How are providers satisfying the need for human interaction while promoting self-service?

human interaction vs self service

Written by Geri McGann & Suzy Sliwczynski

In our blog post Can buying a home ever be a true end-to-end online service? we discussed the challenges facing providers when trying to make an online mortgage application a truly digital experience reducing the need to speak to someone directly. We saw within an online mortgage application, making sure they had the right mortgage product was one of the key moments that participants were dropping out of the application funnel. Other industries providers also face this challenge of trying to match a product to the needs of a prospective customer.

Within the health insurance industry, consumers can be faced with over a hundred health plans from which to choose from. In the energy industry, while it’s a lot less, they can still have up to 10 different plans to choose from. So what trends are we seeing that reduce the need for prospects to call a provider, but still provide that important human interaction that many still require to ensure they are getting the product that’s right for them?

We have seen two distinct patterns emerge that seek to reduce direct contact by:

  1. helping prospects choose a product that’s right for them
  2. still provide a human-like interaction

These patterns centre around the use of ‘conversational’ design patterns to help match a product to a user’s need, and the increased uptake of online chat to support customers throughout the acquisition funnel (a feature whose usage and expectation has increased amongst consumers).

Conversational design patterns act as a Q&A-type interaction to help understand user needs and direct them to a suitable product. One of the first initial adopters of this pattern was US health insurer, Oscar, but we are seeing it being implemented by Australian health insurers like Frank, Australian energy providers like Dodo, UK energy company Bulb and Irish health insurer Vhi.

frank dodo bulb vhi

Most providers start by asking a series of questions upfront and then show suitable plans/products. In the Frank example, Frank keeps it to simple initial questions before showing 13 products which might suit. Users can then add additional criteria to reduce this number down further.

Vhi also use it to show prospects how the number of plans available to them initially are reduced by entering criteria that’s specific to them. In the example below we see the number of plans going from 71 to 5.

vhi narrow down quote

These approaches serve to:

  1. not overwhelm users with loads of different options upfront, which make it difficult to know where to start
  2. help users determine what initial criteria is important to them, and from there they can make additional tweaks and alterations to tailor their plan further
  3. help users find a plan in a user-centred way, using language they understand, as opposed to a provider-centric approach where, for example, products might be listed in alphabetical order

A recent Global Reviews mobile study1 of Irish health insurance providers suggests the Vhi model works better when matching to needs with participants having a greater chance of finding a plan that suits their needs and less chance of abandoning.

Online chat is being increasingly sought after by users who are still not confident and need help. For the last four years we have benchmarked 182 brands across 14 industries and have been tracking what users would do if they encountered problems on a website. Online chat is the channel that has seen the largest growth and is an expected channel in almost all the industries we conduct studies in.

Question: If this was a real-life situation and you encountered problems on a website whilst researching, please select what you would do next

Question: If this was a real-life situation and you encountered problems on a website whilst researching, please select what you would do next (online chat)

 

Click Loans – a 100% online mortgage company – provide online chat and also offer other alternative channels referring to them as ‘Talk to a human’.

click loans online chat or talk to a human via phone or skype

Some providers are using the chat model as a complete end-to-end solution. US insurer Lemonade, which offers renters and homeowners insurance online and via mobile, mimics a chat interaction with “Maya” from the beginning of journey. This ‘humanises’ the process making it feel more like a conversation than a form-filling exercise.

Lemonade maya

Making users feel in control and giving them freedom of choice is important however this needs to be balanced by not overwhelming them with choices either.  Conversational design patterns provide a ‘humanistic’ approach to helping users filter and sort through plans and products. But sometimes they need more reassurance when buying particular products and services where they might be locked in for a period of time and/or paying significant sums of money. In this instance an online chat feature can serve to provide timely intervention and help mitigate drop-off even after the consumer has left the site.

Increasingly we are seeing more instances where the chat model is moving beyond the website and into messenger programmes and apps. This enables brands to continue the conversation even when the customer has left the site. This style of chatbot is typically designed to send notifications to customers, update them on their purchases and remind them of upcoming events.

Bank of America has recently launched an AI-powered chatbot powered app called “Erica” who acts as a personal banker. “Erica” marries together self-help tools and customer service, giving consumers a sense of human interaction while also delivering on self-service.

Bank of Ameria Erica

Not all chatbots are humanised in the way that Lemonade’s “Maya” and Bank of America’s “Erica”. UK insurance provider, Aviva, clearly present their chatbot as being just that…a bot. It does, however, still employ a conversational tone making it easy to interact with.

aviva chatbot

Gartner has predicted that “by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human.” This is not to say that chatbots such as “Erica” will take up 85% of the interactions, but increased use of chatbots will certainly contribute greatly towards the total.

In 2016, 1.6 billion people were using mobile messaging apps, in 2018 that number is expected to reach 2 billion people, or 80% of all smartphone users. This means that the use of chatbots gives businesses a huge opportunity to reach consumers to help drive awareness, acquire customers, provide customer care, and enable transactions.

