IM strategy is more than just chat for Hibernian Aviva

11 Jun 2009

Motor insurance provider Hibernian Aviva is using instant messaging to deal with customers. Chiara Murphy is e-commerce marketing manager at Hibernian Aviva.

You are the first motor insurance company in Ireland to serve customers via instant messaging (IM). What prompted you to go in this direction?

Well, over the past few years we have focused on trying to improve online customer experience and identify new ways of keeping people on our website.

The idea of IM support, where people type questions to a call-centre agent, is not novel, it’s realistic.

Going forward, businesses need to provide customers with the channel of communication they are most comfortable with. In this world of Facebook and Twitter, live chat is going to be one of those channels.

They will be dealing with a real person and there’s no need for them to stop what they’re doing online, they can just ask for help, information or get a quote when they need it. We started our pilot on 1 May last year.

What kinds of questions are people asking by IM?

Mainly there’s a lot about what is covered on policies such as clarification around windscreen cover. We find that a lot of the time people just want a bit of assurance.

We don’t use the IM function for negotiations with customers, it’s really there to keep people informed and assured.

What direction do you see the chat function going in – will there be more Twitter-like interaction?

We see it evolving more and more in the direction of practical advice and possibly the life side of our business.

We’re finding there’s a lot of people who are more comfortable talking to companies online. They’re used to instant messaging their friends and this makes sense.

But it’s not just for digital natives or young people who’ve grown up with technology. The oldest person using the IM function was 73, so there’s an amazing variety of people using it.

On a practical level, is there a dedicated person to handle IM or is every agent using it?

At the moment a number of agents at our call centre in Galway are using it, but our aim is to make sure every one is multi-skilled to handle the calls and chat.

We provide the service during working hours but don’t see any need to make it 24/7. However, based on traffic to the website there is a case to extend the service until later in the evenings.

Was it difficult to get the technology in place?

We deployed an IM platform called LivePerson. While it involved a capital investment, from an infrastructure perspective it wasn’t difficult to put in place.

The hard part was getting call-centre agents to upskill themselves to serve customers in a written as well as a spoken format. It requires some concentration of effort.

Social networking is now a communications platform for an entire generation. What other platforms are you considering?

We already have a presence on Facebook. We use it to keep people up to speed on the Aviva Stadium, posting photos that aren’t available in the public domain.

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are areas we are massively interested in, but we have to come up with the right strategy. There’s no point in doing it if you just want to appear trendy, it has to matter.

We see mobile becoming an important channel, particularly when you see what’s happening with the iPhone and similar devices. Services like IM are becoming device neutral, so really it’s up to the customer as regards how they want to interact with you.

By John Kennedy