Nationwide creates bionic team members that provide an individual associate serving a customer a team of bots to perform all of the mundane work in a very rapid way.
Nationwide, the Columbus, Ohio-based insurance and financial services company, wants customers to know that when the chips are down, it will be there with a subtle mixture of empathy and logistical prowess powered by “bionic” technology.
In an insurance market glutted with too-clever advertisements, reptilian mascots, and promises of lower costs, Nationwide is instead betting that its end-user customers (Nationwide calls them “members”) will join and remain loyal to a company that tries to live by the time-honored mantra of exceeding customer expectations.
Across its 11 divisions, which include whole life, fire, auto insurance, and investments, as well as a raft of business services, the company is rallying around the shared vision that “extraordinary care is our North Star,” said Amy Shore, the company’s chief customer officer, during an interview.
The insurer is betting that providing its customer care associates with intelligent, cloud-based information technology will help them follow that North Star.
“We want to digitize the ordinary so we can personalize the extraordinary,” said Jim Fowler, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Nationwide. He adds that technology imbues the insurer’s associates with “bionic superpowers.”
To illustrate that point, Fowler ticked through the steps taken by both people and technology when a customer calls in to report a catastrophe such as a house fire. The call will automatically route to a customer service agent, who will reassure the customer that everything will be taken care of. In the background, automated processes interacting with third parties reserve a hotel room, arrange for a rental car to come within two hours, and deposit $1,000 into the customer’s bank account to cover emergency expenses such as food and other essentials.
Partly to accomplish exactly this kind of scenario, Nationwide developed a technology hub for customers and third parties. This year, it will process more than 10 billion transactions, up from 50,000 two years ago when it was launched, Fowler said.
“It’s the nerve center for how we connect our members and our intermediaries into our systems,” Fowler said during an interview. “It is really based on this idea that, ‘I’m going to meet my customer where they are, and I’m going to allow them to transact either from a purchase or a service perspective in the way that they want to transact.’”
He continued: “And we know there’s no one company who’s going to be able to provide all of those products, so this technology hub is the glue that will hook all of those different components together.”
A lot of companies might see this type of automation as a way to cut costs by reducing the number of call center reps. Not Nationwide. “We actually think all of these become bionic tools to make associates more powerful in the conversation, to be the empathetic ear on the other line, to be able to apply some judgment in things that aren’t normal cases that we have to deal with,” he says. “And these tools let the clerical piece of their jobs be done by a whole bunch of artificial intelligence bots that are working on their behalf.”
Or as Shore, the chief customer officer, put it, “it helps our associates be highly available and highly reliable… The technology is integral to everything we do and to elevate the customer experience.”
Three core tech principles
A few years ago, Nationwide identified three technology principles it needed to support its North Star vision. The first was it needed its systems to be open to ensure seamless interactions with partner systems.
Second, it needed to automate as many clerical processes handled by humans as it could to improve speed and accuracy. Such a platform needed to be intelligent by design. “We needed it to learn as it went, and we needed it to be able to start to make decisions and predict things faster,” Fowler said.
Third, the platform needed to be adaptable to whichever channel its customers demanded. “We couldn’t force them down any one given route,” he said.
Nationwide adopted Oracle’s cloud-based customer experience and policy administration applications. “Their whole suite of products come together in a way that just was a dead-on match for how we thought about the strategy of where we’re headed,” Fowler said.
Once Nationwide’s senior management team defined the broad strategy, it was up to each division to tailor the cloud platform to their particular lines of business.
Fowler’s team implemented standard systems of record for the operations team, as well as a knowledge management system used by a cross-LOB shared services team. With the knowledge management system, all customer-facing associates are armed with everything they need to know about each member, and they’re even fed suggestions on what to say. Automated actions kick in when circumstances demand it.
“It goes back to this: ‘How do I digitize the ordinary, humanize the extraordinary?’” Fowler said. “We want natural language processing to be able to pick up on whatever the caller is calling about, texting about, or emailing about and automatically provide in-context knowledge back to the representative dealing with the customer.”
“Now you’ve got this engine that’s available for our business units to really drive new products, services, and experiences for their customers. So, where we’re headed is from a top-down approach to one that’s driven by individual business units.” Fowler said.
For Nationwide’s auto insurance business, for example, that may mean creating a claims system that eliminates all manual intervention. For life insurance, it may be using AI to replace blood tests to help determine life expectancy.
According to Fowler, 50% of all auto insurance cases are now handled by intelligent bots, which are used to make repair cost estimates, determine payouts, and route rental cars to a customer. This means associates “aren’t doing the clerical side of the job; they’re doing the direction side of the job and the empathy side of the job.”
Empathy is what sets it all apart
Nationwide sees the combination of automation and hyper-personalization as the crux of its competitive advantage, Fowler said.
“Using all of the streaming data that we have, tied to the processes through our ecosystem, lets us create these really individualized experiences for customers,” he said. “The second piece is the ability to create bionic team members, where an individual associate serving a customer has a team of bots performing all of the mundane work in a very rapid way. That way, our associates can create the best experience possible for members when they need to interact with us.”
Shore, Nationwide’s chief customer officer, said: “We want it to be simple and convenient to do ordinary things like renewing a policy so agents can focus on empathy.” Empathy enhanced with bionic technology.
About Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins is Senior Director at Oracle.