Progressive’s AI-Powered Chatbot: Q&A with Dan Witalec, Customer Acquisition Leader

With the goal of reaching customers where they are, Facebook Messenger was a natural choice for an engaging chatbot based on Progressive’s “Flo” personality and powered with cognitive capabilities.

(Image source: Detail of promotional screenshot from Progressive.)

Progressive (Mayfield, Ohio) announced the launch of a Facebook Messenger-based chatbot based on the insurer’s “Flo” personality. The chatbot, which Progressive characterizes as the first example of a top 10 U.S. insurer to allow information and start the auto insurance quoting process in Messenger, was developed by Progressive and uses cognitive services from Microsoft. The chatbot will either handle a customer inquiry or escalate it if it’s unable to answer.  “If the Flo Chatbot can’t answer your question, an experienced Progressive representative will be available to pick up the conversation via phone or private message,” a company statement says. Well, at IIR we had a few questions of our own better answered by Dan Witalec, Progressive’s Customer Acquisition Leader.

Dan Witalec, Customer Acquisition Leader, Progressive.

Insurance Innovation Reporter: What would you identify as precursors of the chat bot, e.g., specific online capabilities and mobile apps?

Dan Witalec, Customer Acquisition Leader, Progressive: Thinking back 20 years, Progressive was the first insurance company to sell insurance online which really changed the way we interact, engage and talk about insurance with our customers. Fast forward to now, most Progressive customers can start a quote, request roadside assistance or even pay their bills right through the Progressive app or via the mobile web. We see the chatbot as an evolution of our app and mobile capabilities, with the added opportunity to reach so many customers where they already are: on Facebook Messenger.

IIR: What was the thinking behind adding a chat bot via Facebook Messenger, both in terms of functionality and the choice of this particular communications platform/channel?

DW: Regarding functionality, the Messenger platform allowed us to create a bot that encompasses Flo’s personality—something we know will be engaging and exciting for our customers. With Messenger, we were also able to incorporate customer service to take the insurance quoting process over the finish line once customers have started the process directly with the Flo Chatbot.

With the goal of reaching customers where they are, Facebook Messenger was a natural choice. As of June 2017, Messenger reported 1.38 billion monthly active users worldwide. That extensive user base, paired with Flo’s large following on Facebook (4.8 Million followers), makes Messenger the perfect platform to reach many prospective Progressive customers.

More recently, we worked with Facebook and discovered that most brands just repurpose television spots and post them on Facebook, overlooking how people experience and interact with content on Facebook. To move away from that model, Facebook’s internal agency and Progressive’s internal agency, 96 Octane, worked together to shoot spots designed specifically for Facebook.

(Image source: Progressive.)

IIR: Did Progressive worked with any suppliers in order to create the chatbot?

DW: The chatbot was developed in house. We elected to use the Microsoft Bot Framework and some of Microsoft’s Cognitive Services within, but the development work was done by Progressive.

IIR: How does the natural language capability of the chatbot fit within Progressive’s customer service plans and philosophy? Do you see this as a first step in some sophisticated customer facing capabilities Progressive plans to create in the future?

DW: We chose to use Flo—the voice of the Progressive brand—for our chatbot to truly extend the experience from speaking with a Progressive representative on the phone to talking an automated assistant on Messenger. Flo is really the embodiment of our 30,000 employees, and always eager to not only sell insurance, but ensure customer satisfaction. This is true across all Progressive’s customer service, and we think this chatbot represents that.

Yes, we see this a first step in creating more convenient customer-facing capabilities in the future.

IIR: Various industry analysts have noted Millennials’ preference for self-service. How important is self-service becoming to people accustomed to more abbreviated communications, such as text messaging?

DW: Knowing Millennials’ preference for self-service and the fact that chatbots are becoming increasingly important in the insurance purchase journey, we see the Flo chatbot as an important step towards providing convenient offerings for our customers while still adding a personal element that stays true to the Progressive brand.

 IIR: Do you see emerging AI-driven self-service as a way to both better meet changing customer demands and increase efficiencies? 

 DW: Yes, we think there are opportunities for this to both meet evolving customer demands and be more efficient. That said, we are still much closer to the beginning than the end of this journey. There are limits to what available technologies can, and probably should, do. We are interested in enhancing the speed of service where we can and being as convenient a partner for customers as possible—but there are certainly some areas where a human touch will always be preferable.

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Anthony R. O’Donnell // Anthony O'Donnell is Executive Editor of Insurance Innovation Reporter. For over a decade he has been an observer and commentator on the use of information technology in the insurance industry, following industry trends and writing about the use of IT across all sectors of the insurance industry. He can be reached at AnthODonnell@IIReporter.com or (503) 936-2803.

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