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The changing role of insurance contact centres

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 Over the course of the last two decades, contact centres have played a pivotal role in the insurance industry, and have become increasingly technologically sophisticated in terms of their business capabilities, writes Deon Scheepers, head of sales and business development, Interactive Intelligence Africa.
The insurance industry differs from other customer facing sectors, in that it is characterised by a stream of interactions over time, rather than once-off dealings with customers.
As such, the contact centre’s role in the insurance industry is critical, and the ability of companies to streamline and integrate their communications platforms can often be what separates them from their competition.
The problem
A recent study by JD Power and Associates revealed that only 28% of customer satisfaction can be attributed to pricing, whilst the remainder relates directly to other elements of the customer service mix. The implications for insurance companies, who reap substantial profit from customer retention and subsequent up-selling, are understandably huge.
Whilst some insurers have managed to achieve excellence in certain customer facing areas, very few have yet been able to master the art of effective customer service across the entire organisation.
The reason for this is simple – most businesses simply don’t have the necessary level of technology in place to enable this level of service delivery. Customers interact with their insurers via a multitude of channels, and the co-ordination of this complex mix of information often leads to inefficiency, as a result of these different channels being unable to effectively interact with one another.
Typically, systems put in place to deal with the various elements of the business, such as sales, underwriting, policy servicing and billing, were all implemented at different points in time, in order to service the immediate needs of a growing company, and employed the technology platforms popular at the time.
These disparate systems make true integration very difficult to achieve, and can severely hamper an insurance company’s ability to effectively deal with their customers.
The software solution
So what can insurance companies do to better integrate their systems and create a seamless customer experience? The first step for insurers is to adopt a broader understanding of what their contact centre represents.
Whilst earlier call centres were centralised and segmented, they now need to encompass a wide variety of interactions, content and processes involving the entire enterprise, and take into account the myriad new ways in which customers can now choose to interact.
Unified solutions that enable these capabilities are rapidly becoming an imperative for insurers looking to achieve a competitive advantage. With the era of proprietary hardware now a thing of the past, enterprises are now more easily able to install new, unified software packages, which are able to integrate seamlessly with a larger range of communication types, insurer systems and data.
Currently available technologies have begun to incorporate social media, automated response management, and the leveraging of speech analytics, and contact centre representatives utilising this technology are now better able to manage interactions from Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites in addition to more traditional calls, e-faxes and instant messages.
Integrated software systems now allow contact centre agents to effectively manage the needs of the customer, ensuring that they’re fully up to date with a customer’s profile and history across all forms of communication, thus facilitating speedy and efficient service, and increasing the likelihood of customer retention.
Some proactive insurers are already leading the way with such co-ordinated, multichannel sales and service, boasting up to the second information and warm transfers amongst other highlights.
Yet, in order to achieve true excellence in the customer service field, even these companies need to capitalise on the technology currently available in order to establish a truly dynamic communications centre.
The next step
Whilst unified communications represent an imperative first step for insurers looking to better their customer service efforts, those looking to take the next step will need to look towards effectively capitalising on communications, rather than simply facilitating them.
The objective of the insurer needs to move beyond the rapid and accurate resolution of the customers’ enquiries, and towards a better understanding of the needs behind these requests.
Communications centres need to go beyond the traditional up- and cross-selling approach, and take a more customer-centric approach to systems and processes that are implemented.
New technologies such as real-time speech and text analytics, advanced routing and personalised response management solutions can go a long way towards increasing customer understanding, and enabling pro-active initiatives from insurers looking to go the extra mile for their customers.
The business potential for companies who employ such a dynamic contact centre offering are infinite, and insurers looking to get the edge on their competition would be well advised to make use of the wide spectrum of software offerings currently on the market.