Digital transformation is less about technology than it is about people coming together across an organization to use digital processes to deliver high-value impact, such as a faster time-to-market or better customer experience. It’s about changing an organization’s culture, which is why the journey can be slow-going, even under the best of circumstances.
In 2018, Aflac had charted a five-year roadmap for digital transformation, including setting up online chat for customer support and moving its sales teams from analog tools such as landlines and fax machines to more digital workflows. Heading into 2020, the global insurance giant was not only meeting its benchmark goals—it was achieving them ahead of schedule.
And then Covid-19 hit, and Aflac’s workforce went remote overnight. But rather than slow the pace of digital transformation, it sped it up by bringing together its customer support and sales teams to design digital solutions quickly. In the midst of a crisis, Aflac found an opportunity to co-elevate. “Co-elevation” happens when two or more siloed business units come together to help each other digitally transform, getting more done through collaboration than either could have individually.
“The two worlds came together at the right time to help push us forward,” says Nicole Evans, director of customer service center process, innovation and control. “It allowed us to rally together to make things happen at a speed that we've never seen before.”
Before Covid-19 hit, Aflac was aware that it had a major challenge, namely that 29% of calls to its support center came from its 75,000 sales agents. Fielding questions from agents, especially the newer ones, took a huge chunk of the call center’s time and energy, while the sales team also lost precious time idling on hold, time that it could devote to better serving customers.
The pandemic presented an opportunity to tackle the dilemma because sales agents were now working from home, making in-person interactions with customers impossible. While they did jump onto videoconferencing with some customers, that still had a lot more time they could devote to re-evaluating how they got their information. A lot of calls from the sales team to the call center could be spared by using more of Aflac’s digital training tools in a self-service fashion. Beginning in April, the teams began meeting virtually and exchanging ideas to create a new framework for how the agent and sales team would work together.
“I've been at Aflac 28 years, and I've never seen the level of collaboration and partnership that I’m seeing today,” says Blake Voltz, VP of customer solutions center operations. “It has allowed us to understand the needs of both teams and develop a program that capitalizes on our strengths.”
Change from the grassroots up
Previously, when a new sales agent needed help, they would phone the call center and wait on hold for an answer. Now, they can search an array of new online training articles and video tutorials, or chat with a new conversational AI channel that got spun up in a blistering six weeks.
Aflac also set up a new peer-to-peer coaching network where newer sales agents can reach out to other, more seasoned sales agent for advice and guidance. “It’s been amazing to watch them teach each other solutions,” says Evans. “It's a comfortable setting where you can just share with no repercussions, with good solid communication and learning. Think about that magnified across hundreds and thousands of agents in the field as it continues to grow.”
And the reduced strain on the call center agents has made everyone happier. “There’s always been intermittent collaboration between the call center and the sales team,” notes Evans. “But since Covid, it has been what I would call a ‘rekindled romance.’ And it has helped us all better understand the necessity of moving digital, increased our desire to do it, and given us a shared sense of purpose.”
Put another way: The Covid crisis has accelerated transformation for Aflac, not just digitally but culturally. With its new sales service framework, it’s not just the company that will be lifted higher — it’s Aflac customers as well.