Founded in 1955, Aflac is an American insurance company and is the largest provider of supplemental insurance in the US with over 50 million customers worldwide. Six years ago it kicked off a digital transformation program to re-invent the way it engages with customers, policyholders, agents and brokers, centering on a corporate vision called One Digital Aflac.
Since 2014, the nature of that transformation has evolved, according to Rich Gilbert, Chief Digital and Information Officer:
It was focused on technology for technology's sake, things like data center optimization and implementing service buses. We were building the first data warehouses, and we were doing things like ripping and replacing policy admin systems. Fast forward to today and in 2020 the digital model has shifted. It's no longer about working on technology-centric things; it's all around focusing on customer centric things. We had to re-think our customer expectations around things like ease [of use], around value, around service.
The digital component of digital transformation, he concedes, means different things to different people:
When I think about digital, I think about my cell phone. This device has helped me transact and do things easier and as a customer, it's changed the way I expect companies to engage with me. We realized that digital, at its core, is all around using technology to make things easier. So when we launched our One Digital Aflac vision, we said, 'Let's use that as our first tenet. Let's use technology to make things easier. Let's use technology to make it easier for our customers to be able to buy and interact with us. Let's make it easier for our sales teams to sell in the marketplace and run successful businesses. Let's make it easier for our employees who work at Aflac to do what they do every day. And overall, make it easier for us to fulfil our promise'.
And all of this had to be built on customer centricity, he adds:
In the past, we'd focused on technology centric items and today we've had to shift to be customer centric. We're looking at everything from the lens of the customer, back. We've changed our prioritization model to do just that. If it's not driving value for the customer, it doesn't get prioritized.
Digital operating model
Turning the vision into reality meant creating a new operating model to support the strategy, explains Gilbert:
What we're trying to do is put the customer first, drive value quickly with tangible results and do all of that while maintaining core stability for our business. So we thought about [what] is the best way to organize your technology team? We thought about that and said, 'It all comes down to business services'. And if you think about the services that make up an insurance business, we looked at what those are. Things like how do we enable our agents and how do we enrol new policyholders? How do we do things like file claims and process claims? How do we facilitate billing and payment and how do we support all of that through a contact center?
With those services in mind, the technology operating model has been re-designed as a digital services operating model, he says. This has involved three main planks:
It's not just about IT; it's about bringing the business teams together with the technology teams. What we've been able to do is prioritize everything through the lens of the customer, We've done that by taking the product owner from the business and said, ' You represent the customer'. Make sure you put the customer first in our experience. It's really the linchpin to our customer-centric model.
The second thing we've had to do in delivering our vision is be able to deliver with speed, so we've implemented Agile. Everybody knows Agile is about taking these large programs, break them into smaller deliverables and run into two week sprints, where we can deliver value quickly and easily. So we put agile as part of our delivery model.
The third thing is all around changing out our fundamental technologies to make it easier for our customers to be able to interact with us and for our business to run. It's all around changing out those technology platforms that support your business. Pega has been a key enabler for our business strategy...a platform for our platform. It's allowed us to rip and replace older inefficient legacy systems and replace them with processes that are more efficient, flexible, and give us the ability to gain speed, gain quality in our operations, be able to drive insights faster, and most importantly, it's given us improved customer experience.
To illustrate how this works in practice, Gilbert points to some key use cases:
We pride ourselves on two key areas. The first is paying claims timely and efficiently; the second is all around providing excellent customer service. Those are the key business drivers. If you think about the claims experience, the customer journey focuses on how they start to access our platform. We did an analysis and we found our customers really struggled with using our web and mobile platform. They couldn't remember something simple things - they couldn't remember their user ID, they couldn't remember their password, they couldn't remember the policy number.
Now if you contrast that with, for example, banking, most of us check our banking app once a week, once a day and if you're trading stocks in today's environment, you're checking, 3, 4 or 5 times a day. So you're using your applications, very frequently. In insurance, it's very different. You might use your app and log on to your mobile application maybe four times a year. As a result, customers were trying to access our systems and they were having a hard time doing that.
This realization has resulted in the creation of a guest checkout facility, using Pega’s platform to overhaul the claims process, explains Gilbert:
Now policyholders don't have to know their user ID, their password or their policy number to file a claim. When they log in or they come to our system, all they have to do is be able to provide is a few pieces of information. We will take that information, correlate that with their policyholder and their policy number, and be able to file a claim on their behalf. The guest's checkout experience has transformed how we do claims processing and enhances our digital experience by (1) making it easier for our customer, (2) providing a self service capability, which would otherwise result in a call to our call center, and (3) leveraging automation to correlate customer information with our claims. With this new ability we've now processed thousands of claims for policyholders using this guest checkout.
Once a claim is filed, customer attention then turns to the status of that claim:
What we did is we looked at the industry and we said, ‘Who does this really well?'. If you look at shipping companies, they track packages extremely well and tell you the location of a package throughout the entire journey. We said, 'Let's apply that to claims'. So we simply put together a claims tracker that tracks the status [of a claim] to know whether it's been submitted, whether the documentation has been processed, whether the claim has been adjudicated, and whether the claim has been paid.
None of this is particularly ‘rocket science’ in some industries, but there are hugely transformative in the insurance sector, states Gilbert:
They change the way the insurance team works. Those technologies become game changers for us. We've been able to optimize our customer experience using Pega, but these things also support our internal operations. Once we've submitted a claim using our guest checkout and having the ability to check the status, then it goes through a back end workflow. Our back end workflow was highly manual. It was a process that took us a while to be able to proceed through and it was complicated.
What we were able to do is use our Pega workflow engine to be able to optimize the workflow, to be able to streamline things for our employees. We've been able to optimize how a claim has been processed. We've been able to deploy automation that optimizes the whole process end-to-end, and doing all of that while providing improved visibility as that claim proceeds through that workflow.
The transformation extends to customer service, he adds:
We've used Pega to create a whole new contact center that we're calling PAVE - Prioritizing, Automating, Valuing and Experience. It's really about, how do we transform our customer experience through a contact center?. We took the Pega platform, and our Agile delivery model, and we married those together and said, 'Let's put value into the market quickly'. The first thing we wanted to tackle is live chat. We were able to put together a model where, in just a few simple sprints, we had chat going across one line of business. Then COVID-19 hit and we were able to scale chat across all of our lines of business within just in a few weeks….We wanted to take this and continue to build on the Agile model and deliver more value. So we took chat and we married it with our automation to be able to create chat bots. We focused on our Top 15 high volume requests that come in to the call center. By putting in chat bots, we were able to resolve 86% of these 15 request types, with a containment rate of 61%.
It’s been a learning experience overall, says Gilbert, with a few bumps in the road:
I'll be candid - putting in those new technologies took time and we did experience challenges. When you do implement new platforms, take the time to do change management and training. When we first rolled out our claims workflow, it was difficult. People struggled with it and they had a hard time using it….even though they're better quicker, easier technologies, [users] had difficulty learning those new technologies and there was a learn learning curve associated with that. So one lesson is, make sure you take the time to train your new employees in the technologies. Don't assume immediate adoption, especially if you're going from a legacy platform and process to a new process. It takes time to adapt and become proficient.
The second thing is when you implement a new technology platform, you have to invest in your people. You have to invest in the technology capabilities. Around that we've trained people we've hired people. Our Aflac Northern Ireland site, we've dedicated that to Pega. We've hired 32 people, we've trained them, they've become certified in Pega and they have been instrumental in helping us continue to build our practice. So as you think about implementing new technologies, make sure you're doing the right investments in your people, as well as, as well as investing in change management.