Empathy Driving Excellence: Jess Keeney, CPTO, Duck Creek

Jess Keeney’s previous career in law drove home the importance of continuous learning, critical thinking, and the need to understand the customer’s needs.

(Image credit: Michael Kleinsasser/Pixabay.)

Named Duck Creek Technologies ’ (Boston) Chief Product & Technology Officer (CPTO) in April 2022, Jess Keeney has had an interesting career journey that have shaped her approach to the job. Today, she is responsible for Duck Creek’s product and technology vision with the aim of driving value for customers through leveraging the entire Duck Creek ecosystem across partners and system integrators. Keeney describes herself as firm believer that innovation requires collaboration, which in turn, improves the customer experience and boosts business success. She also sees empathy as a critical quality for shaping the product and customer experience. We begin our conversation with a look into how Keeney’s previous career in law influenced how she thinks.

Insurance Innovation Reporter: How did you go from law to product and technology?

Jess Keeney, Chief Product & Technology Officer, Duck Creek Technologies.

Jess Keeney, CPTO, Duck Creek Technologies: While working as a paralegal and studying business management in college, I was fascinated by the intersection of law and business, which led me to pursue a Juris Doctorate. My background in law has taught me the personal and professional value of continuous learning and integrating critical thinking into my work and problem-solving process. After practicing law for a few years, there was a voice inside me that kept gently reminding me and nudging me to stretch for something new, something different. I missed the aspects of technology and creativity that I had always pursued as hobbies of learning. This was the beginning of a new journey: I found my path in SaaS product development and am inspired everyday by insurance technologists and the dynamic nature of the industry to help protect businesses and people with new offerings.

IIR: Why does such a path make sense for a product leader today?

JK: One thing I learned from practicing law is that you have to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and approach any situation with them at the forefront of your mind. Insurance and law share a similarity in that both industries need to support customers when they are feeling the most vulnerable. Translating a cost-intensive or stressful experience into one that leaves the customer empowered can be difficult but is extremely fulfilling. Customer centricity—taking customer feedback and pain points and developing products, services, processes, and strategies to best address their needs continues to guide my professional development.

IIR: Could you elaborate further on what you see as the role of empathy in insurance?

JK: Empathy in insurance goes beyond the transactional nature of policy and claims administration. It’s about understanding the unique needs of policyholders, recognizing their preferred buying behaviors, and showing a genuine commitment to their well-being throughout the entire lifecycle as a customer.

Empathy in customer interactions, especially in the digital realm, leads to a superior experience. Every single interaction point with a customer is an opportunity to streamline and improve the ability to respond empathetically to a customer hardship. It’s more than just simplifying the process; it’s about fostering customer confidence and creating a positive experience. This leads to higher retention and longer policyholder relationships.

Empathy doesn’t mean guesswork. Leveraging the wealth of data at our disposal, we can craft tailored insurance products that truly meet individual needs. Empathy-driven systems can analyze user behavior and preferences to recommend the most fitting coverage.

IIR: How can leaders leverage emerging technologies to drive business strategies and improve insurance innovation, processes, and customer personalization?

A deep understanding of customer pain points fuels conversations and new methodologies that lead to better product development. By prioritizing and listening to exactly what the customer is looking for, we have a better understanding of the strongest use cases for newer technology—and the challenges it helps solve.

Cloud native SaaS applications allow for a faster delivery of cutting-edge technology solutions infused with generative AI and NLP that enable InsurTechs to collaborate with other providers and make the customer experience as seamless as possible. Customers are provided a unified digital experience, where products and services can be combined and delivered as part of a cohesive digital journey. Emerging technology helps carriers reimagine their offerings to provide added value across the insurance value chain for their customers.

IIR: How does a leader make the most of emerging technology without getting caught up in the hype—and, as a result, misallocating resources?

JK: Implementing technology with customers top of mind and understanding the application, cost and scale of the problem the technology can help solve is crucial. The technology world moves fast. You have to keep sight of the problem you need to solve for the customer while also testing and confirming you have the right technology, timing and solution for it to be successful. This challenges leaders to strike the right balance between innovation, strategy, and customer success.

But it’s not just for the customers. Internally, organizations also need technology to support those that are on the front line dealing with customer challenges all the time. Scale your team, equip them with solutions that can boost both their engagement and their productivity, and support the insurance talent with the right technology infrastructure for their own development purposes.

IIR: What do you see as some of the most important technology trends, in terms of the potential of the technology for business, particularly as it bears on product and customer experience?

JK: Predictive analytics will become more widely adopted in the years to come. It allows insurers to make forecasts, identify potential risks, and streamline the claims process for customers.

Automation and real-time data simplify the insurance process by supporting claims settlement, fraud detection, policy processing, and customer service. Automation has the potential to boost productivity by freeing up valuable resources and allowing insurers to address complex and high-touch requests from customers. Automation and real-time data also improve the customer experience by facilitating faster response times and generating personalized recommendations or coverage.

We can’t overlook AI’s potential impact on insurance. The technology has the ability to transform the industry but it’s important for insurers to approach the technology with eyes wide open. With the recommendations and intelligent responses that AI generates, insurers need to help the technology better understand the complexity of insurance to make sure the results are reasonable, unbiased, and compliant in the markets in which they serve customers.

IIR: How would you describe the evolution of the user interface (UI)? Are we likely to see some interesting innovation in the near future?

JK: UI has evolved from functional and lacking aesthetics to web-based interfaces with a focus on accessibility, usability; and it’s optimized for mobile devices and on-the-go insurance policy management. These trends will continue to evolve, and it will be necessary to provide personalized dashboards, notifications, and recommendations based on user preferences to appeal to the customer. With an increase in data accessibility and real-time needs, enhanced data visualization will be required to help users understand information more effectively. Simplifying workflows and having the ability to augment the UI with voice, natural language interfaces, automation and intelligent algorithms will become the norm—it will reduce manual inputs to provide a more pleasing and efficient user experience.

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Anthony R. O’Donnell // Anthony O'Donnell is Executive Editor of Insurance Innovation Reporter. For nearly two decades, 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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