Whether it be in-site, through specific apps or via Facebook messenger, there is no doubt that chatbots are going to be playing an instrumental role in the future of digital customer service and brand interaction. While providers always need to give users a choice of how they would like to interact with them, they also need to promote self-service and reduce costs. These two patterns provide a nice way to meet both users and business needs.

1Global Reviews Mobile Fruition Ireland Q3 2017 (N=147)

Global Reviews is currently running researching into the digital maturity of brands across a number of industries. Contact us to learn more about how companies are using online chat and what the future holds for digital.

 

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Web chat? FAQ? Go elsewhere? Preferred methods of support when customers encounter problems online.

Online support

When researching and purchasing a product or service online, there will invariably be situations where a customer will either have questions or encounter problems on the website. There are a multitude of ways in which to answer/solve these problems. Typically, these ways include looking for:

  • FAQs/Help
  • Phone number to call
  • Call me back area
  • Contact us page
  • Web chat
  • Additionally, they could ultimately give up on the company and leave the website in search for another provider.

Between 2014 and 2016, Global Reviews has conducted 114 research studies across the following nine industries in Australia, Ireland and the UK:

  • Banking/Finance
  • Energy Retail
  • General Insurance
  • Health Insurance
  • Higher Learning
  • Sports Betting
  • Superannuation
  • Telecommunications
  • Travel Bookings

In all, 20 products/services within these industries have been assessed against the Global Reviews Digital Sales Effectiveness Benchmark. As part of these benchmarks, 28,268 in-market consumers completed the online sales journey on each of the assessed websites. After completing a series of product research and application tasks, these prospective customers were all asked what they would most likely do if they encounter a problem whilst researching a product/service online.

Across the three regions, it was found that the Irish are less likely to seek out an FAQ/Help page than Australian or British consumers – however it still ranked highly with 20%. This was the preferred method of solving any issues by 24% of Australian and British consumers. The most common method of getting answers for Irish consumers was by looking for a telephone number to call (21%). This method was preferred by 19% of Australians and only 14% of the British.  The use of the telephone appears to be more popular in Ireland not only with making a call, but also in the use of “call-me-back” functions. 11% of Irish preferred this method, compared to 8% in the UK and 7% in Australia.

The use of web chat features rated more prominently for UK sites with 22% preferring this method. Ireland and Australia were a bit lower here with 19% and 18% respectively.

Problems REGION

The differences in what consumers would do if they encountered a problem are not limited to regions, consumer behaviours also differ depending on what product/service they are researching.

Banking & finance

Across the banking and finance sector, help preferences are fairly similar across all products, except for savings accounts where there’s a stronger propensity to seek out FAQs and less of a risk of opting to leave the website and look for another provider.

Problems BANKING

Insurance

Within the insurance sector, travel insurance is a bit of an outlier – most likely due to the short term nature of the policies. There tends to be less of a connection to travel insurance as there is for health, home and motor insurance, with one in five customers opting to find another provider rather than persisting on the website. Despite this higher rate of abandonment,  one in four customers would use FAQs, compared to the one in five for the other insurance products.

Health insurance is slightly above average for seeking out a telephone number and slightly below average for leaving the website.

Problems INSURANCE

Telecommunications, Energy, Higher Learning, Gaming & Travel

Unlike banking and insurance, telecommunications has quite different preferences when customers encounter problems online. Despite internet service providers and mobile phone providers typically being the same company, those looking for a mobile phone provider are more likely to take the self-help route with 30% saying they would look at FAQs/Help compared to the 23% who would do the same when looking for an internet service provider. This means that telecommunication companies need to be catering to differing needs within each area of their website by considering the placement and weighting of help features. What is more important for those looking at mobile phones is different to that of those looking at broadband.

Problems MISCLooking at travel it appears that those looking for domestic flights are more inclined than those looking for international flights to want to speak to someone – whether that be via phone or web chat. This could be due to dealing with local support staff within the same timezone whereas for international flights the staff could be located anywhere depending on the intended destination. This does bring a higher risk factor for international flight sites where 21% of consumers stated that they would leave the site and look for another provider if they encountered a problem.

Unlike other industries, higher learning organisations truly offer unique products which in turn means that prospective students are forced to persevere on the site if they encounter problems unless there is another university that offers the same courses under the same conditions e.g. location. As a result, only 11% said they would leave the site if they had a problem, meanwhile an overwhelming 36% would use FAQs and 27% would look for ‘Contact Us’ information.

What this data shows us is the different research processes customers go through depending on the product or service they are wanting to purchase/apply for. Even within the one brand’s website, there are different wants and needs depending on the product. Therefore, brands need to be aware of the research habits of their customers and tailor each area of their website accordingly.

The alternative is losing these prospective customers to someone else when they give up on a site and go elsewhere.

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