Nationwides “bionic” customer service push

Nationwide creates bionic team members that provide a single employee who provides a team of bots to a customer to do all the mundane work very quickly.

Nationwide, the Columbus, Ohio-based insurance and financial services company, wants its customers to know that it will be there when it matters with a subtle blend of empathy and logistical skill, powered by "bionic" technology.

In an insurance market littered with too-clever ads, reptilian mascots and promises of lower costs, Nationwide instead relies on its end-user customers (Nationwide calls them "members") to join and remain loyal to a company that tries to live by the time-honored mantra of exceeding customer expectations.

Across its 11 business lines, which include life insurance, fire insurance, auto insurance and investments, as well as a range of business services, the company rallies around the common vision that "exceptional care is our North Star," Amy Shore, the company's chief customer officer, said during an interview.

The insurer is betting that providing its customer service agents with smart, cloud-based information technology will help them follow this North Star.

"We want to digitize the ordinary so we can personalize the extraordinary," said Jim Fowler, CIO of Nationwide, who adds that technology gives the insurer's employees "bionic superpowers".

Consoling customers

To illustrate this point, Fowler went through the steps taken by both people and technology when a customer calls to report a disaster like a house fire. The call is automatically routed to a customer service representative who assures the customer that everything will be taken care of. In the background, automated processes that interact with third parties reserve a hotel room, ensure a rental car arrives within two hours, and pay 1.Deposited US$000 into the client's bank account to cover emergency expenses such as food and other essentials.

Partly to realize just this kind of scenario, Nationwide has developed a technology hub for customers and third parties. This year, more than 10 processed billion transactions, up from 50.000 two years ago when it was launched, said Fowler.

"It's the nerve center for how we engage our members and our intermediaries in our systems," Fowler said in an interview. "It's really based on this idea: 'I'm going to meet my customer where they are, and I'm going to allow them to do it the way they want to do it from either a purchase or a service perspective. '"

He continued, "And we know that there is no one company that can deliver all of these products, so this technology center is the glue that holds all of these different components together."

Many companies may see this type of automation as a way to cut costs by reducing the number of call center employees. Not nationwide. "We actually believe that all of these become bionic tools to make employees stronger in the conversation, to be the empathetic ear on the other line, to be able to apply some judgment in things that are not normal cases that we have to deal with ," he says. "And these tools have the bureaucratic part of their work done by a whole bunch of artificial intelligence bots working on their behalf."

Or as Shore, chief customer officer, put it, "It helps our people be highly available and highly reliable … Technology is an integral part of everything we do and to improve the customer experience."

Three basic technical principles

A few years ago, Nationwide identified three technology principles that it needed to support its North Star vision. First, his systems needed to be open to ensure seamless interactions with partner systems.

Second, it needed to automate as many human-processed office processes as possible to improve speed and accuracy. Such a platform had to be inherently intelligent. "We needed it to learn as we went along, and we needed it to be able to make decisions faster and predict things," Fowler said.

Thirdly, the platform had to be adaptable to any channel desired by its customers. "We couldn't force them to go a certain route," he said.

Nationwide has adopted Oracle's cloud-based customer experience and policy management applications. "Their entire product line has come together in a way that fits perfectly with our idea of the strategy of where we want to go," Fowler said.

Once Nationwide's senior management team defined the overall strategy, it was up to each division to tailor the cloud platform to their respective businesses.

Fowler's team implemented standard record keeping systems for the operations team as well as a knowledge management system Used by a cross-industry shared services team. With the knowledge management system, all customer-facing employees are equipped with everything they need to know about each member, and they even get suggestions on what to say. Automated actions intervene when circumstances require it.

"It goes back to, 'How do I digitize the ordinary, humanize the extraordinary??'," said Fowler. "We want natural language processing to be able to pick up whatever the caller is calling, texting, or emailing about, and automatically provide contextual knowledge to the employee who is taking care of the customer."

"Now you have this engine available to our business units to really drive new products, services and experiences for their customers. So we are moving from a top-down approach to one driven by individual business units." Fowler said.

For Nationwide's auto insurance business, for example, this may mean creating a claims system that eliminates all manual intervention. For life insurance, AI may be used to replace blood tests to determine life expectancy.

According to Fowler, 50% of all auto insurance claims are now handled by intelligent bots that generate repair cost estimates, determine payouts and route rental cars to a customer. This means that employees "don't do the office work; they do the direction side of the job and the empathy side of the job."

Empathy is the hallmark of everything

Nationwide sees combination of automation and hyper-personalization as core to its competitive advantage, Fowler said.

"By leveraging all the streaming data we have that's linked to processes through our ecosystem, we can create these truly personalized experiences for customers," he said. "The second part is the ability to create bionic team members, where a single employee serving a customer has a team of bots that do all the mundane work very quickly. This way, our staff can create the best possible experience for members when they need to interact with us."

Shore, Nationwide's chief customer officer, said, "We want it to be easy and convenient to do ordinary things like renew a policy so agents can focus on empathy." Empathy enhanced with bionic technology.