Aegon, early adopter of Telecats speech technology: in 10 years from speech routing to personalised voicebot service.

Stop thinking about Financial Supervision Act training for your agents. It won’t be long before the voicebot will be able to verify the customer’s identity and provide personal advice. Of course, there will still be some bumps in the road, but as confidence grows, smart solutions are being developed to compliance challenges such as customer identification. Aegon explains its customer contact strategy and takes a look at the future of customer contact.

Aegon’s customer contact strategy clearly reflects the trends in customer contact. The financial services company focuses on first call resolution, good accessibility and clear information provision. But the insurer’s strategy also shows how centralisation and decentralisation of customer contact alternate. Until 2018, the translation of this strategy was visible in a central contact centre with around 350 employees. This made it easier to switch employees around and to be able to contribute to first call resolution.

From central to decentralised customer contact

In recent years, Aegon has seen the market and customer needs change dramatically. Aegon has tightened up its strategy on this. Key words in this respect are customer-centric, agile, data-driven and digital. In the desire to make improvements and changes faster, in 2018 Aegon introduced self-organisation, embraced agile working and made major changes to the way customer contact is organised. Decentralisation of customer contact was therefore a logical step. The need for greater agility – anchored in Aegon’s mission and vision – has contributed to Aegon now no longer having a central contact centre. 

Decentralised: room for bespoke customer contact

Ine BeljaarsSince 2019, the various value streams – the new name of the business units – have had end-to-end responsibility for their own customer contact. That has created more room for a bespoke approach. “All value streams have a digital-first strategy, but there are nuanced variances for specific value streams. For example, value streams can decide for themselves whether they want to blend customer contact with other work. And for a value stream such as life insurance, we have a closed book strategy. There is less investment in a state of the art self-service environment than, for example, in the mortgages value stream, which is growing strongly,” explains Ine Beljaars. At Aegon, she is responsible for the Center of Expertise Customer Interaction and Digital. Her role encompasses cross-value stream issues such as the vision for digitalisation, the strategy for customer contact, the responsibility for all generic technology solutions, from CRM to WFM, and compliance and privacy monitoring of generic processes and systems. She knows better than anyone what is going on in these areas, having previously been manager of the central contact centre. 

Agile working method, customer contact decentralised. 

Aegon’s digital-first strategy has not only enabled customers to do more and more of their business online, it has also contributed to a significant decrease in the volume of analogue customer contact and a significant increase in NPS, Beljaars explains. 

Alexander van den Wall BakeIn addition, the digital-first strategy also puts the company in a better position to continuously improve business processes from the perspective of customer experience or costs, says Alexander van den Wall Bake, innovation manager for business automation. “Digitalisation helps us to better understand what the contact is about; with that insight you can make adjustments at the right place in the organisation. For example, to reduce unnecessary customer contact or to process customer contact automatically – chatbots are getting smarter and better all the time.” 

For each value stream its own innovation pathway

Value streams also have the opportunity to organise their own innovation pathways, Van den Wall Bake explains. “Each value stream has its own innovation sprints. Innovation ideas can come from outside – in other words, from a technology push in which vendors have a role – but the business itself also comes up with issues or ideas. Aegon seeks to engage suppliers in this process at the earliest possible stage where appropriate. Together with a startup, we worked on automating the simplest mortgage advice for starters. Mortgages have become much simpler than before in several respects. In 2019, we set up a successful PoC (Proof of Concept), which will be put into production in the near future. Experts will then not have to spend as much time on standard mortgage advice, which means they can spend more time on complex advice processes.” 

The cooperation with startups is not new or unique. In the financial sector, it has been quite common for a number of years now to invest in partnerships with fintech startups in order to boost one’s own capacity for innovation. Of course, Aegon also works according to agile principles in partnerships of this kind. In principle, suppliers work the same way in this, says Beljaars: “It’s a matter of indicating what is expected in good time and on the basis of the backlog.” 

The roadmap

As the customer contact teams work in a decentralised fashion, it is becoming increasingly clear for each value stream how to reduce customer contact that adds little or no value for the customer or for Aegon. It is therefore logical that the my-environment is continually being expanded. Beljaars: “This is in line with Aegon’s vision of empowering customers to manage their own financial situation and future.” 

