COVID-19 has changed the way customer service operations in the insurance sector work; these changes have created an opportunity to transform the sector. Implementing the right technology will be a key factor as companies need to better manage remote and disparate teams, as Fiona Coleman, Founder and COO at QStory explains.
The insurance sector, like many others, is going through a period of rapid change. The COVID-19 outbreak has meant that businesses across all sectors have been forced to operate in a home-based environment to protect staff and customers, but forward-thinking organisations are re-evaluating how they work and where they work for the long term.
They are assessing what technology can be implemented to allow employees to embrace the changes needed and deliver long term operational changes that will deliver benefits to the business in a number of critical areas that could differentiate them in a competitive market.
Whilst many companies will have had some form of plan to implement a remote working strategy and technologies in the future, the pandemic has seen these accelerated dramatically, and those who were unsure of the success or practicality are now realising there are benefits that are much broader than initially imagined.
In a recent Deloitte report on how COVID-19 is impacting the insurance sector, the ‘Key questions for executives and boards should be asking’ all related to safeguards for employees whilst ensuring the best possible customer service.
Whilst this might be an obvious focus, many are being caught up with one and not the other; ensuring a balance between staff wellbeing and customer service has never been more important.
Not just business continuity – the sector is changing
The pressure on the insurance sector to be able to provide timely and accurate advice to customers has never been so important. New agile tech savvy start-ups in the sector have had a real advantage in being able to build homeworking practices and best possible customer service into their models from the get go. Other larger, established players have a much harder job of responding to the current situation and keeping up with the quickly changing expectations of both employees and customers. This is where technology can play a huge role.
The sector as a whole has in the past been conservative with some of its adoption of new technology. The nature of the data held by most insurers means that there is an understandable level of reluctance to try something new, away from the tried and tested methods that have, on the whole, stood the test of time. However, the COVID-19 outbreak and the wholesale change that this has had on every aspect of our lives has meant there has had to be a change in approach, with many looking for solutions that immediately allow for a new way of working.
It has been the implementation of new innovative technology that has allowed business not just to continue during the crisis, but actually in some cases provide better customer service levels.
Those who have continued to rely on legacy technology are really feeling the pinch as they are unable to keep up with the rapid change in customer’s expectations and attitudes towards online and app communication. The insurance sector as a whole has been quick to react and are looking at new driver mind-sets. A recent Ernst and Young survey found that 81 percent of respondents in the insurance sector said that the ‘human factor’ was the highest priority long-term value during COVID-19, with only 6 percent pointing to ‘financial metrics’.
What was holding back homeworking in the insurance sector?
Recent research undertaken during the early period of the COVID-19 outbreak found that of the 265,840 people surveyed globally who worked in the financial services sector, 56 per cent of them had never worked at home before, higher than the general average of 52 per cent globally across sectors.
There was then, before the pandemic, an apparent reluctance from the insurance sector to embrace homeworking.
A report from ContactBabel analysed corporate attitudes relating to homeworking. They discovered that organisations were worried about: Effective Communications (48%), Technology Concerns (38%), Productivity Concerns (24%) and Trust (18%).
In addition, conservative attitudes to risk, a need to retain high levels of compliance within the regulatory landscape that surrounds the sector, and the sensitive personal information required to manage customer accounts, meant that some organisations have been reluctant to allow work outside the controlled contact centre environment.
However, the advantages of homeworking have been proven in other sectors. Indeed, remote working is in many sectors no longer considered a privilege but an effective way of increasing productivity and employee satisfaction rates.
A recent survey by Airtasker found that remote, home-based workers tended to work 21.9 days a month with office-based workers on 20.5 days. It also showed that office workers were spending on average 37 minutes a day in unproductive time, compared to just 27 minutes for home workers.
If the insurance sector is able to address the regulatory and security concerns, then there is an opportunity for businesses to benefit from the additional productivity gains seen in other sectors.
Significant Opportunities of Change
There are a variety of stakeholders who will reap the rewards of insurance organisations who implement a long-term shift to home-based working in different ways. By considering them in turn it is easier to identify the potential of a shift in contact centre operational strategy.
Customers – Customer service levels are the measure by which customers judge their provider. The business continuity experience from the COVID-19 pandemic has already taught the industry lessons on the importance of being available for customers in need.
Customer service in the long term means that agents provide timely and relevant advice to customers. Queries have to be answered quickly, issues resolved, products delivered and services provided. Agents who are based at home can be more flexible and can be brought online at short notice to react to a surge in demand, and with the right technology in place, their training and support can be delivered when they have capacity maintaining standards and service.
