Insurers should think like disruptors in 2021

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Across the entire globe, 2020 has been a year for the history books. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every nation, business and human being in ways we never imagined. While everyone is ready to “get back to normal,” the reality is that a fundamental shift has occurred and a new normal is emerging.

The pandemic has led to a rapid acceleration of digital advancement and innovation. Consumers and employees alike have increased their use of technology to handle traditional tasks like contactless payments and virtual chat, and there is an expanding need for all of this to be accessible at our fingertips via tablet and mobile applications.

While these advancements are the norm for many industries, the insurance industry is not as far along. The pandemic was a catalyst for sleeping giants like the insurance industry to accelerate digital roadmaps, immediately pivot to offering self-service options, and think like a disruptor in order to adapt to new, crucial components for success.

Drive Customer Success Through Self-Service Opportunities
For many insurance companies, digital strategy was led by the demands of policyholders, and most plans were designed around the retiring baby boomer generation. But then came COVID-19. The need for effective customer support was significantly amplified by the impacts of the pandemic. Businesses had to adjust as younger generations demanded increased flexibility on how they interact with the world.

While face-to-face interactions had previously been the preferred method for conducting business, typical insurance sales and enrollment took a hard turn toward technology in light of COVID-19. The landscape will continue to move in that direction even after the pandemic.

It’s important for insurers to implement technology solutions that optimize the user experience and increase flexibility in how they engage with customers. In 2021, insurers need to ask: Are our customers able to quickly access their claims information? Can they submit claims easily via mobile? Are our tools and customer platforms device-agnostic? Can the process be simplified?

In a world where everyone is short on time and resources, it’s imperative to give customers the ability to access what they want, when they want it. Consider live chat and virtual assistant capabilities as an easy way for policyholders and producers to get the information and support they need in a virtual model.

At Aflac, we have experienced a more than 100% increase in the number of weekly chat interactions since early this year from customers who wanted online solutions instead of picking up the phone. Additionally, we’ve seen that for more than 65% of these interactions, individuals got all of their questions answered without ever needing to speak with a live person, which means we are providing an easy, seamless experience for our customers. It allows us to be consistent, make fewer errors and be more efficient.

Use Technology to Optimize Information and Streamline Offerings
With technology growing more advanced every day, the global market continues to be disrupted by new and innovative companies. As such, insurers must be vigilant, constantly striving to enhance experiences and exceed customer expectations. No longer can insurers lag on innovation and technology. It’s time for industry leaders to look within and beyond our landscape for solutions that will enhance the insurance customer experience.

Technology companies are never stagnant; they explore ways to disrupt themselves and their industries before someone else does it. Taking this cue, insurance companies need to evaluate emerging technologies for viability within their organizations and then leverage that technology to accelerate digital capabilities.

For example, at Aflac, we utilize a push-and-pull methodology that allows us to test and pilot new technology and then ramp up quickly based on scope and suitability. This quick-to-launch or fail-fast approach continues to ensure we remain focused on cutting edge technology to determine if it can help us advance our One Digital strategy faster and further than we anticipate.

In real world applications, this can come to life via artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Both can be used to improve the industry’s offerings, reduce distribution and underwriting costs, create new revenue opportunities and provide customers with data-driven, customized products and services.

The Human Factor
The pandemic has upended our normal, daily routines and made many adapt to a new environment. Several of us are even taking on additional and unfamiliar stresses while still trying to perform at work. And with the shift to working from home and the accelerated technology employed this year, many employees are feeling less connected to their employers than ever before. Innovation doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen with a workforce that is disengaged. Insurers should ensure their employees are supported and cared for during this ongoing time of unpredictability.

Simple things like saying thank you, providing meals or special treats as a token of appreciation, discussing accomplishments during team meetings or telling senior leadership about a job well done can make an employee feel like a valued team member. Ensuring your teams have the right technology and tools in place, establishing regular check-ins, over communicating about changes, updates and challenges, and proactively providing as much flexibility as possible can help your employees thrive personally and professionally during this time of uncertainty.

Now more than ever, insurers need to be there for customers in their time of need. By providing flexibility and investing in technology, people and processes necessary to improve user experiences, the industry can create a new path toward solutions and services under which our customers can thrive.

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