According to Van den Wall Bake, this basic premise also offers starting points for developing more proactive services. “In combination with self-service, you end up at applications such as FinSnap, with which you can simulate your financial future. We are taking into account that in the future there will be personal data lockers, with the customer remaining in control of what personal data we receive and are allowed to use, instead of the other way around. With such a model, as a consumer you get the possibility to let an advisor loose on your personal data set – for example for a proactive and detailed financial advice.” 

At Aegon too, there is no shortage of data; but realising concrete personalised and proactive services has a lot to do with trust, Van den Wall Bake estimates. Beljaars adds that what matters in the long term is the role of Aegon: will the bancassurance company continue to provide only its own products and services, or will it develop into a platform on which third parties also provide services? 

Preconditions for ‘digital first’

In order to follow that ‘digital first’ and data-driven roadmap, there are three important prerequisites, Aegon outlines. First of all, from a customer contact perspective, it is necessary to migrate to a cloud-based contact centre. “This opens up many more possibilities for customer contact in terms of data use and integrations,” says Van den Wall Bake. This migration is planned for the near future, but he is not yet willing to say which platform has been chosen. “One of the first things we will do next is to analyse call content. For example, we want to automate the manual logging of calls. A logical next step is that improvements in the chatbot will enable us to implement a voicebot, which can also deal with simple questions on the phone independently.”

The business case for a cloud platform

The decision to migrate now to a cloud platform for customer contact fits in with the trend that is visible throughout the sector. As far as Aegon is concerned, other applications should also move to the AWS cloud. A switch to a cloud-based contact centre application was also considered a few years ago, but Beljaars explains that at that time the business case was not 100% convincing. The depreciation period for existing technology was one of the factors in this. Van den Wall Bake emphasises that cloud solutions have improved enormously in the meantime. “The cost of use has decreased significantly – the first cloud-based contact centre solutions were quite expensive – and the implementation time has become much shorter.”

A second precondition for digitising and automating customer contact is compliance. As far as Van den Wall Bake is concerned, this not only pertains to the privacy of customers and the access rights of employees. “Understanding context and nuances is still a challenge for bots. Compliance also pertains to the reliability of responses generated by automated systems. After all, customers make decisions on that basis, and can derive rights from them.”

Data landscape

And finally, for a digital-first strategy you also need a healthy data landscape. Van den Wall Bake explains: “We have a clear data strategy within Aegon and as a result, for the past three years, we have had a data lake containing all our customer information. The challenge lies in making this accessible. The My-Aegon environment already contains many integrations with specific sources. But making the same information accessible through channels such as chatbots, voicebots or WhatsApp is something else entirely. For example, how can you be sure that you are providing information to the right person through this route? When there is no human control, such as with a bot, fraud is always going to be a risk.”

Personalised voicebot service 

The question is then whether to place an application such as a voicebot inside or outside a secure environment, or whether to allow a bot to use identification solutions. The compliance issue surrounding the (voice) bot that provides personalised service could be solved with voice biometrics. Although this technology is improving all the time, Aegon is looking primarily to the solutions that are becoming available from ‘digital government’. The Netherlands is lagging behind in this respect; in Belgium, one in three citizens use Itsme, a public-private login tool. Aegon is therefore eagerly awaiting the moment when the Digital Government Act is passed by the Senate, according to Van den Wall Bake. “The voicebot will need to have methods for ensuring compliance. And that is more than just asking for your date of birth and the name of your last pet, so to speak. Aegon is therefore closely monitoring developments in the area of digital identities. After that, the financial sector can start working with different identification solutions.” And that will bring a voicebot that can provide personalised service one step closer.

Early adopter of voice technology

Aegon implemented voice routing as early as 2010. By having the customer answer two questions (“What are your postcode and house number? And what are you contacting us about?”) the call can be successfully routed to the right employee in 90% of cases. The question is also displayed on the employee’s unified desktop. In addition, employees are proactively offered relevant information from Aegon’s knowledge base that matches the question. Aegon is not sitting still when it comes to applying voice technology. Together with Telecats, the company recently implemented a variant of voice routing at the Mortgage Service Desk. Advisors working with Aegon are now directed to the right case handler by saying the case number.

About Aegon – Aegon offers saving, insurance, investment, mortgage and pension products in 20 countries, with sales of EUR 27 billion and more than 23,700 employees worldwide, including 3,500 in the Netherlands. The company was the result of mergers between AGO, ENNIA and a large number of life and pension insurers. Agility of the organisation is explicitly included in the vision and mission of the company. 

Text: Erik Bouwer,



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