Artificial intelligence and automation: improved service and individual customer care

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Artificial intelligence and automation: improved service and individual customer care

Nothing less than a silent revolution is currently taking place in the world of insurance: Over many steps both big and small, interaction with customers is changing. The magic word here is "automation", and this is made possible through artificial intelligence, or AI. All initiatives have the same goal: a faster, simpler and more individual service.

More than 1.4 million customers in Switzerland put their trust in products and services from Zurich – private individuals but also small, medium and large enterprises and institutions. In the course of customer relationships often lasting decades, there are various interactions with each and every one of them. At every touchpoint, there is potential to offer faster, simpler and more carefully targeted services thanks to automation – for an even better customer experience. Zurich Switzerland has created the basis for this with the platform "SPACE".

The following functionalities are already possible today or will soon become possible, and many more are conceivable:

Automated document reading and making customers’ lives easier

Artificial intelligence enables intelligent reading of incoming documents, i.e. recognizing their contents. This legibility is needed, inter alia, in chatbot functions, in order to interpret customer chats correctly and provide meaningful replies. In addition, for example, customers have the option to upload their existing car insurance agreement – or their driving license – to Zurich Switzerland, and the tool is capable of recognizing the data. On the basis of such information, in future it will actually be possible to  make interested customers a new offer directly – even faster and more conveniently than previously. Great store is set on the highest standards in data security and data protection in processing customer documents.

Assigning texts and passing them on directly to the responsible person

One of the other capabilities of SPACE is to assign documents to certain categories. One example is the routing of emails, which can then be assigned to the correct specialist. At Zurich Switzerland, 2,000 e-mails a day are already allocated in this way and can thus arrive at the right place and be processed more quickly. This means our customers get replies faster and do not need to wait as long.

Understanding language and avoiding tiresome copying

The IT experts are currently training the platform to understand natural language. This can make interaction on the telephone more pleasant, and it simplifies the transcription of conversations. One possible application could involve customers outlining their concerns on our hotline and then being connected directly to a specialist by the system. Of course, they then no longer need to work through various options. Internally, a voice-controlled virtual assistant like "Alexa" is also conceivable for Customer Consultants: "Show me all the customers with travel insurance."

Recognizing customer requirements and providing targeted advice

The art of good service is to support customers with the right offers at the right time. They then receive information that is highly relevant and provides them with valuable assistance in their life planning. For example, a young family has different insurance needs from a married couple approaching retirement. Similarly, a change of address probably means that someone has moved home and may need to make some changes to their household contents insurance. SPACE helps to recognize such patterns from the existing data and provides the Customer Consultants with appropriate suggestions for making contact, so the system does some of the thinking.

Analyzing loss patterns and thus improving prevention

Pattern recognition also plays a major role in the analysis of claims: Do accidents happen on a major construction site at a certain time of day or a particular stage in the work? Are there any areas of the company in which employees are subject to an above-average frequency of burnouts? SPACE can visualize such patterns. They provide valuable indications of possible causes of loss and are very important for prevention. In future, the SPACE-based tool medeye could actually help to save lives: It helps hospitals to analyze the safety of their treatment methods and gives them an overview of loss patterns throughout Switzerland. In that way, they can significantly improve patient safety.

Automating processes and thus gaining time to spend with the customer

At the moment, Zurich Switzerland is working on the automation of entire processes with the SPACE platform. In future, for example, online notifications of claims are to be recorded automatically and entered in the appropriate systems. The claims experts will gain time to be there in person for the affected individual, take a more personal interest and process the cases faster.

A supplement but not a replacement

"All these innovations share the same aim: They offer added value for our customers," says Philipp Borgschulte, Head of Workflow Automation & AI at Zurich Switzerland. "Artificial intelligence makes us quicker and more flexible, helps us to communicate more purposefully and offers enormous potential in prevention. Even so, it is only a supplement and not a replacement for people: It cannot replace the experience, the competence and above all the sensitivity of the specialists."

What is the thought behind the SPACE platform?

SPACE is the abbreviation for "Swiss Platform for Automation & Cognitive Enterprise Services". It is the cloud-based platform for artificial intelligence at Zurich Switzerland. Data are transmitted via a dedicated line from and to the networks of Zurich Switzerland in a "virtual private network", which is a process that guarantees optimum data security. A special feature of SPACE is that it is structured in a container system known as a Microservice Architecture: Each container represents a virtual server and can be programmed using any coding language. The containers can communicate with one another and exchange information. Consequently, the system is very flexible, scalable and can be adapted to current requirements within milliseconds. It’s also highly innovative: Some of the algorithms implemented on the SPACE platform are registered for patent approval.

Artificial intelligence is a highly complex set of rules for logical connections. Its strength lies in the fact that it can check enormous quantities of data via logical connections, meaning, for example, that it recognizes patterns in claims data that an individual person could only find after years of work. But the platform can only calculate and execute what programmers have previously written into it, so it does not develop any form of inherent momentum but always remains under the control of the IT specialists.
Portrait Philipp Borgschulte
Philipp Borgschulte, Head Workflow Automation & AI

INTERVIEW: Philipp Borgschulte, Head of Workflow Automation & AI and "Father" of SPACE

Philipp Borgschulte works at Zurich Switzerland as Head of Workflow Automation & AI. He was the driving force behind the SPACE project.

Mr. Borgschulte, automation has been underway in industry for decades. Now it has begun at Zurich Switzerland in the form of SPACE. Why only now?
As a service industry, the world of insurance is actually far less automated than manufacturing. This is partly due to the fact that complex services are more difficult to automate than, for example, the production of chocolate bars. In addition, the insurance sector was for a long time rather conservative, and that didn’t exactly foster innovation. Precisely for that reason, SPACE has enormous potential.

Can and will SPACE replace the human workforce?
People have been having this discussion since the early days of industrialization, and the insurance industry is now starting to catch up with what has long been a matter of course in other areas. Artificial intelligence can in fact take over some repetitive tasks, such as the tiresome entry of text-based information. But let’s be honest, those are boring tasks that no one really enjoys doing. We see SPACE not as a case for savings but for growth: Employees gain time and we free up potential for an even more engaged and personal service.

Do our customers have to be afraid that a computer will decide on their loss payment?
No, that fear is unfounded. The automated processes assist in decision-making but do not take over the decision from the person. Furthermore, all the rules are defined by human experts and prescribed to the machine. I am convinced that artificial intelligence will never become our master but will always remain our servant because we have characteristics that a computer will never have: creativity, humor and above all the sensitivity to detect minor nuances and respond appropriately and flexibly to them.

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