By Lim Zeng Hao
“The customer is always right.” It was in the early 1900s that this legendary slogan was popularised by pioneering retailers including Harry Gordon Selfridge, who founded the department store Selfridges in the UK. Though the validity of the phrase has been hotly debated through the years, it ultimately emphasises that businesses should always strive for excellent customer service.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and many companies now employ dedicated customer service personnel to handle enquiries and administer support for their products and services. However, as a company’s client base grows, customer support teams can become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of enquiries, leading to slower and possibly poorer services.
This is a problem that Japanese insurance giant, Sompo Holdings (Asia) (Sompo Asia) is all too familiar with, given their presence in 14 countries within Asia Pacific outside Japan. Sompo Insurance Singapore (Sompo Singapore), one of the subsidiaries, alone receives close to 40,000 customer calls and emails each year. On top of the high volume of calls and emails that their existing support teams have to manage, they also need to deal with increasing customer expectations, like the ability to resolve an issue on the first call and real-time responsiveness to emails.
To reduce this heavy burden on their customer support teams, the company sought to go digital. “Sompo Asia is in the process of a digital transformation,” said Mr You Linguo, Digital Technology Lead, APAC, “and we are actively looking for new ways to enhance our business and services.”
As a result, Sompo Singapore raised their problem statement on the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) Open Innovation Platform (OIP) and has since been part of two separate innovation calls. “OIP is not just a channel for us to find new solutions, it lets us connect with other companies from different industries—beyond just insurance—to learn from their experiences as well,” Mr You said.
A natural fit
IMDA’s OIP aims to promote open innovation by matching problem owners to solution providers and facilitating collaboration between the two. Through calls for open innovation, companies can put up problem statements or respond to them by proposing a solution. To attract solution providers to participate, financial incentives are provided by problem owners.
The OIP process for open innovation is very similar to, and complements, our own internal innovation efforts,” Mr You said. He pointed out that, like Sompo Asia, OIP evaluates potential solutions by using a proof-of-concept first and adopts design thinking to facilitate the innovation process. “The entire process was a good way for us to challenge our assumptions and design new customer journeys,” he added.
The solution Sompo Asia sought not only needed to divert high-volume, low-complexity tasks like checking policy claim statuses, recording changes in personal details and simple Q&A away from their live support team, but also enhance the customer experience in every step of the insurance value chain. Hence, they wanted a user-friendly chatbot that could handle insurance policy purchases and process claims as well.
Thanks to the OIP, Sompo Asia managed to find the perfect partner: Zumata, a company that builds artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots. Having deployed enterprise-grade chatbots in similar industries before, Zumata felt that it was a natural match. “The fit was perfect in terms of the problem statement, their goals and the capabilities that we could deliver,” said Mr Josh Ziegler, Chief Executive Officer of Zumata.
A human-centric solution
Over the course of their collaboration, one thing that both Sompo Asia and Zumata realised was that they shared the same philosophy—that is, a human-centric approach towards solving problems. Thus, Zumata sought to build a solution that not only seamlessly handled customer enquiries, but also went above and beyond to perform sales transactions and follow-up with prospective customers.
“We applied a design thinking approach to the development process, spending substantial time to ensure that the chatbot’s functionalities addressed each pain point that was brought up,” said Mr Ziegler. As part of Zumata’s agile development process, weekly sessions were organised with Sompo Asia and Sompo Singapore for Zumata to receive timely feedback on different features. By the tail-end of the development process, Zumata also conducted system and user tests to ensure that their chatbot answered Sompo Singapore’s needs.
“Overall, the OIP has been a wonderful and fruitful learning experience,” added Mr Ziegler. “The structured interaction and selection process allowed us to gain a better understanding of Sompo Asia’s problem statement. We’re proud of the resulting product born from this deep collaboration.”
Indeed, Sompo Asia and Zumata’s partnership was mutually beneficial. “Working with Zumata was an excellent experience; the planning was impeccable, and the project was managed professionally,” shared Mr You. “From designing the customer journey to refining the end-solution, Zumata was always there to support us.”
The prototype chatbot developed by Zumata has successfully completed the proof-of-concept phase in Sompo Singapore, and was recently implemented in Sompo Asia’s subsidiary in the Philippines. According to Mr You, Sompo Asia’s digital team is planning to roll out the prototype in other regional subsidiaries as well, such as Thailand, Hong Kong and Indonesia. In the current landscape shaped by COVID-19, it is clear that moving forward, digital technologies like chatbots will become an even more important tool for companies to engage their customers.
“Not only did OIP help to accelerate our company’s digital transformation journey, but it also enabled us to solve real business problems,” said Mr You. Given the massive success of their partnership, both Zumata and Sompo Asia are keen on following and participating in future OIP initiatives.