Exploring AI: Fascination with AI, Not Fear Will Drive Success for Independent Agents

June 3, 2024 by

I remember watching Michael Crighton’s “Westworld” in 1973. Two vivid impressions from that experience remain. The first was my date breaking my glasses when she screamed and threw her arms open during a startling scene. The second was the completely believable world depicted in the film where robots replaced humans in every imaginable situation. Fast forward to 2018 when I first encountered incredibly lifelike AI-powered avatars from Soul Machines designed to improve the customer experience, which for me, brought Crighton’s vision to digital life.

I watched a demonstration in fascination as their avatars answered hundreds of questions for credit card companies and assisted customers with booking complex airline travel. After speaking with Soul Machine’s CEO Greg Cross, I wrote an article predicting the demise of the customer service agent in insurance agencies as I envisioned a laptop replacing office buildings full of cubicle dwellers. That hasn’t happened — yet. But technology like this that had a price tag of hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2018 is now available starting at $29 dollars a month.

Artificial intelligence capability is truly evolving at an exponential speed while costs for the tools are falling just as fast. Most of this life-changing development has been invisible because, as Peter Diamandis, serial entrepreneur, and host of the tech conference “Abundance 360” says, digital technology is “deceptive until it’s disruptive.” With ChatGPT emerging into our consciousness last year, insurance professionals have struggled to grasp how profoundly our industry will change in the next five years — and, more importantly, how to not be left behind.

So, as we enter the knee of the exponential growth curve in AI capability, cost and disruption, how should agents think about it and their futures?

Embracing AI Will Support Independent Agents, Not Replace Them

Humans often react to change, especially sudden and profound change, with fear, which in turn can trigger the classic “fight” or “flight” reaction. Neither is appropriate here. Generative and Predictive AI, machine learning and similar technologies are not going away. Moore’s Law and its corollaries famously predicted the computing capability that power and continues to drive the exponential increase in AI capabilities. So, flight is impossible. And fighting the future never works out well.

That leaves us with a second option — learning all we can about these new and evolving capabilities. In fact, fascination with this new tool is the appropriate response. It will enable us to open our thinking to ways that technology can continue to drive costs from our businesses, increase our capabilities to grow, and liberate us from the drudgery of tasks that we dislike.

So, what will all this mean for the future of the insurance agent and how can should we focus that fascination? I say we focus our efforts on learning how AI can support us and help us to enhance how we serve our clients, how we sell and how we manage the business.

Breaking Down the Benefits

Service. As the Soul Machines example demonstrates, the ability to automate most customer service tasks is rapidly evolving. Eventually, AI will answer the phone and speak directly with customers using natural learning language to solve their problems, file their claims and perform other fairly mundane tasks. Insurance industry AI applications aimed at enhancing customer service or streamlining operations like GAIL and Capacity are already in the market and dozens more are in development. Applications like Otter.ai, which converts speech to text, have been used for years to document conversations, and in our industry to improve service and beef up E&O capability. Further, applications like Gaya, allow browser-to-browser data entry promising to supercharge productivity.

In embracing AI, key things to ask are:

  • What are the tasks that have the lowest value in our service model?
  • What are our most repetitive tasks and frequently requested services?
  • What are the tasks where error can destroy our relationships, but performance does not enhance it?

All of these tasks can be automated to one degree or another and within five years, all of them will be automated routinely. By asking yourself these questions, you will have an excellent chance to recognize the solutions as they come on the market because, as Dan Sullivan, founder of The Strategic Coach program, says, “The eyes only see, and the ears only hear, what the mind is looking for.”

As you coach and develop your service team, recognize they will be increasingly fearful of their job security. I believe the AI-empowered employee will become increasingly valuable not obsolete. Ask these key people what they love most about their work and look for ways AI can provide more time for relationship-focused tasks like customer nurturing by providing the capabilities for more complex problem solving. Not only will your future workforce be more efficient and your business less concerned with the shrinking labor force due to demographic changes, but you will increasingly become an employer of choice for Generation Z and millennials who are fascinated by these technologies.

Sales. A few years ago, I estimated email consumed 25%-30% of my time. A solution was to turn it over to a human assistant. Today, AI programs like Shortwave, Sanebox and Copilot do it faster, better and cheaper. The time salespeople get back is obviously enormously valuable.

Automating prospecting via AI has tremendous potential for agents and many tools are already available. Perhaps even more valuable are the tools that allow prospect research at scale enabling salespeople to be better prepared for prospect outreach. Check out Warmer.ai, Humantic.ai and similar applications for ideas on improving your results now.

As you think about how to improve your sales results, time efficiency is paramount. Scheduling, mapping, email, research (where the now nearly ubiquitous ChatGPT can excel) and application completion tools are all available now and improving rapidly. Some examples of questions to ask yourself are:

  • Where are my sales bottlenecks that AI can possibly remove?
  • What are my most time-consuming tasks that keep me from spending time with clients and how can AI assist?
  • How can I use AI to improve my research and understanding about where my carriers, market niches and geography intersect so I can waste fewer resources and improve speed to market?

Business Management. There are many other parts of our businesses from claims processing, proposal generation, accounting, and general administration and management where AI tools can provide significant improvement in efficiency and productivity and will continue to increasingly in the future. For some agencies these tools may have the potential for an even more immediate impact on business management than in sales or service functions. One way to approach thinking about discovering AI solutions for these tasks is to take regular note of the things that frustrate you:

  • Do you struggle in hiring?
  • Does your benchmarking work show you are not operating in the top 25% of all agencies?

When I interacted with my first digital human, as Soul Machines calls their incredibly lifelike avatars, I was excited by its potential. I realized I couldn’t have a relationship with it because everything it did was calculated and did not stem from emotion. This was tremendously exciting because it reinforced my belief that the most valuable skill that I, and most successful agents, have is our ability to connect, build personal relationships and create trust based on those human connections.

Artificial intelligence, in all its forms, has continued to show me that it will increasingly remove drudgery and unwanted tasks while speeding up things and allowing us more opportunity to excel at the parts of our business we are uniquely wired to do.

When it comes to AI, I’m fascinated, not fearful. I hope you will be too.