If you’re trying to stay up to date on customer experience and customer service best practices and innovation, it helps to closely follow USAA, the giant in insurance, banking, financial services, car retailing, and other disciplines (all of which are services that USAA offers to its member base worldwide, which consists primarily U.S. servicepeople and their families).
I’ve made a point of doing that myself, as a customer experience consultant and author. There’s anextensive discussion of USAA’s customer experience and customer service-related innovation and the culture of customer service excellence that powers them in my Forbes article here and in my upcoming book, Ignore Your Customers (And They’ll Go Away), which HarperCollins Leadership is on the cusp of releasing.
USAA’s leadership in innovation related to customer service and customer experience is unparalleled. It has over 900 patents based on innovations suggested by employees, most often, incredibly, by employees who are not in technical positions. (Strikingly, there are 25 U.S. patents that have been awarded to USAA based on suggestions from a single security guard!)
Recently, USAA has been in the middle of an insurtech (insurance technology) innovation that I find intriguing, working in collaboration with the team at Google Cloud. The initiative is aimed at transforming the claims process for damage resulting from minor automobile accidents by making use of AI and machine learning.
USAA Car Damage Appraisal via uploaded photography
Once the new solution is fully up and running, a member (USAA’s term for customer) will be able to photograph the damage after a fender-bender and USAA will immediately upload it to Google Cloud, where the images are analyzed in what USAA describes as nearly real time, in order to predict the damaged parts that will need to be repaired or replaced. USAA then sends these predictions on to Mitchell International, which has a platform that allows predicted parts to be turned into real, costed parts and then incorporate those into an actual estimate.
The result, says USAA, is an approach that will greatly speed up the process and thus result in notably less hassle (and stress) for their members.
Right now, the solution is still being tested and trouble-shot by the appraisers themselves, before the technology is put into the hands of USAA’s members for their own use.
I was recently able to get the scoop on this initiative from USAA’s Sean Burgess and Google Cloud’s Mikey Kindler. Burgess is USAA’s Senior Vice President and General Manager for Claims. Kindler is Google Cloud’s Head of Machine Learning Solutions.
Micah Solomon, Customer Experience Consultant and Senior Contributor, Forbes.com: Tell me a bit more about what has been announced.
Sean Burgess, Senior Vice President and General Manager for Claims, USAA: In order to digitally transform the insurance claims process, we’ve joined up with the Google Cloud team and have developed machine learning models that nearly instantly predict vehicle damage from digital images, allowing for faster and more cost-efficient estimates.
First, images of damaged vehicles are sent to Google Cloud. The images are then analyzed by Google Cloud models in real-time, which makes damaged part predictions that are returned to USAA. Next, the predictions are sent digitally to estimating and technology solution provider Mitchell International, whose platform maps the predicted parts to real-parts and incorporates them directly into an actual estimate. USAA appraisers then review the Mitchell estimate, and make changes as needed.
When scaled, this capability will change the fulfillment of insurance claims. The tool will have iterative improvements along the way. When we can create instant estimates this will have a huge impact on the industry.
Solomon: Why did USAA and Google Cloud decide to work together on this initiative?
Burgess (USAA): We decided to work on this capability for the benefit of the military community and their families, and for our employees. This capability will allow for faster processing of claims, and will allow appraisers to focus on more complex cases. Eventually, this will lead to a faster claims experience for our members.
Mikey Kindler, Head of Machine Learning Solutions, Google Cloud: The tools to process and deliver insights in insurance have advanced tremendously in the last several years with cloud technology. Through this opportunity to collaborate with USAA, Google Cloud’s machine learning (ML) will enhance the user experience by speeding up the claim process, which typically in the past, has been lengthy.
Solomon: What challenges does this solve?
Burgess: Traditionally, assessing auto damage claims has been a time-intensive, laborious process. Digitizing and moving to the cloud helps to streamline the appraisal process.
Solomon: What some of the benefits for USAA members?
Burgess: At USAA, we insure the military community and their families, and this community needs solutions that are convenient, in their channels of choice. We are focused on creating the most connected, empathetic and effortless claims experience for military families. Our military men and women protect us each and every day and when they have a claim, we want to make sure it is an exceptional experience.
This capability will allow for greater claims efficiency. Right now, more automation means our appraisers have more time to focus on complex case that utilize their expertise. Eventually, we hope to put this capability in the hands of our members who are interested, allowing for a seamless and nearly instant estimate experience.
Solomon: What does this mean for the future of insurance claims?
Burgess: Artificial intelligence and machine learning will continue to help streamline appraisals, enabling faster processing of claims and potentially supporting end-to-end touchless claims in the future, giving appraisers increased scalability and the ability to focus on more complex work.
Solomon: What’s going to happen to employees who have been or will be displaced?
Burgess: This capability may change the scope of appraiser jobs, but rest assured appraisers are an essential part of this particular capability, as well as an essential part of our customer service model. Basic needs and transactions will be expected to occur instantaneously via technology, but the empathy and emotional connectivity humans provide will be increasingly important.
Solomon: How does this fit with the overall USAA innovation mindset I have written about previously?
Burgess: Innovation at USAA is not about implementing new solutions or technology for the sake of innovation; it is about enabling our businesses to keep pace with member expectations while maintaining the level of service our members deserve. We consistently foster a test and learn environment so that we can iterate quickly, get new experiences to market and increase service levels.
Our employees have always been the engine behind innovation at USAA, and this scenario is no different. Our teams are working together with Google Cloud to utilize machine learning and AI to create a seamless, innovative and cutting-edge experience. This new capability will provide a more effortless experience for our members and employees.
We are constantly leveraging employee expertise to both design the best experiences, and test them. In this case, our employees are participating in innovation and also increasing the accuracy of the capability, leading to an optimized digital solution.