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PHOTO: Artem Maltsev

As the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are being distributed, there is hope on the horizon that a brighter 2021 is in store. But despite the vaccine, it will take a while before things “get back to normal,” and 2020 has proven that our former normal might never be seen again. Take working from home, for example. Once thought of as a luxury, many companies are now exploring shifting departments and teams to fully remote or hybrid options. While many of us are itching to get back to the office, many others have found that remote working works best for them.

When it comes to the customer experience, the norm for the insurance world used to be face-to-face interactions. When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, it effectively halted all in-person interactions, leading to a decline in typical insurance sales and enrollment. To combat this, companies were forced to adopt rapid acceleration of digital advancements and innovations, turning to technology to handle many tasks that were traditionally handled by employees and, perhaps most importantly, giving access to it all via mobile applications.

Accelerating Digital Innovation to Provide Self-Service for Customers

From buying groceries online, in-store, curbside and through food delivery apps, to video conferencing technology and virtual learning, technologies that were once a “nice to have” became critical in 2020.

But the best companies view new challenges as opportunities, such as the chance to implement technology solutions that optimize the user experience and increase the flexibility in engagement with customers. And in a time of scarce availability and limited resources, customers want to be able to access all services quickly, easily and with as little human interaction as possible.

Take claims information, for example. Pre-pandemic, a customer might have logged onto their computer, typed in their username and password and jumped through some hoops to get their latest information. Or, perhaps they lost their login credentials and had to call, wait through hold music and multiple transfers before getting the information needed.

Every second counts in a pandemic-driven world. Customers want the ability to quickly access claims information across multiple devices.

At Aflac, we launched our “guest checkout” capability in 2020. Similar to other websites that allow you to “checkout” as a guest without inputting account data, we’ve set up a system so that policyholders don’t have to know their username, password or policy number — instead, they’re able to securely fill in a few pieces of personal information to file a claim. From there, Aflac uses back-end automation to correlate their answers with their policy information and can even auto-adjudicate claims for them.

Related Article: The Insurance Industry Plays Catch Up With Customer Experience

Bringing Technology Into Virtual Focus

For customers who wanted online solutions, we made live chats and virtual assistant capabilities available, allowing policyholders to obtain policy information, receive assistance with filing a claim and even make a payment through artificial intelligence (AI) technology that can provide responses based on information provided from the customer. Since its launch earlier this year, we have more than doubled our number of weekly chat interactions from customers who wanted to go online and chat instead of picking up the phone. And we’ve seen that for more than 65% of these interactions, our customers had all their questions answered without ever needing to talk with a live person, providing an easy, seamless experience. It allows us to make fewer errors, be more efficient and provide a consistent process.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, the future depends on what you do in the present. After a year riddled with global uncertainty, these unprecedented times present an opportunity for transformation and growth. Using technology to provide a seamless, efficient customer experience is paramount for success in both our current world and as we look to what our new normal might be. While many things are still up in the air, ensuring customers have the ease and adaptability to access what they want, when they want it will be crucial for success.

Related Article: How to Measure Your Customer Experience Maturity