Customers’ expectations of their interactions with businesses are being transformed by technology. We spoke to leading tech companies to find out how engaging effectively with customers via innovative tools has become a key driver of success.
In today’s increasingly competitive environment organisations and companies are using a range of cloud technologies and big data analytics techniques to imbed service into every digital journey and deliver an optimum service to their customers.
Take Acturis, a pioneer in the development of electronic trading of commercial insurance in the UK which provides its software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform to many of the UK’s largest general insurers and brokers. Building on its success in the UK it has now also established itself, thanks to a number of acquisitions, as a leader in the German insurance technology market as well as a leading global provider to the travel insurance and assistance market.
Co-CEO Theo Duchen says the cloud and customer engagement are intrinsically linked. “We have a multi-tenant SaaS platform which means that every user, and every company that is a user, is on the same platform and database. The key point here is that having one application and database has powerful implications. It means your attention is totally focused on engaging with customers through this one single application.”
He says this approach differs from those providers which may state they have a cloud platform but in reality are only hosting a client platform in the cloud. “In those situations the company is running multiple databases and multiple applications in the cloud. That can be very complex to manage, especially when your clients all have their own bespoke configurations software. In addition in a deployed environment where the customer hosts the software, the whole installation and support process can become a nightmare. The other implication is that you run the risk of not engaging uniformly with the customer and that your service becomes inconsistent.”
Duchen says the benefits of running a platform like Acturis are clear. “When we founded the company we deliberately started it using this single platform idea so we were fortunate in some respects that we chose this model, although it did not feel that way at the time. When you are running just one platform your engagement with customers is exponentially higher than when you are deploying a piece of software which others then run themselves. We know exactly who is using our system well, who is using it badly, and who isn’t even using it.”
He adds that such a system also comes into its own when you want to put out a functional change or release to all clients. “What you find is that your development and launch cycles are much quicker. You can develop a release – such as for new workflow enhancements or dashboards – very quickly without clients having to do anything differently. You can then literally deploy a release over the weekend and on the next log on, typically on the Monday morning, everyone will have it.”
However Duchen admits there can be pressures with running such a system too. “It also means that if there is an issue then everyone feels it, so you are totally focused on monitoring that. That said, I think today most people are coming around to our model and understand that it is a good one. However, it is very difficult to transition your business once it has been set up a certain way, and people are used to the licence and maintenance model.”
Engaging with audiences
Customer engagement also goes to the heart of The Creative Engagement Group (TCEG), a group of three creative agencies – WRG, The Moment and Just Communicate – that provide experiential marketing including events, digital marketing, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). The group serves an international client base of blue chip companies and has significant expertise in the healthcare sector, along with the professional services, banking, leisure and tourism industries.
CEO Russ Lidstone says more and more clients are looking at how they can better engage with audiences. “Our business was borne out of making things and for us our focus is all about engaging the end user, whether it be through live events or through digitally immersive experiences. That could include designing and project managing live events, delivering messaging at those events, creating film content across in-house channels, or building and hosting digital platforms. I don’t know of any other business that could do all that for one company. It’s the reason I love what I am doing.”
Picking up on Duchen’s point, he says his company is increasingly using cloud hosting solutions which offer great service levels for clients. “It offers far more flexibility and in times of high demand we can create platforms that accommodate that high demand. We now use cloud services for all content across the group and it gives us an efficient mechanism to reach clients. Internal communications are increasingly important for clients too.”
Lidstone says that clients are looking for “deeper” levels of engagement, and cites the example of the healthcare industry which is increasingly adopting VR technology, especially at major live events. “What we are seeing is the increasing importance that technology plays in helping to articulate complex science. For instance, biomed science is becoming more and more complicated, and being able to disseminate that content and use the technology is key for clients.
“In the pharma industry you can use VR to demonstrate things that you simply cannot do through other techniques. VR enables you to play out a particular scenario and explain things better to a healthcare practitioner about how a particular drug works. With VR people still tend to think about the consumer angle when actually there is a significant business angle too. Put simply, VR can help businesses understand something much better.”
