How Insurance Agents Can Use Bots for a Competitive Edge

It may seem like robots are taking over the world, but it is not the doomsday scenario that sci-fi movies have been predicting. Artificial intelligence (AI) is slowly but surely changing how we perform day-to-day activities.

Just think about how Siri and Alexa can give us the answers to questions as soon as we ask. And with its autonomous cars, Tesla is setting the stage for a more relaxed commuting experience. I, for one, was amazed at how Google’s new virtual assistant perfectly mimics the tone of a human voice. While Apple, Amazon, Tesla, and Google may be getting all the headlines related to AI, this technology is permeating all areas of life, even in insurance.

In fact, most Independent agents are already familiar with AI – they have been utilizing a version of it for some time using data inputs to automate sales and servicing processes. Now is the time to take AI in insurance to the next level; it’s a way for independent agents to compete more effectively with direct writers and other insurtechs.

It doesn’t require radical change. Incremental adaption can have significant impacts on the customer experience. For example, greeting a customer entering the agency’s website with a simple chat bot can humanize an otherwise solitary and sterile online environment. Replacing stagnant web forms with interactive and personalized questions based on real-time agent inputs predictively guide a discussion and can even deliver rates on the spot. Selling and servicing using algorithms that trigger “the next step” without requiring a producer or CSR to man the system add elements of AI that can assist agents and consumers.

Although some might wonder, “won’t AI eventually eliminate my job?” The answer is simple: No, AI won’t replace agents, but it will make agents more competitive in the digital environment. Insurance is a complex product and customers rely on independent agents to give them personal, one-on-one guidance that addresses their unique insurance needs. AI will reduce the agent’s workflow by completing the routine requests – giving agents more time to handle complex insurance issues. For example, AI can streamline underwriting by standardizing customer inputs through a prescribed workflow. It can absorb the impact of commission variability with operations that reduce operating expenses.

AI still faces hurdles to being fully accepted by independent agents. Many agencies comfortable with their tried and true processes are reluctant to adopt new tools that might throw things off balance, even if the learning curve is short. Right now there is also a low volume of established players that provide these types of technology and integrations to the agency distribution channel. The integrations themselves rely on third party technologies that are driven by carriers and competing vendors. Attempting to establish an open and accepting ecosystem requires time and trust and patience from agencies as solutions and interoperability issues get sorted.

But agencies cannot afford to wait too long. Consumers expect the on-demand experience that AI provides. The Amazon Effect is real—we have been conditioned to access information and socialize online.

For agencies wanting to take the first steps towards implementing AI technology, here are three tips to keep in mind when deciding on the right solutions:

  1. Don’t go for the razzle dazzle—look for solutions with real benefit

Not every AI technology is right for every agency. These solutions can require significant financial and time commitments—it is important that you choose the tool that will have a substantial impact. Inspect your current operation and ask “what tactics do we do today that could be served by technology so we can be even better stewards to our clients at the critical moments of the customer lifecycle?”

After defining your needs and the benefits AI could bring, do a search on available solutions. What is possible today versus what requires investment tomorrow? There might be a simple solution like a chat bot or interactive web form that you can implement now to acknowledge digital consumers’ expectations and demonstrate that you are willing to serve sophisticated, digital-savvy audiences. For needs that currently do not have an AI solution, begin a discussion with your digital, web, rating, agency management system, and carrier partners so you can work together to pioneer the next great insurance innovation.

  1. Remember that the human connection is important

There is no such thing as using too much technology – as long as you remember to still provide the superior personal customer service that is the foundation of any agency. Agents will remain steadfast as pivotal contributors to the customer journey. Technology enables this contribution to perpetuate and grow over time. Balancing emotional intelligence with artificial intelligence can create the perfect customer lifecycle. Automate what holds you back to mitigate unnecessary expenses and time. Invest more in the customer relationship and providing advice that can never be anticipated or answered by a robot.

  1. Your AI needs to play well on the road too

According to a survey of Smart Harbor’s 1,200 independent insurance agency customers, more than half of the agencies’ digital prospects access local insurance websites through mobile technology. We live in an app-based world where consumers expect instant gratification through a very tailored experience. When implementing AI solutions, use this as an opportunity to also build out your agency’s mobile web experience. Consider providing customers with interactive engagements that automate discussions, deliver quoting, and start the servicing process.

It’s time for real bot assistance in the insurance industry. Through chat bots and responsive forms, agents can begin evolving their customer experience today. They can also lead the transformation teaming up with industry partners to develop AI solutions that do not exist. With AI capabilities, agents can dedicate all of their time to what matters most to them – serving their clients’ complex insurance needs.

This article was first published on PropertyCasualty360.com and is republished here with permission. All rights reserved.