Would somebody please replace travel insurance agents with a bot already?
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Ben Gurion International Airport Terminal outside Tel Aviv. Photo Credit: James Emery / Flickr

Ben Gurion International Airport Terminal outside Tel Aviv. (Photo Credit: James Emery / Flickr)

Insurtech is about to change how we buy insurance. This is my vote on where to start

My weather app tells me that it is 28℃ outside in Tel Aviv today, and vacation is in the air. I can smell it.

Ben Gurion Airport has announced that they expect to have over a million travelers pass through their halls over the upcoming Passover holiday, with many of those folks headed out of the country for a brief reprieve.

As part of the preparations, there is one dreaded call to be made on that checklist before the flight, calling the credit card company for insurance. In Israel, many people get their travel insurance through their credit cards as a free benefit. Provided that the line isn’t too busy, the process of picking up insurance to cover travelers from most of the pitfalls that they will encounter on their trip normally doesn’t take more than five minutes.

So why is this a problem? Free insurance without much of the wait.

The part that always annoys me, someone who has thankfully had the opportunity to fly pretty regularly over the past year, is the upsell. It’s that uncomfortable moment after we have run through the standard health questions and verified my details.

On the other end of the line the salesperson / agent outlines what is covered in my basic package, and then tells me how much better the other plan is if I just add a couple of bucks. In the best case scenario I simply say that I’m not interested. Other times I’ve found myself arguing for minutes, trying to explain to the person that I don’t want the extra insurance even though they are dead set on it being the only logical move to make.

Why do I have to argue over this? Yes, you could say that that’s Israeli customer service, which has actually gotten a lot better over the years.

But taking a step back, why do I even need to talk to an agent in the first place? The past year has seen services like Lemonade, Next Insurance, Trov, and other launch really easy to use insurance chatbots that let their customers sign up for property insurance in the minutes through apps.

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 23 : A member of Homeland Security walks with his K-9 dog as travelers wait in the TSA security line at O'Hare International Airport on December 23, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. O'hare International Airport is one of the busiest hubs in the nation during the weeks surrounding Christmas and New Years. Photo credit: Joshua Lott/Getty Images Israel

Photo Credit: Joshua Lott/Getty Images Israel

What is keeping travel insurance from making this leap as well? Nothing from as far as I can tell except for one important point that I’ll come back to at the end.

Looking at the key elements of this transaction that takes place over the call, what are the boxes that need to be checked in order to get this policy in place?

I need to tell them where I’m going, my travel dates, and answer 3-4 health questions covering things like have I been hospitalized or treated for something in the past 6 months.

All of these questions can be taken care of on a single secure page. This is at the end of the day a short term contract based on nothing more than a simple set of questions and answers.

Confirming my identity and address? That is more easily done online or through an app than in a phone call. My info is already stored in their system. I could review it on the screen and simply click ok.

Lemonade (image, courtesy)

The one thing that appears to still require that human touch is the song and dance of the upsell.

Unlike on a web page, we still haven’t found a way to scroll past a person talking on the phone. When I tried recently, the agent remarked how she couldn’t believe that her customers just weren’t letting her talk today. When I tried to tell her that I just wanted the basic package and that I was hoping to save her the time of giving me her pitch, she told me that it was her job and if I wanted to do her a favor, then just let her talk.

To her credit, I’m sure that she has been dealing with frustrated customers in the lead up to the travel rush, so it’s amazing that she kept her cool and respectful tone.

But this still felt unnecessary. I was left remembering how in past interactions with these agents I had come close to slamming — well I guess you really shouldn’t slam your smartphone — down my phone and giving up on my free insurance because of the anger at having to deal with an annoying agent.

Is it really worth it to these companies the negative feelings that people have for them just to pick up the occasional extra $10? I don’t think so, but then I’ve never worked in phone sales.

It made me think though about how are others finding ways to make that upsell without getting into screaming matches on the phone?

The clearest example that I could think about was the insurance package that sites like Expedia, Orbitz, and others offer travelers to cover changes to their plans, losses and damages, etc. during the checkout process. Present but not annoying, I have to admit that more often than not, I’ll throw down the ~$48 extra for this service which thankfully I don’t think I’ve ever had to use.

To me, this feels like a no-brainer that replacing these call center workers with an app is the right move forward. Yes, it will be painful for the agents who will lose their jobs at first. As a writer, I know a thing or two about getting laid off. Anyone who has been following the Insurtech sector knows that the industry is about to get rocked. Old school positions like agents are about to take a major hit as chatbots step in to replace them. We can only hope that a system will be in place to help these people find new positions.

While I feel for this frustrated agent whose customers won’t let her talk, all I can hope for right now is that next year when it comes time to travel, we can put this mess behind us and resolve it in a couple of taps on my phone.

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Gabriel Avner

About Gabriel Avner

Gabriel has an unhealthy obsession with new messaging apps, social media and pretty much anything coming out of Apple. An experienced security and conflict consultant, he has written for The Diplomatic Club, the Marine War College, and covers military affairs with TLV1 radio. He mostly enjoys reading articles wherever his ADD leads him to and training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. EEED 44D4 B8F4 24BE F77E 2DEA 0243 CBD1 3F7C F4B6

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