The Plain Language Imperative: Leveraging Generative AI for Life Insurance Customer Communications

U.S. and international regulators continue to push for the adoption of plain language and associated legislation, which is driving the urgency for life insurers to adapt new tools to deliver compliant, easily digested customer communications.

(Image credit: Steinar Engeland/Unsplash.)

To the general consumer, life insurance is a complex topic. Adding to the challenge, customer communications throughout the policyholder lifecycle tend to be filled with industry jargon that can easily confuse consumers looking to purchase a new policy and those trying to understand the details and coverage of their existing policy. The use of plain language can be a powerful tool to help clarify meaning and guide consumers toward the right policies and understanding of insurance communications. Plain language aims to ensure that the wording, structure and design of a communication enable the reader to easily find what they need and understand and use that information.

While organizations perhaps felt that simplifying communications was a nice-to-have and unnecessary, the evidence is mounting that the plain language imperative is a necessity:

Even the most fundamental concepts that insurers feel are commonplace can make a communication difficult to understand. Consider for a moment common concepts, phrases and jargon that are used and how they might pose a barrier to someone with limited English proficiency or a third-grade reading level. A term as common as “premium” can create confusion and could be simply referenced as “the money you pay for insurance.”

Plain language offers a path to a better customer experience

Plain language writing is designed to make communications clear and accessible to a wider audience. The concept was introduced in the 1970s when government organizations recognized issues with communications and wanted regulations to be written in simpler terms. Advocates for the use of plain language have continued to promote its effectiveness in aiding all consumers to understand complex concepts, such as those in life insurance. More recently, in June 2023, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released governing principles and guidelines for how plain language should adopted for text-based communications and documents. From a customer communications perspective, the relevant best practices are:

  • Using familiar words and phrases
  • Avoiding acronyms, legalese and jargon
  • Using short, clear sentences and concise paragraphs
  • Ordering content so the most important information comes first
  • Using the active voice and personal pronouns that address customers directly
  • Using consistent headings to help introduce what comes next

Effectively harnessing generative AI for plain language

Rewriting content for plain language is something within the capacity of generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini (formerly Bard). However, just because this capability exists, does not mean using them will result in plain language best practice.

To be effective, these tools need to be guided according to the ISO standard. Guidance for generative AI tools is done via prompt engineering. Prompts are the instructions given to generative AI tools to define parameters and additional context for formulating an appropriate response. The multifaceted nature of plain language writing, coupled with the need for accuracy within customer communications content, makes it difficult to get the results you want, especially on the first try. While it’s possible to improve the tool’s responses with additional prompts, this iterative process can take longer than rewriting the content yourself.

To optimize quality and efficiency, you should look to use proven, tested prompts that consistently produce content rewritten to plain language standards while keeping the original meaning and purpose intact.

How AI helps life insurance communications

One of the key barriers to content optimization initiatives is how time consuming and costly these projects can be. AI holds the promise of accelerating the process of adopting plain language in customer communications for life insurers. With tested prompts at the ready, insurers can rapidly receive rewritten versions of marketing materials, letters and correspondence, policyholder and broker policy documents, proposals, statements, invoices and standardized claims communications. However, insurers should think twice before they sign up for ChatGPT. Having individual employees push sensitive corporate content out into the AI platforms without controls and guardrails in place introduces unnecessary risk for insurers. There is a better way.

Today’s advanced customer communications management (CCM) systems offer insurers the opportunity to leverage generative AI in a more controlled way, from within the same environment where their customer communications are managed. Modern CCM systems that manage the content for customer communications have AI capabilities that support plain language rewrites. This approach not only saves your team from trying to develop effective prompts that are consistently applied, but, more importantly, it puts guidelines and protections around your corporate data that may be provided by the CCM solution. This can ensure that your customer data is never exposed to the AI platform and that your corporate content is not used to train AI models or stored and saved in them, which offers your organization the benefits of leveraging these powerful services without the risk.

Providing plain language rewrites is just one way in which AI can support the optimization of customer communications. Additional ways in which AI can support your customers and your business through better communications include:

  • Life insurance products can be complex and overwhelming for consumers to decipher. AI can perform corpus-level, document-level and content-level analysis to provide insight into the overall reading levels of your communications. Look for solutions that pinpoint exactly which content needs simplifying and support those processes. Sales cycles are expedited when customers understand what a policy does or doesn’t include, so this can have a direct impact on your bottom line.
  • The sentiment conveyed in communications is critical to making a connection with your customers. Sentiment analysis and suggested rewrites can help strike the right balance when sensitive content and responses need to be communicated to help you better serve your customers and build loyalty. In order to serve populations that speak a language other than English at home, organizations may wish to provide materials in other languages. New generative AI capabilities for translation can be a powerful tool for making this a reality, drastically reducing the time and cost associated with supporting non-English languages.

Consumers and regulators expect plain language in life insurance communications

Consumers today expect communications to be shorter, clearer and accessible. Regulators and consumer advocacy groups are increasingly on their side. In the United Kingdom, Consumer Duty rules have set a higher standard for organizations to meet in ensuring consumers receive communications they can understand. In the United States, the Plain Writing Act, which applies to federal agencies, mandates that all communications are written in plain language and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has directly adopted plain language principles for all its consumer materials.

By incorporating plain language across all life insurance communications—from educating prospective customers to actively engaging with in-force policyholders—insurers can build trust, enhance customer satisfaction and ultimately better serve their customers. To facilitate this shift, insurers can tap into modern CCM platforms bolstered with generative AI to efficiently optimize content for plain language seamlessly across all channels. These organizations are rewarded with positive policyholder experiences that directly impact customer acquisition and retention.

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Patrick Kehoe //

Patrick Kehoe drives product strategy in collaboration with the product development team at Messagepoint, a provider of customer communications management software. Kehoe brings to the company more than 25 years of experience delivering business solutions for document processing, customer communications and content management. For more information on Messagepoint, visit www.messagepoint.com.

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