Employees – For many people, working from home has been a sudden and major adjustment. It is hard to overstate the strangeness of the situation. New routines, creating a work-space in their house and dealing with balancing of work and childcare, often in the same room are significant challenges.
These are pressures and stresses that many will never have dealt with before. Add to this the possibility of new equipment, processes and procedures, it is easy to see that for some, homeworking can be a daunting prospect, especially being so alien to their usual contact centre environment. It should not be underestimated that homeworking is not an easy transition for staff, despite the assumption that it is a preferred solution for agents.
There are benefits for many who want to work from home and the opportunity to be more flexible and to reduce commuting times can be attractive, but steps need to be taken to make the transition smooth if it is a long-term plan
Space, technology, contingency plans for interruptions in WiFi or power supply need to be considered if the switch to homeworking is to be more permanent. These factors are well catered for within a contact centre, but are not generally so in a home. Companies have to replicate all the redundancy provisions they have in an office on a micro scale for each employee to make their services robust.
However, staff who embrace homeworking could find an opportunity to develop a successful career that previously may not have been possible. Location, family, caring commitments, and other personal factors can be more easily overcome and accommodated in the home environment with the right support.
Employers – Arguably the biggest burden of change will be felt by the employers, as they have to tie all sides together. Contact centres are, on the whole, busier than ever, but employers are currently having to find ways of setting up safe working environments in the office.
While the economy recovers from the crisis, not only do they have to ensure that workers returning to the office have sufficient space for social distancing, but actually they have to decide on which workers need to return to the office and prepare for the possibility of a second lockdown.
Expanding the use of homeworking can support employers trying to navigate these issues and maintain or even increase service levels with the right solutions in place.
Managing remote teams is a new experience for many in this sector, all at a time when they are under more pressure than ever. They need to be able to maintain oversight and provide the same levels of support to employees as they had in the corporate environment. This means collaborating, managing workflows and assessing progress. All of this, on the face of it may seem difficult to achieve.
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Insurance institutions who are able to overcome these barriers could unlock a series of opportunities. They are able to access a workforce that is not located within a commutable distance from the office, they are able to recruit for the best staff, whatever their location. They can offer flexibility, split shifts and a working environment that could attract people previously unable to join the team and therefore reduce turnover and increase retention.
The future of a business who embraces homeworking could open up a more diverse, more engaged, more motivated and better supported workforce serving customers with high levels of capability that differentiates them from competitors.
How homeworking can change the insurance industry?
The insurance industry relies on customer service to sell products. Changing working practices and using home-based workers will increase; flexibility because of the use of shorter, split and micro shifts of 1-2 hours for peak times and evening shifts. It will deliver an improved ability to deal with the peaks and troughs of demand experienced by contact centres, reduce staff attrition and attract a new type of employee.
As has been shown the sector is already changing, priorities have been realigned and working practices have been adopted on an unprecedented scale.
There is an opportunity to improve customer service experience and differentiate the organisation from competitors through deployment of the right technology and proper consideration of the challenges ahead and shape the financial services sector for the decade ahead.
The ContactBabel report highlighted a number of decisions that the businesses will need to make on their underlying systems including the following:
● The ability to add and remove agents quickly from their systems; possibly across multiple locations/countries
● Businesses will want homeworkers/remote workers to have access to the same functionality they have in the contact centre or centralised office
● Management information on the individual and each team
● MI systems need to be quick to deploy and easy to understand
Ensuring that managers can ensure efficiency and productivity from their team, whilst not being able to manage them face-to-face, is crucial. This is where technology can play a key role. Being able to offer management solutions used in a central office location, to a now remote team, gives companies a huge advantage.
ContactBabel again pulled out some key action points for remote workers and managers. These include:
● Make sure that agents’ contact information is up-to-date and available to management in both online and offline
● Ensure agents understand how they clock on/ clock off their shifts, as well as how management will supervise that they are doing so
● Agents should check their schedule the next day before they log off for the evening
● Any planning tools should be flexible enough to handle agent absences at very short notice without having the recreate the schedule manually
Workforce Management and associated solutions need to take full advantage of the flexibility of remote working agents, whilst providing the same level of real-time management and support as the centralised offices do.
Remote working forces agents to develop independence and take control of their work, and businesses have to support them by implementing technology to support this.
The future is uncertain, and there is still much to resolve with the return to a fully open economy but for some in the insurance sector, the benefits of homeworking and the realisation, that with the right solutions, teams can be effectively managed remotely, will change their businesses forever.