November 16, 2012

Jennifer Wilson
Jennifer Wilson, Interactive Intelligence
Developing self-service options is one of the hottest trends in the insurance marketplace right now, but is self-service always the right choice? Insurers need to recognize and admit that there is a point of terminal velocity with self-service options, and call centers are often the point at which these options have to take a back seat. However, determining just how much self-service is too much in an insurance company call center situation can be a difficult task.

Meeting Customer Demands

Consumer demands, and expectations, for self-service options are absolutely driving insurance companies to implement technologies which empower the customer and provide greater access. Even so, and keeping in mind that "the customer is always right," insurance companies are faced with a challenge. You see, the benefits of self-service options must be balanced with other methods of delivering insurance products and service, or what should be a positive can turn quickly into a negative.

Now, as one might imagine, having the ability to provide policyholders with access to policy and claim information 24x7x365 without additional staffing costs and concerns is a huge benefit to both the insurance company and the customer. However, as this process of increasing insurance self-service options plays out, it must be coupled with recognition of, and support for, the position that self-service is not a replacement for good customer service, but an enhancement to it.

Part of the problem here is that the average consumer's definition of good service has changed over the years, and today things have to happen much more rapidly and efficiently than ever before. While having self-service options available solves many of the accessibility and availability problems insurance companies suffer through daily, there are still times policyholders want to talk to the proverbial "live body."

The Available Options

Some insurance companies today are using interactive voice response (IVR) systems to enable customers to perform common requests related to their policy. Retrieving a claim status, activating a policy, making premium payments, or even requesting content such as certificates of insurance or identification cards, are all great self-service options for IVR implementations. The system authenticates the customer information, then provides access to the data via text-to-speech over the phone, or if requested, via fax or email. The entire process is secure and convenient for the customer, and cost-effective for the insurance company.

When looking at the options outlined for self-service opportunities, the main goals with any of these are to improve overall customer service and appease the policyholder. Paying attention to the common requests your customers make that can easily be handled by clerical staff, are great places to start with self-service initiatives. More involved and sensitive matters may still need to be handled by actual people.

Changing Channels

People will always want to communicate in different ways - voice, email, chat, social, etc. - but, at the end of the day, insurance companies are simply providing another communications channel to help empower better customer service. Expanding the available options for your customers to communicate with your company in the method they prefer to do so is key.

Back to the balancing act. Providing options, while having a solution in place to streamline and handle these interactions effectively and efficiently will help satisfy customers and improve overall customer service. However, when we talk about implementing any kind of new channel, there is always a concern about when to use it. No doubt, self-service is a must-have for carriers to be competitive. It provides that 24x7 availability and flexibility that today's consumers love.

Keep in mind, however, that as much as policyholders desire flexibility and choice when it comes to service options, they will also place significant value on the seamless escalation and transition between communication channels. Policyholders aren't concerned about what goes on behind the scenes, so to speak, but they are very interested in the end result that makes certain the context of the interaction on a previous channel is not lost.

The key to any customer service strategy, whether it involves self-service options or not, is to be smart, listen to what your policyholders say about what they want, and provide them with options for communicating with your organization. Self-service capabilities are a must, but be careful not to force feed your policyholders.

Make certain to implement and employ all the right options. When you find the right balance and blend communication and service channel options seamlessly, customers will be better served and your company will be better off. At the end of the day, put the options in place, and let your customers decide when and how to use them.

About the Author: Jennifer Wilson is the solutions marketing manager for Interactive Intelligence's Insurance Group. She can be reached for further comments and insights via email at jennifer.wilson@inin.com.