Why Natural Language Processing is the Next Big Thing for Insurers

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In this special guest feature, Yaffa Cohen-Ifrah, CMO and Head of Corporate Communications at Sapiens Insurance, explores the many benefits of NLP for the insurance industry, including its widespread use as a cost-effective, engaging alternative to repetitive tasks that will streamline processes leading to greater customer satisfaction. Yaffa joined Sapiens in January 2014 and leads the global corporate marketing activities, analyst relations and corporate communications. Prior to joining Sapiens, Yaffa served for two years as head of investor relations at Partner Communications Ltd, a leading telecommunications company. Yaffa holds a B.Sc. in Biology from Tel Aviv University and an MBA in Finance and Marketing from Pace University, New York.

Artificial intelligence technology is starting to bring massive gains in efficiency, productivity and business value to a wide range of industries, but few are more eager to harness the technology’s benefits than insurers.

Insurers invested around $124 million in artificial intelligence (AI) in 2015, Tata Consultancy Services found in its 2017 global trend survey on AI. That compares to an average of $70 million invested across 13 industries included in the report.

Boasting a diverse array of capabilities for insurers, banks, retailers, digital assistants and much more, natural language processing (NLP), a growing subset of AI, is on track to see significant growth over the coming years. Credence Research recently forecast that the global NLP market would grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11.7 percent from 2018 to 2026, by which point the market will be valued at a projected $28.6 billion worldwide.

But where does the insurance industry see the greatest value potential for AI? According to Everest Global, 19 percent are leveraging AI for product innovation, while 43 percent are utilizing the technology to optimize processes. Fifty-eight percent are deploying AI to enhance the customer experience.                                                                                        

Given these priorities, particularly the customer experience, NLP is set to be a major game changer for the insurance industry. NLP offers insurers a cost-effective solution for reducing repetitive tasks, streamlining processes and boosting customer satisfaction. As sophisticated chatbots and virtual agents empower insurers to digitize legacy systems and operate more efficiently, insurers are finding that NLP represents an AI investment well worth making.

What will increasing use of NLP mean for how insurers go about their operations? By leveraging NLP’s capabilities to analyze human language and to generate dialogues using simple, conversational terms, some insurer chatbots are already bringing new efficiency to customer onboarding, customer service interactions and even simple claims processing, saving insurance companies both time and money. This frees up customer service agents to focus on the most complex and high-priority customer inquiries – and because chatbots feed all relevant data to the agents, they make it quicker and simpler for human professionals to attend to customer needs.

It’s not only insurers who stand to gain big – NLP will also be a boon to customers.

Allstate’s use of Amelia, a virtual agent/“digital colleague” developed by IPsoft, is a case in point. Working alongside human customer service professionals, Amelia draws on their real-world customer service interactions to understand how to handle common customer inquiries. Allstate reported that the average call duration fell by nine percent during the first six months the company used Amelia and 75 percent of customer inquiries were solved on the first call, compared to a 67 percent rate before deployment. Trained on natural human conversations, these tools are designed to demystify the often-befuddling jargon of the industry, ensuring that customers are engaged and satisfied.

An added bonus for insurers (and for other industries implementing NLP for customer service): because NLP technology is capable of analyzing not only the intent but also the emotion behind human language, it can generate valuable insights into customer sentiment.

Available 24/7, NLP-enabled chatbots and virtual agents also bring greater accessibility and convenience to insurers’ customer service operations. With Gartner projecting that 85 percent of customer service interactions will be handled without human involvement, insurance is positioned to be at the forefront of the move toward more digitized operations, driven by insurers’ race to win customers’ hearts and minds, and head off competition from insuretech startups.

In an industry in which 67 percent of executives say that innovation is a very important priority – followed by customer experience – it’s only, well, natural that natural language processing is a major focus for insurers. By the very nature of their work, insurers know how to distinguish a promising proposition from a risky and dangerous one, which is why their turn to NLP is instructive.

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