Is the industry ready to embrace chatbots in a big way? Accenture’s Cindy De Armond says chatbots are a logical extension of artificial intelligence, employing AI to power the customer experience. “AI is the new UI,” she writes. AI “is fast becoming the insurer’s digital ambassador to the world,” noting that Gartner expects AI chatbots to power 85 percent of customer-service interactions by 2020. In the insurance industry, “customers – internal and external — will log in to chatbots or virtual assistants that will draw on internal and external data assets to provide meaningful responses.”

But there’s a catch -- chatbots need to be pleasant to deal with. A recent survey of 1,000 consumers from PointSource finds only 16% could report they were “extremely satisfied” with their most recent chatbot experience, while 27% were less than satisfied. A majority, 51%, cite frustrations “when chatbots don't understand what I'm looking for,” and 44% are less than pleased with the accuracy of information provided from chatbots. Another 41% worry about the privacy and security of their personal data that is being run through chatbot systems.

Interestingly, preferences for using chatbots with insurance are no different from the preferences of engaging with of retail companies. A total of 77 percent of consumers are okay with interacting with chatbots if it means avoiding wait times for customer service representatives with insurance companies, versus 75% for retailers.

And, tellingly, chatbots can be instrumental in upselling. When AI is present, nearly half (49%) of consumers say they are willing to shop more frequently, 34% say they will spend more money, and 38% say they'll share their experiences with friends and family.

At the same time, today’s tech-savvy consumers are more than ready to interact with AI-driven interfaces, De Armond points out. “Early attempts to automate customer service have not always pleased customers. People still cringe when they have to navigate through a seemingly endless series of phone buttons or computer screens to reach the person or place they wanted. But consumers are ready for satisfying interactions with smart machines. In fact, our consumer research shows that 74 percent of consumers say they would be happy to get insurance advice generated by a computer.”

She sees evidence of more insurance service being offered through chatbots. “Some, for example, provide general insurance information as a skill through Amazon’s Alexa,” she points out, noting that insurers are also starting to take advantage of additional voice assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home.

On average, about one in four consumers at this point prefer chatbots for many insurance interactions, the PointSource study finds. About half want to talk with live humans, and the remaining one-fourth don’t mind one way or the other.

The survey also found:

  • Receiving regular reminders: 36 percent prefer chatbots; 36 percent prefer humans doing the reminding.
  • Checking on the status of a claim: 29 percent prefer chatbots; 46 percent want to speak with humans.
  • Receiving an insurance quote: 27 percent prefer chatbots; 50 percent prefer speaking to humans.
  • Browsing an insurance policy: 26 percent prefer chatbots; 50 percent prefer humans.
  • Annual check-ins with insurance providers: 25 percent prefer chatbots; 51 percent prefer human contact.

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