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Could COVID kill the insurance call centre?

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The coronavirus pandemic will lead to the death of insurer call centres as we know them, according to a US-based global technology firm.

Research published today by artificial intelligence specialist LivePerson shows that conversations between Australian and New Zealand consumers and insurers almost doubled at the height of the pandemic, compared to pre-COVID levels.

Insurers increasingly turned to messaging technology including chatbots as they ran into issues with offshore call centres due to strict shutdowns in countries like the Philippines, the company says.

LivePerson found an almost six-fold increase in people using messaging channels to communicate with brands, compared with May last year.

“COVID-19 has accelerated this shift with messaging volume spiking by 20% in one week and 39% in three weeks between mid-March and early April when global call centres closed and lockdown measures were announced,” the report says.

“This shift to messaging, led in part by the insurance industry, could create thousands of local jobs as more organisations pivot their approach to customer service from voice to digital conversations.”

Asia Pacific GM Andrew Cannington told the shift had already been under way as consumers became increasingly happy to communicate via messaging, due to privacy and security advantages and the ability to refer back to the detail of conversations.

But he says the pandemic has led to “an incredible acceleration of the transformation”.

“This is the death of the call centre as we know it,” he said.

“Executives that we speak to say there is no going back, and [call centres] are an archaic way of engaging with people.

“We will no longer be stuffing thousands of people into a building in a country far away to answer phone calls just because it’s cheaper.”

Mr Cannington says humans will continue to be used for complex issues that require strategic thought or emotional understanding, but this interaction will increasingly take place in a messaging format.

Insurtech Australia CEO Rita Yates told that changing customer expectations have been a key driver of many insurtech propositions in recent years.

“Customers have developed expectations that they will be offered digital and mobile options for all their insurance requirements and not need to rely on a phone conversation,” she said.

“Insurtechs that have propositions focused on helping incumbents serve their customers digitally (and perform tasks virtually such as virtual claims assessment) have noticed that opportunities have been more abundant during COVID-19.

“The likelihood is that this change to customer preferences for digital options will certainly be permanent and that many phone conversations with insurers will be reserved for very complex issues and queries.”