As insurers navigate the COVID-19 landscape, they’re taking aim at a kinder, gentler customer experience. The result is a new focus on empathy – and online channels are shaping up as the key platform for delivering it.

It may sound counter-intuitive to convey empathy through digital channels, especially in insurance: an industry known for complex products and an emphasis on face-to-face meetings. But by combining artificial intelligence (AI) to gauge customer sentiment with features such as co-browsing, insurers can deepen their customer relationships and sell products and services at a time when in-person meetings are often not an option.

Such capabilities can help insurers build a foundation for revenue growth and an enlarged customer base, especially in segments such as life insurance and annuities, retirement, and property and casualty (P&C). In these areas, digital tools can help customers sort through often confusing coverage options. 

All Together Now 

The focus on empathy reaches all the way to insurers’ C-suites. “If you think about this business as a claim or a policy number, you should probably leave,” said John Hancock Insurance CEO Brooks Tingle at a recent webinar. He added that the passing of longtime policyholders during the pandemic has been a sobering experience that has served to remind him of the role his organization plays in customers’ lives.

Indeed, there’s an emotional component to the insurance customer journey that brands are beginning to embrace more openly. When we hosted a series of design-thinking workshops for a leading life insurer, the chief operating officer shared the company’s challenges in selling and marketing its cancer-care products. The goal, he said, was to be sensitive to prospective customers’ needs by offering a helpful nudge that’s neither too aggressive nor too passive. Yet people remain hesitant to make the purchase, and the company wrestled with ways to make them feel more comfortable. Several years ago, we wouldn’t have seen that level of concern regarding the positioning of products and services.

What insurers are finding is that in the experience economy, empathy can be a brand differentiator that instills trust – and helps close the deal. For example, we worked with a leading life insurer to create co-browsing capabilities to help consumers select coverage options and fill out insurance applications online. By doing so, the insurer boosted its online conversions, which previously had hovered at just 4%.  

The personal touch eased consumers’ concerns – and delivered big gains for the insurer. The site’s customer satisfaction ratings rose to 4.8 out of 5, based on visitor surveys. Conversions jumped to 25%, and the life insurer created $1.4 million in incremental policy premium value.  

AI and the Human Touch

AI can play a key role in delivering empathy to close more deals faster. While marketers are sometimes skeptical about the ability of AI to apply the human touch – especially in a conservative industry that involves complex issues related to loss and damage – we’re seeing the barriers to AI quickly falling away among consumers.

For one thing, consumers are rapidly embracing not only online experiences but also automated ones. Sixty-seven percent of consumers say positive automated experiences are as important as human interactions. For another, AI use among marketers has gone mainstream: 84% of marketers report using AI in 2019, up from 29% in 2018 – an eye-popping 186% increase in adoption in two years. 

Perhaps the greatest reason for the growing acceptance of AI in applications that require empathy is that it produces results. When a global P&C carrier sought to offer a better customer experience during claims calls, our team created a specialized AI application. We leveraged the carrier’s use of IBM Watson to analyze customer sentiment and personality traits to create analytics that enable contact-center agents to better gauge callers’ sentiments and respond more empathetically and with contextually relevant information. The carrier was able to convert 10% of the calls that started negatively to a positive result.

The AI application also reduced agents’ documentation effort by 30% and audited 100% of the calls for quality. The carrier used the insights garnered from the calls to create greater awareness of empathy in its customer service training sessions.

Although the pandemic is triggering new advances in digital use for insurers, it’s the focus on empathy that holds the greatest potential for marketers looking to grow their companies’ revenue and customer base.

Venkatesh Srinivasan

Venkatesh Srinivasan

Venkatesh Srinivasan is a BFSI Innovation Leader at Cognizant, responsible for Innovation and Ventures/Solutions. He has two decades of experience in consulting,... Read more