Recently, I was shopping for a broadband service provider and a friend referred me to his provider. The sales person called promptly from an outbound call centre, listed the plans and other details. They were running an ‘offer’ sold by him. When I raised some specific queries, he said he will need to check and then revert.
This process of my querying and his checking ran a couple of cycles and stretched for a week, with my queries still not satisfactorily resolved, leading to the process not moving forward. Being keen to close this, I reached out to a competitor and what I experienced was a pleasant shock!
Recently, I got a call from the local sales person, explaining the plans and promptly sending me a WhatsApp message with the details of the plans. A WhatsApp chat had begun and my queries were responded in a matter of a couple of hours. When I confirmed the plan I wanted to purchase, he immediately called and thanked and asked me to take a photo and share via WhatsApp the documentary proofs and a soft copy of my passport photo. This was done in a minute, where he internally triggered a process that led to me getting an OTP to signify my acceptance of the offer and the plan.
Once I validated the OTP, I was all set! I again got a WhatsApp message informing me the timeslots available for installation and based on my confirmation, the process was complete and installation done promptly!
Why am I narrating this? Being used to the rigmarole of paper work
(multiple forms/documents/photocopies/signatures/photos) that we routinely face in India, here was a provider who could follow the regulatory requirements and yet make the process so smooth, easy, and frictionless. That, to me, is open innovation.
So, what are the lessons? Using an external, but popular, customer friendly, and convenient mode of communication and innovation strategy like WhatsApp and blending it with the company’s internal systems is a huge first step! Moving to images of documents, instead of physical hard copies is another big plus. The final and clinching difference is having an actual sales person on the other end of WhatsApp, respond to queries instantly which brought a personal touch to what otherwise was a totally commercial transaction.
The Insurance Angle
My immediate correlation of this episode was to my own domain, viz, insurance. Insurance is also a product that offers a variety of plans and options, with plenty of strings (read terms and conditions, aka fine print) attached. A lot of customer education and communication is required to ensure that the customer can understand and make the right choice of products and plans for their needs and situations. Again, the paperwork is also high, with plenty of forms/documentary proofs required to be submitted.
Given the traditional nature of the insurance agent, their focus is only on selling, and not on understanding the needs of the customer and providing them options suited to their needs. There are plenty of gaps in agent education. Even where agents are well trained on the insurer’s products, there are vested interests in selling high commission/incentive products.
This is where a business model and innovation strategy centred on customers’ interests and touchpoints can be a game changer. Such a model, by leveraging platforms like WhatsApp or any other popular messenger sites, can be a huge differentiator in the way insurance products are sold and serviced. The agent/salesman can still be front-ending the ongoing conversation with the customer, but be ably supported behind the scenes by product specialists who can guide the agent in answering customer queries and helping them make the right choice of products/plans.
Just imagine another scenario – you have met with an unfortunate accident and your car has sustained some damages. Which would you prefer?
Scenario A - Calling a call centre, being put on hold for eternity, explaining your situation multiple times to multiple call centre agents (from the beginning and every single time), and hoping someone out there will help…or,
Scenario B - An official from your insurer being continuously available on a messenger site like WhatsApp, to guide you (using a mix of calls and chats) through the whole process, be it taking photos of your damaged car, towing it to a service station, arranging for an inspection by a surveyor, and finally settlement of the bills post repair.
These thoughts brought to my mind an RFP that we responded a few months ago, for an Insurer in China who was trying to build a life insurance sales platform leveraging WeChat, China’s version of WhatsApp. While working on the RFP, I still couldn’t fully comprehend what the client was trying to achieve, beyond the stated requirements in the RFP. But thanks to my own recent experience recounted above, the full impact of a truly innovative digital-first business model has hit home!
Open innovation model is not just about the technology – it is about building businesses centred around the customer – being responsive, nimble, and quick to serve customer needs, both stated and implied. Essentially, it is about building truly delightful customer experiences, leveraging and blending the multiple technologies at play, into a seamless and harmonious whole.