The COVID-19 pandemic has brought home how much people value the human touch, in our business relationships with colleagues and clients almost as much as with family and friends. And this is as true in the premium finance industry as it is anywhere. 

It’s always been a people business, but with anxiety and uncertainty all around, face-to-face meetings an impossibility and spikes in call volumes it’s become more important than ever to provide a human connection between companies, brokers, and end users. Never has good communication and customer service been so valued.

Digital tools for human needs

During this time the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation across the insurance industry. Paradoxically it is technology can meet some of the challenges of providing a human connection, at scale. Automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning can speed up processes, lessen the risk of mistakes and create efficiencies. But rather than taking people’s jobs as once feared, these technologies are largely tools to support the human workforce, though traditional premium finance players might be wise to keep a close eye on another consequence of new tech capabilities: the insurtechs creeping in with new business models, crafted around customer needs.

Great expectations

Both brokers and end customers have high expectations. Having become used to frictionless digital journeys in other areas of their lives, there’s no reason that they will expect any different in business. Brokers want payment services technologies and to be able to manage customer information via app. A 2021 survey for Insurance Times in association with Close Brothers Premium Finance found that 34% of brokers wanted more information on products. 9% asked for training on IT systems and 10% wanted more consultation on IT systems development. 36% said the quality of technology provided was a key factor in choosing a premium finance provider.

When it comes to end customers, in this as in other areas of their lives they want simple end-to-end digital journeys and seamless multi-channel experiences tailored to them. People are willing to share their data for more personalised experiences and more likely to buy too, so for businesses having high quality data and the ability to manage, understand and use that data in sophisticated ways is essential. 

To build successful digital tools, collaboration – with customers, intermediaries, employees, and stakeholders across the ecosystem – is key. Only through a joint effort will businesses gain the understanding to build solutions that serve a genuine human need as well as being authentic to the brand and business. 

Aside from finding or creating the right digital solutions, it’s essential not just to train and hire staff to support its implementation, but to shift the entire culture to one that is comfortable with change. Failure to do this will result in a business that rather than being enabled by technology is shackled by it, unable to use it to give customers the personalised, intuitive experiences what they want. 

Helping humans be more human: Whisper Agents

Rather than dehumanising the experience, using AI in customer service can have the opposite effect. Whisper agents are now being used to support human call centre staff. These forms of artificial intelligence ‘listen in’ on call centre conversations, coaching staff to improve their communications with customers and providing both practical and emotional support. A whisper agent can find data and pull up answers to queries faster than a human. But they can also help maximise that most human of qualities, empathy. For example, they can flag to the agent when they’ve been talking too much and suggest giving the floor back to the customer with an open-ended question. A whisper agent can also detect emotional states, perhaps suggesting words and phrases that can be used to defuse the situation if a customer seems angry. This also helps calm any frustrations the agent may be feeling, so it’s less likely to be reflected out to the customer. 

An AI can of course also act autonomously, fielding calls and providing information. One example already in use by financial services and insurance businesses is Amelia, a ‘market-leading conversational AI agent’ who can have her own natural language conversations with customers as well as coaching human colleagues. Amelia learns on the job, stays legally compliant and can deliver across multiple channels 365 days a year. AI-based whisper agents, with their limitless support capacity, have no doubt proved their value during the pandemic. It seems only a matter of time before they go mainstream in premium insurance as well as in other industries. 

Expanding customer service with a chatbot

Chatbots add value both for customers and the business, providing another channel for enquiries and taking the load off human service agents. Although powered by AI, a chatbot still needs a distinctive, empathetic tone of voice to provide a satisfying experience and retain a human feel, as well as a strategic purpose.

And they’re already appearing in premium finance. Insurtech company PremFina collaborated with Microsoft for ‘Fina’, which uses natural language processing abilities to respond to queries from business customers and consumers. While it may not always be capable of a fluid conversation – the question ‘What kinds of things can you help me with?’ got the answer ‘Yes sure, how can I help you?’ – it does have a touch of humanity, if not humility, in its tone of voice, opening with ‘PremFina is the greatest Insurtech company on Earth’ punctuated with the ‘cool’ emoji. Fina now handles 70% of all data-led customer queries with zero delay in response times. 

SMEs and insurance-as-a-service

Now for the new business models. In the UK SMEs account for a startling 99.9% of the business population, and although premium finance is a popular option, many are increasingly underinsured. This area should represent a big opportunity for the insurance business, especially as brokers can now use tools to automate processes, making servicing a small business more cost-effective while enabling a better customer experience. 

Plenty of premium finance players are embedding their services in insurance journeys, for instance Premium Credit are collaborating with Homelyfe, offering payment by instalments as an option within the purchase journey. But there are also industry disruptors combining insurance and premium finance in a single offering. For example, the UK’s first insurtech unicorn, Zego, offers flexible vehicle insurance with the option for monthly billing for fleet cars and drivers in the gig economy working for the likes of Uber and Deliveroo. 

Meanwhile, Superscript, formerly known as Digital Risks provide commercial insurance covering over 1000 business types via monthly subscription and without the need to go through a broker. Businesses can pause, change, or cancel their coverage monthly, adding more insurance products as they need them. When we think of the pivots businesses have had to make during the pandemic – restaurants transforming into grocery suppliers, global distilleries switching from gin to hand sanitiser – we can see just how much value this new approach has. It shows real understanding for the challenges faced for SMEs who already have plenty to worry about without being locked into rigid insurance offerings or yearly payments. 

Premium insurance is itself built around empathy, an understanding that it’s more convenient for many businesses to hold on to their money and pay for insurance in instalments. Creating intuitive experiences, powered by technology but with a human feel should be at the forefront of ambitions for all premium finance companies. It’s those businesses that can successfully collaborate with customers, brokers and other stakeholders that will exceed expectations, developing the new products and services that will allow them to stay ahead of the game. 

The BIO Agency work with clients to create exceptional experiences that have impact because they’re based on real human behaviour. To talk to us about your business challenges, contact us here

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