By Sean Harper, CEO and co-founder at Kin Insurance

Most of us know intuitively that selling a product from nine to five doesn't work anymore. We do our own shopping online at all hours. There are households where all the adults have to be at work during "business hours," and there are households where one or more person is in the gig economy, working odd hours and therefore providing services outside the nine-to-five.

But many businesses -- even online businesses -- still keep those regular hours. Online chat disappears after 5 p.m. Calls to customer service go unanswered. For business to business (B2B) firms, that's fine. It doesn't make sense to have staff at the ready all weekend when your clients are probably relaxing. But for business to consumer (B2C) companies, keeping "business hours" is inefficient. It forces you to sacrifice sales and revenue. And that forces you to charge higher prices to compensate -- not great for your customers.

The good news: There are ways to fix this, even if your selling process requires human involvement. The better news: There are ways to fix this that don't involve burning out your current employees or adding 24/7 staff.

A Step Back: Why Access Matters

Before I delve into how to make a product more available, it's worth noting why I think certain products -- financial products in particular -- should be available 24/7.

Today, the reality for many Americans is that we work for pay during most of our waking hours and have to figure out the rest of our lives in whatever's left. But that "rest of our lives" has expanded in recent years. Thanks to the rise of the gig economy, many of us can no longer count on our day jobs to provide benefits like insurance and retirement funds. Increasingly, that's something we have to do on our own time.

That means we need access to these financial products whenever we happen to be free. Without this access, people can't participate fully in the economy. They can't buy homes, secure insurance or invest money. And shutting people out of the economy hurts us all.

Making Human-Powered Products Available 24/7

So, how can you offer a 24/7 experience while maintaining reasonable working conditions and payroll expenditures? I've found these three components to be critical.

1. Invest in the right technology: Too often, fintech focuses on completely automating processes that used to be manual. Financial questions are often nuanced, though, which means they may require human insight. Still, many processes can be partially automated or made much more efficient with today's tech. For example, online chat might go away after a certain point, but you can replace it with an email form that it's someone's job to answer. The key when investing in tech is to consider many perspectives. For us, that means asking our agents which parts of the application process are most rote and which require the most human input. We ask our developers how to automate what can be automated. And we look to our operations folks to identify ways to make sure humans and tech work best together -- for example, by modularizing processes so one hiccup doesn't throw everything off.

2. Pay attention to the right data: I mean this broadly: pay attention not just to where on your website people click or which ads perform best, but also to customer feedback and population-level studies of your target market. For example, we know that most people who need flood insurance don't have it. This is a huge opportunity for private insurers. When we're focused on being data-driven, it's easy to go down the rabbit hole of small datasets and lose track of bigger chunks of information that can guide us to bigger wins and improvements.

3. Build a culture of customer service: This principle helps make sense of the other two and allows for easier decisions at all levels. The "right" technology and data are the ones that let you serve your customers better. Part of that means offering excellent products at competitive prices, so the right data and technology help ensure that your business stays efficient as it scales. An added bonus is that when everyone's on the same page about making your CX amazing, it's easier to get past the kind of ego-fueled turf wars that can slow projects that rely on many stakeholders.

Being available and responsive to customers around the clock doesn't have to break the bank. Ultimately, that would mean price hikes, which isn't usually great service. What it does mean, though, is committing to a holistic, outsider's view of your company so that you can continue to innovate in ways that make life better for your customers.

Sean Harper is CEO and co-founder at Kin Insurance.

Published on: Nov 15, 2018