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Can You Achieve Better Sales and Service Through Animated Characters?

Stonebridge Life's Encore Dental direct-to-consumer website has increased the conversion rate by double digits through intermediation of animated "interactive assistant" Harvey; Aetna and other insurers have enjoyed similar successes.

Nobody can deny that insurers have a hard time explaining their products. The best understood insurance products are those that have been presented in the crudest, most commoditized form. Consumers don't understand underwriting, they don't understand fraud, and they generally need an intermediary to explain everything from coverages to benefits options. Thus the importance of the insurance agent. However, insurers can also improve their communication through animated characters or other not-entirely-real personas.

Stonebridge Life Insurance (Rutland, Vt.) has deployed an "interactive assistant" named Harvey to communicate with users about the company's Encore Dental plan offerings, based on individual members' needs. Harvey is an animated character that works through and insurance knowledge base-linked decision-support engine developed by San Francisco-based Trustnode.

Trustnode is the creator of an online, interactive benefits education and enrollment platform driven by The Potters and Friends, a cast of programmable, animated cartoon characters linked to an insurance knowledge base. According to a Trustnode statement, "the platform as enables insurance carriers and agents, benefits brokers, and employers to quickly and easily provide a personalized online experience that more effectively engages employees in the benefits enrollment process."

Trustnode reports that Harvey has increased the conversion rate by double digits on Stonebridge Life's Encore Dental direct-to-consumer website. This is by no means the first success story we've seen involving humanized automated intermediaries.

We reported last year on Aetna's attractive virtual online assistant named "Ann" reducing the health insurer's call center load. Aetna gave Ann a very attractive flesh-and-blood face and a highly sophisticated, voluminous capacity to respond to questions in the online chat medium. Aetna reported averaging 2,500 chat sessions daily, and a 29 percent decline in calls to the company's customer service technical help desk.

Back in 2001 we reported on UK-based Western Provident Association (WPA) enjoying similar results using a "web bot" version of CEO Julian Stainton who could answer about 300 questions using natural language.

Insurance products will remain difficult to explain, and, as is said about life insurance, they are in many cases sold rather than bought. Nathan Golia made an interesting point lately when he asked in this forum, "Can social media save life insurance?" Given the experience of Stonebridge Life, Aetna, and WPA, insurers in various lines of business ought to be asking what virtual intermediaries can do for their sales and service.

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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