Insurance is no place for transactional relationships. At its core, it's about developing trust and demonstrating you understand your customers. Artificial intelligence (AI) is helping insurers do just that, at a scale that’s never been possible before.

We all know the cost of acquiring a customer versus the cost of retaining a customer – no one wants to lose customers and have to replace them. For the insurance industry, retention comes down to trust. Historically, a trusted customer-insurer relationship is generated from a great claim experience, but this paradigm is changing.

The customer has the power


There is a groundswell of disruption happening across the business world. Thanks to the increasingly digital, instant and personalised world we live in, customers now expect a different experience than they once did. They expect their insurer to demonstrate how well you know them, in every single interaction – whether it be via the call centre, email or in person. The customer experience has to be personalised and journey-based. It’s no longer viable to treat every customer the same or even in broad segments.

Those insurers who fail to act and take measures to meet the expectations of this new breed of customer, risk losing them to a competitor who does. Unwavering loyalty is a thing of the past. Customers are now only one bad experience away from taking their business elsewhere. Two-thirds of customers say they’re likely to switch brands if they’re treated like a number instead of an individual, and 50% feel the same if the company doesn’t anticipate their needs.

Artificial intelligence is the answer


Artificial intelligence is the key to supercharging human ability, and providing these bespoke experiences that our customers are demanding. Positively, insurance is especially likely to benefit from AI, due to the wealth of customer data at your fingertips. This data feeds the AI engine, and the more quality data it can get its hands on, the more intelligent the technology becomes and the better the outcome.

While AI has been around for decades, it hasn’t been until now that the technology has advanced to a point that can benefit businesses of all sizes and budgets – one of our main goals with the AI that’s embedded across our platforms, Einstein, is to democratise AI. Improvements in computing power, the advent of big data and advances in machine learning have all contributed to the rise of AI.

The benefits of artificial intelligence are many and varied


Artificial intelligence such as Einstein works by analysing customer data, finding patterns and developing deep insights into individual customers – at a rate not humanly possible. This insight can then be used to engage clients, help shape new products, and predict what offers or solutions are going to resonate best with an individual. All of this has the potential to deepen client relationships and improve loyalty.

Another benefit is using artificial intelligence to eliminate mundane admin tasks. We’re already seeing, in the US, AI being employed in the first stage of the motor vehicle claims assessment process, analysing photos of vehicle damage to determine whether it’s a write-off or not.

The benefits of automating this step are two-fold. Not only does the technology improve productivity, enabling employees to add value to the customer relationship instead, but it also allows the payout or repair to happen much faster, improving the overall customer experience.

Artificial intelligence: where to start


The first step in unlocking the benefits of artificial intelligence is getting your customer data into one layer within your organisation. AI can only become intelligent, accurate and useful if it’s given a complete and extensive set of data to generate learnings from. It can’t work its magic if data is siloed between departments and in disparate IT systems.

Secondly, it's important to have a clear, strategic view on what you want artificial intelligence to achieve for your organisation – to determine what part of the customer experience could most benefit from that level of insight or automation.

In a recent Gartner report, AI and advanced machine learning is listed as the number one strategic technology trend for 2017. Artificial intelligence is here, and it has the potential to completely redefine the insurance function. Savvy insurers are on-board, quietly implementing AI and building a competitive advantage in the process – it’s important others don’t fall behind.

Find out how changing customer expectations are turning the insurance industry on its head, and what you can do about it. Register for the upcoming webinar, Transforming customer experience in Insurance, on Wednesday, November 15.

Sascha Ambrose is Director of Commercial Sales, Financial Services and Real Estate Industries at Salesforce. Read more from Sascha Ambrose.