When Lawrance William moved to Vietnam four years ago, he dutifully alerted his life insurers in Malaysia about the change in his country of residence. Relocating his family abroad was the biggest milestone of his life, yet neither the increase in wealth that came with the new job nor the high likelihood of him requiring a new policy were enough to warrant a call from a dozen insurers he held policies with back home. Lawrance was all but invisible to them.
As Head of Operational Excellence with AIA Vietnam for nine months, he’s been working hard to help the sector cast off the invisibility cloak by making sure customers feel seen and heard. Luckily, he joins AIA Vietnam at a time when data-enabled digital transformation has the power to truly revolutionize customer experience. As someone who thrives when given an opportunity to help people and organizations become more efficient (he is a certified Six Sigma black belt), Lawrance has his sleeves rolled up and his hopes set high.
We asked Lawrance how AIA Vietnam is tapping big data to move the needle on customer engagement and what an ideal balance between human and digital services looks like.
As a process improvement professional, what are your areas of focus? What goals did you set for yourself when joining AIA Vietnam?
My mandate is to help AIA Vietnam transition from a policy-servicing to a customer-servicing organization. Among the legacy industries, life insurance is considered a laggard when it comes to digital transformation, especially compared to manufacturing, pharma and oil and gas. We are even behind the banking sector; another heavily regulated industry.
It was always going to be a long road but what made this transformation doubly difficult for the sector is the nature of our business. Building trust takes time, and once you’ve established these meaningful relationships with your customers, you don’t want to jeopardise them by pushing ahead with change too aggressively.
Organizations have always collected data. But today’s datasets are unprecedented in volume, variety and velocity. How does one make the most of big data?
The old adage “If you torture the data enough, it will confess to anything” is still valid today. So you need to be careful to use data in a sustainable way that brings about results by focusing on customer experience. Collecting data is easy, it’s the analyzing part that’s a challenge. How do we organize it in a way that brings the biggest benefits to the customer?
Today, we are at a junction when the era of shareholder capitalism is giving way to stakeholder capitalism. This change is driven by the market, and all forward-thinking organizations are working around the clock to modernize their business models and prioritize customer interests.
How do you actually engage with the customer with the help of data in life insurance?
Instead of intruding in their lives with aggressive advertising or spamming them on mass-media, we want to be able to collate data and turn it into products that customers actually want to learn more about and eventually purchase. From being instantly alerted about their milestones to being aware of their financial difficulties, we want to be seen as a partner who is there to support them throughout the entire lifecycle.
What big data allows us to do is improve customization and speed up turn-around times. Customers have widely varying needs, but right now the product development cycle can take anywhere between 3 months and a year. It’s painfully long. I’d say, in three years from now, once AIA Vietnam’s digital transformation is completed, we will be much better placed to bring value to our clients. We’ve made good progress thus far by building a solid foundation of data, measurement and analytics. The next phase is optimizing the human resources in the service of customers.
So the human touch is not going anywhere?
If anything, the role of the human factor will be even more central. Back in the day, we pushed for automation because it reduced cost. That’s what shareholder capitalism is all about. Now automation leaves us with more time to build engagement and talk to our customers, no matter where they are in the world.
You might even say that we have it easy, because our customers have already said that they trust us by giving us their money. So our job is not to betray that trust. Listening, showing that we care, stepping in to help at the right time — data is helping us transform our relationship with the customer.
Imagine someone who is consistently paying their premiums on time, then misses a payment. Where before the knee-jerk reaction was to send a reminder saying that their policy will lapse unless they pay, the message we actually want them to receive is that AIA Vietnam cares. Thanks to automation, we will have the time to check on them to ensure they are ok, to see how we can help.
Is fully automating risk management and underwriting feasible or even desirable?
Eventually, we do want to have full automation. There are risks attached to it but the pros far outweigh the cons, as full automation will essentially free up the organization to focus on customer engagement. We used to think that our customers compare us to our peers in the insurance sector, but we’ve come to realize that it is simply not the case. They benchmark us against the likes of Vietnam Airlines, Google or Facebook who excel at customer service. So automation is a must if we want to catch up with these guys and ourselves become leaders in service.
What is AIA Vietnam’s team working on at the moment?
We are in the final stages of launching an ambitious marketing program that is going to be revolutionary. Right now, most of advertising is done through word of mouth and our extensive agency force. But we are ready for the next step where automation helps us achieve scale. Now that we have the right processes and product in place, and supported by a philosophy that is well-aligned with the needs of our customers, AIA Vietnam is ready for a reboot.