TCEG’s links with the healthcare industry were validated last year when the company was sold to Huntsworth, an international healthcare and public relations communications group. Clearwater International advised TCEG on the sale. For Huntsworth the deal significantly strengthens its ability to provide high quality digital creativity to its healthcare clients, while TCEG benefits from access to the group’s existing client base.
Adds Lidstone: “As a business we have really proven our integrated engagement model and Huntsworth is a great company with an entrepreneurial mindset and complementary skillsets. Before and after the sale we have shown strong organic growth from our existing client base, without even factoring in the potential for ‘new’ new business.”
Lidstone says the next big focus for the company is AR and enabling more content to come to life on screens. As he adds: “Among the questions we are asking now is how AR and AI can work for us and just how intelligent it can be. AR offers us lots of opportunities in relation to consumer experiences as well as regards internal training and development.”
Duchen says that AI is also becoming more of a game-changer in the insurance industry too, and its development will need to be watched closely by leading players. As he explains: “Customers are not necessarily constrained by the screens we provide. For automation it is important that your platform is modern and open to allow third party applications and platforms to interact with it. We can provide precisely those services and interfaces required to allow people to introduce AI and automation into their business systems.
“However if you follow through the logic then in the longer run AI also means you will have fewer users as operations become more automated. So as a business we will have to provide those tools in a way that is beneficial to both ourselves and clients, and compensates for lost revenue.”
Duchen cites the example of the increasing use of telematics in the automotive industry and devices that measure exactly where you are driving and – more importantly – how well you are driving. In this regard Acturis recently acquired the ICE insurance software business from Hubio Technologies, a business that comprises a platform used by insurance and accident management companies that is very much geared towards Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity.
Adds Duchen: “The ICE product suite is a clear leader in the connected insurance space and offers a real alternative to insurers contemplating hugely expensive, multi-year technology refresh programmes as well as those looking to enter or expand their offering in the connected insurance area.”
He says that the aim through this acquisition is for Acturis to offer a strong proposition for start-ups in the motor insurance industry which want to experiment with technology. “An insurer which wants to go into the connected insurance space could end up spending a lot of money to enter this market. If they take our platform they can spend a fraction and test if the proposition works. We want to provide something that is very agile and flexible, and the ICE system is very well regarded.”
Duchen says, as with so many industries, new entrants are now moving into the insurance market which are not traditional players. In areas such as automotive insurance this is leading to some existential questions such as whether one should own a car.
“The problem for the insurance industry is that insurers only survive because there are claims. Imagine the situation where you have a few automated vehicle fleets owned by a handful of companies and which have very low accident levels and are rarely subject to claims. That means a huge reduction in existing motor insurance premiums, the mainstay for many insurance companies. The only compensating insurance opportunity is to provide the cyber cover for the underlying system.”
Meanwhile a disruptor in the UK energy market, which has seen unprecedented change driven by the number of smaller suppliers entering the market, is ENSEK, a provider of technology solutions, managed services and advisory services for suppliers.
ENSEK began life by addressing the complexity in the industry via its data reconciliation platform Libra, and has now extended its breadth of capability to deliver an end-to-end solution. It provides services to any supplier that either wants to enter, or already operates in, the UK energy market.
CEO Jon Slade says retailers in the market now need to major on digital and offer multiple channels of customer engagement in response to higher expectation levels from consumers. “That means providers need to invest heavily in customer-facing capabilities.”
In response ENSEK has radically altered its business model over the past few years to ensure it is service relevant. “We started by building a platform that manages the end-to-end customer lifecycle and enabled the energy companies to optimise their services,” he adds. “By leveraging that, it enables suppliers to interact with customers. It is about being accessible and having choice around communication channels. The wider market has also fragmented across both the commercial and residential sectors and we are seeing a real fundamental shift in the dynamics of the industry.”
Slade says the key to ENSEK’s approach is the ability to manage the significant volumes of data that exist within a supply business. “Our solutions enable our clients to deliver great service to their customers through optimisation of core business processes whilst improving underlying profitability.
“At the end of the day we are empowering a transformational shift in the way energy suppliers manage their customers, giving them the ability to act proactively rather than reactively, and providing them with invaluable financial and operational insight that would have otherwise simply not been visible.”