholder who needs proof of insurance. Agencies with active Facebook accounts can integrate customer support on Facebook Messenger, and even automate many common tasks like requests for insurance cards. Each of these communication platforms also make possible integration of other technologies, such as virtual insurance agents capable of selling insurance from within the messaging app.
More commonly called chatbots, these agents with their smart automation are able to multiply the effectiveness of all of the insurers communication efforts. Connect sales virtual insurance agents to Facebook Messenger and your Facebook advertisements are suddenly able to become tireless producers, quoting, answering questions, even collecting payment for new policies. Add a payments virtual agent to automated billing SMS messaging, and the cost of billing and payments drops drastically. With payment inquiries taking up to 50% of your front staff’s time, taking care of this with a virtual agent helps resolve staffing woes. Most recently is the integration of these smart agents into voice chat devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Much like text chat, consumers are hungry to explore how their favorite brands will make their life easier on these types of channels. Currently policyholders can use voice commands to request the status of claims, amounts and due dates of the next bill, pay their premium with a large range of payment methods, or request proof of insurance be sent via text, email or regular mail.
Agencies and carriers alike need to view the demand for these added communication channels as an affirmation that consumers value personal connection and trust that the industry is known for. Insureds crave insurer’s advice and attention but they must meet customers on channels they want to use.
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