Personal Customer Service via Video and Chat at ERGO

Classic financial service providers, such as banks and insurance companies, are rarely perceived as driven by IT innovation. With rising levels of digitization among customers, however, there is increasing pressure on institutes to concern themselves with new offers and services.

About a year ago, the insurance group ERGO announced a strong digitization offensive. Initial measures have been implemented successfully, others are being planned. Customers in all branches expect more and more digital offers. According to a recent survey conducted by Sopra Steria Consulting, however, progress has been rather slow in certain segments. Financial service providers, banks and insurance companies find it particularly difficult to provide digital contact possibilities, according to the “Potential analysis of customer experience management.”

The analysts also surveyed customers and found that they would like to have new digital ways of interaction, such as chat or video telephony, in particular at banks and insurance companies. More than one-third of the people surveyed (37%) indicated their willingness to receive advice from their personal consultant via chat or video telephony.In light of these findings, which have been confirmed by other studies, ERGO has been headed in the right direction. After the introduction of chat functionality in the past year, which was used more than 10,000 times between December 2015 and August 2016, ERGO customers can now even contact the insurance company via video telephony.

Video telephony has top priority

Only last year, ERGO called for an internal “digitization offensive” within the group. “We wanted to enable our customers to reach an ERGO employee at any given time,” says Carsten Rahlf, Head of the Customer and Sales Service Center at ERGO in Cologne. “They should be free to choose any contact channel and determine the degree of personal proximity themselves.” Video telephony was added as a contact channel at ERGO on August 3rd, with the pilot phase running until next April. “We are offering general consultancy through the video channel during the initial phase”, says Rahlf. There are currently 27 video agents with skills in the fields of life, health, legal protection and composite insurance (accident, home contents, liability and automotive), that is to say, a classic Welcome Desk. As the project progresses, it should also be possible to transfer contacts to specialists. The number of agents working via this channel thus will be increased by 36 sales specialists in January of 2017.

The feature is easy for the customer to use: the video telephony icon appears prominently on If the user scrolls up or down on the page, it moves automatically to stay in sight permanently. If no agent is available or if the page is accessed outside of video chat service hours (from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; text chat from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; telephony around the clock), the button will be grayed out. If the service is available, the customer only needs to confirm the terms of use and can start chatting. “After a video call has been initiated, the customer is usually connected with an available agent in 20 seconds or less,” says Carsten Rahlf. “This is achieved by prioritizing these interaction requests.” Whether or not the priority will be scaled up or down later on, based on customer value or other parameters, remains to be seen once the initial pilot phase has been completed and the key indicators and experiences have been evaluated.

Pimp my Skype for Business

Skype for Business is the technical basis for this solution. The project at ERGO was implemented in close cooperation with Luware. Their product RTC Launcher uses the open Web-RTS standard to connect to ERGO’s Skype for Business client, thus facilitating communication via chat, voice and video. It also allows for co-browsing.

Another benefit of using Skype for Business: audio and video communication is not only available for the visitors to ERGO’s web site, but also for communicating with ERGO (distribution) partners as well as for internal communications. “This will facilitate swift and efficient collaboration between in-house staff, field staff, customer service and back office,” says Carsten Rahlf. “Video consulting is a personal and high-quality experience that does not require our specialists to travel to the customer.

As a result, customer service can be designed much more efficiently. Moreover, video consulting can complement the agent’s classic advisory services – this is not about replacing one solution with another one.” Luware’s TeamManager routing solution is used for video telephony in the internal communication at ERGO’s customer service. This application enhances Skype for Business environments with the concept of team management, providing features that are not available in Microsoft’s Response Groups but that leverage extreme productivity potential in a large part of the customer communication structures.

Above all, this includes functionalities such as dynamic status visualization at the team level (presence status and availability), automatic forwarding of customer interactions, and playing back simple voice- or instant messaging-based messages. TeamManager also significantly increases scaling: more than 5,000 team members can be managed per pool – one server lays the foundation for more than 1,000 single teams. Another important element for service teams: meaningful reporting. With TeamManager, this can be implemented by way of web reporting on wallboards or data processing in Excel.

The technology works! And the people?

Asked whether or not it was difficult to find suitable employees for video telephony with customers and prospects, Carsten Rahlf responds: “Of course we trusted in employees who already had experience with this medium or could envisage using it. Each and every employee must feel comfortable using the channel or else no positive customer experiences can be generated. In addition, we also trained all of the employees correspondingly.”

The participants in the video telephony pilot project received camera training and media coaching beforehand. Today, all 27 video agents are well-experienced both in front of the camera and behind it. “As a matter of course, they check their visual appearance and the correct setting of the camera focus,” says Rahlf. The empathy specifications learned in the coaching sessions also apply to video chat to make sure that the customer experience is harmonized with all other contact channels.

Further expansion of the solution is planned

“Even though we have only been in live operation for a few weeks, we can already say that our customers have taken to the new offer,” says Carsten Rahlf. In this connection, of course, “affinity to the channel” is required. User numbers indicate that especially young insurance customers have this affinity and like the video offering. Rahlf: “There are a number of customers who have already used the channel repeatedly.” Rahlf expects the usage of video telephony to increase significantly once the new distribution structure within ERGO has been established on January 1st, 2017.

The strategy program also intends to consolidate hitherto separate distribution units into one exclusive organization. This includes withdrawing from remote locations in Germany. “This will cause a significant increase of internal usage,” Rahlf stated.

There are also plans to extend the fields in which video telephony at ERGO will be used. “In one of the next expansion stages of our offering we want to give our customers the opportunity to authenticate via a VideoIdent procedure. In the past, this was only possible via the PostIdent process or by personally submitting an identity document that was checked against the records. This will save the customer valuable time.”

This is by far not the end. “We want to be a multichannel insurance company, preferably positioning ourselves omnichannel-based on all conceivable channels”, is how Carsten Rahlf outlines a future scenario. “If this works consistently in a cross-channel approach across all channels, then we will have achieved a great deal.

”If nothing else, this will achieve something along the lines of self-commitment as phrased in the strategy program of ERGO’s customer and sales service: “Customer First! We are available wherever the customer may roam.” As such, the insurance group undoubtedly has understood the customers’ demands. True to the own brand promise of “to insure is to understand.”

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