But people don't come cheap. That's why InsureZone went looking for more of a tech solution. What the company found was the Virtual Agent Enterprise software suite, marketed by Braintree, Mass.-based Mindful Technologies Inc.
Mindful says its software enables e-businesses to staff their Web sites with Virtual Agents who "deliver personalized help without human intervention."
In fact, Mindful's Virtual Agents can appear in full-motion video and audio, greeting Web site visitors with what looks and sounds like a real person.
And since that means no costly salary expenses, no vacations and no calling in sick, it made sense for InsureZone, which is using the technology to help sell insurance to customers of the Wells Fargo Web site. The banking company retained InsureZone to provide insurance to its small-business customers. InsureZone markets insurance for property and liability coverage, worker's compensation, business auto insurance and umbrella liability.
Wells Fargo visitors shopping for business insurance leave the Wells Fargo Web site and enter the branded InsureZone site.
"From my perspective, we saw a need to 'humanize' the online shopping experience for consumers," said Kevin R. DeVaan, president of SBSecure, a division of InsureZone, an insurance brokerage that provides insurance and technology solutions to banks, brokers and independent agents. SBSecure develops online private-label solutions for banks and Web portals.
DeVaan said InsureZone's first Web application version featuring Mindful's tools became available last June. When you visit the site, your connection speed is tested and a window pops up giving both spoken and written dialogue as follows:
"Welcome to InsureZone! Do you need help finding new business insurance or maintaining your current InsureZone policy or account?"
There's a box where customers can type their questions, and a link to leave a message requesting a phone call from a live agent.
Paul Harrison, InsureZone's CIO, said the selection process involved project managers from InsureZone having a number of discussions with Mindful executives and a demonstration of the technology. A 30-day pilot program followed.
(Technology from AskJeeves.com, among others, was considered, Harrison said. NativeMinds also competes in this space.)
'Human-type' Chat Conversations
"The implementation went smoothly; Mindful stood behind the code," Harrison said, adding that the tools "have worked very well, although InsureZone hasn't yet begun to use them to their full potential."
The Virtual Agent Enterprise suite enables natural, human-type chat conversations powered by the Mindful Dialog Engine, a proprietary learning and data mining machine, the company says.
It also includes a tool for creating any kind of online Virtual Agent using a graphical, drag-and-drop interface that makes it easy for marketers and other non-technical personnel to create Virtual Agents without any programming.
And it has online video functionality for a variety of line speeds utilizing a patent-pending Sniffer technology. For measurement, it has more than 24 built-in reports in the Smart Dialog center, including a built-in Return on Investment (ROI) calculator and a variety of built-in reports that track the success of different Virtual Agent conversations.
For now, DeVaan said, InsureZone uses the software tools primarily for helping Wells Fargo customers complete a "Request for Insurance Quote."
"Later on, though, we anticipate these tools being used to answer common insurance service requests, such as a request for a certificate of insurance to satisfy a mortgagee, or add a new vehicle to a policy," he said.
"Down the road in future Web development efforts, we anticipate using the technology to tap into our own and our partners CRM/CIF databases, so that the Virtual Agent can anticipate and respond to consumer behavior and needs. The neural network tools behind the architecture hold real possibilities for cross-selling and enhanced customer service, in an automated and low cost environment."
As for pricing, Harrison said that the cost was negotiated and he couldn't disclose it. But Bauer said Mindful's solutions range from five to six figures.
"Our system can also be purchased either as an outsourced solution (ASP) or loaded within a company (Web services software.)," she said. "Most of the Fortune 2000 companies we talk to prefer the second option."
Reprinted from Datamation