Despite predictions that customer contact centers would disappear due to the Internet and the "touchless" digital age, such centers are, if anything, even more important in a multichannel, multi-device environment.
While the insurance industry has sought to move distribution into digital and mobile channels, insurers have lagged behind retailers and even other financial service providers in establishing contact centers as part of an integrated delivery strategy. Our research has indicated, however, that customer experience continues to be a key differentiator in insurance, particularly in the highly competitive personal lines sector. In the face of pricing pressures, insurers are hoping to establish their brand and the associated customer experience that delivers on the brand promise. And, contact centers play a key role in helping insurers execute service-based (and even price-based) strategies to increase customer sales, retention, and loyalty.
With multichannel interaction becoming the norm, insurers in competitive markets will want to deliver experiences that span multiple channels without interrupting the dialogue with the consumer. In our research, 84 percent of insurance consumers surveyed in North America said that it is important to them that the products and services offered by their insurance provider are identical, with the same functionality, support, cost, and other features across the different available channels.
The majority of insurers want to provide a consistent, tailored customer experience that flows seamlessly from one channel to another as the conversation demands. Insurers' plans to invest in and support such channels as social media, collaboration, smartphone and Web site, however, have lagged retail and other industries. Insurers are looking to contact centers to support their agendas for growth. When properly established and effectively operated, such contact centers help drive sales and growth in four different ways:
1. Providing sales support for self-directed channels. Live agent interaction, whether via voice or online chat, is helping insurers reduce costs and increase close rates. According to Accenture's own research, 74 percent of consumers worldwide buy insurance products through agents and brokers, but one in five also uses insurer or broker Web sites, and that percentage is rising.
2. Supporting cross-sell of additional products. Contact centers are supporting more diverse and complex products. This introduces a host of challenges that contact center managers need to address, including the need to enhance CSRs' skills to support more products, and/or more unfamiliar products; to leverage expert or licensed practitioners; and to identify and execute a seamless lead-generation process.
3. Creating sales capacity in the agency. The contact center may take service transactions out of the agency or augment the agency, challenging the present go-to-market model. The new structure draws on customer interaction knowledge and careful design of the end-to-end interaction, including proper incentives for all parties to share in the increased efficiency.
4. Identifying leads and life event indicators. Contact centers are now expected to execute needs-based selling capabilities including identifying consumer needs and responding appropriately to trigger events. For example, a U.S.-based insurer found revenue generation opportunities in more than 15 percent of its contact center processes. Despite having lower volume than digital interactions, the contact center was the most effective in understanding customers' needs for cross-sell, up-sell and moment-of-truth service.
In light of these demands, some insurers are taking advantage of maturing infrastructure and analytics technology to enhance contact service center and performance. Advanced technologies, such as IP telephony and unified communications, are flattening the telecommunications network, making people across the enterprise more accessible while transforming the role of contact centers. The flat network enables a new virtual enterprise where agencies and contact centers seamlessly engage, and where contact center staffers have access to specialists anywhere in the enterprise.
Slowly becoming reality, IP communication allows for the blending of chat, collaboration, email, social media, video, mobile, and other communications methods. Expansion beyond calls, while technologically feasible, remains operationally difficult. However, the opportunities to cut costs, please customers, provide more effective agent support, and generate revenues continue to expand.
Contact centers, which have extensive operational data, now have the ability to blend such data with predictive analytics. A global retail bank introduced sales hints into its CSR scripts and then optimized their use with business rules based on outcomes. The result was a four month payback on the investment in the capabilities. Such modern capabilities are readily available, but they are underutilized in helping insurance CSRs design and deliver personalized, multichannel sales service and agent support.
Finally, there are significant opportunities available in making the most of the contact center workforce. Investing to improve specialized contact center processes such as quality monitoring, call recording, workforce scheduling and performance management can help insurers enhance their use of data, enrich integration and collaboration, automate routine manual tasks, and achieve better management and operational performance.
Well-designed processes and advanced tools allow contact centers to deliver better customer service with less risk, lower costs, greater efficiency, and higher profitability. They give insurers the chance to create a better customer experience and reduce costs in ways that drive efficient growth.
John McNally is senior manager of Accenture's financial services division and Jon Walheim is partner of Accenture's management consulting division.