Ideas & musings about consumer behaviour

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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