AI Perspectives – Sangeetha Rai, Northwestern Mutual

Being in the most pivotal customer experience era, it is crucial to research, learn, and gain insight from industry leaders on how Artificial Intelligence (AI) could impact the world we know today. I had the privilege of discussing technology evolution, customer experience, and AI with a few incredible leaders and will be writing a blog series on insights they shared over the next few weeks. 

To kick this thing off, it was an absolute honor to gain perspective from the Vice President of Customer Success at Northwestern Mutual, Sangeetha Rai. Sangeetha has worked in numerous verticals for different organizations throughout her career. She was drawn to customer success due to her desire to make a difference in the community and those around her. Sangeetha is also a Board Member of the American Red Cross and MKE Tech Hub Coalition.  

Sangeetha is an advocate for the advancement of AI in her organization and believes Northwestern Mutual and their clients will both benefit from this technology. Sangeetha mentioned that “AI can help enhance both customer and financial advisor experiences, and powered by AI, customer success teams can provide consistently positive, delightful experiences to our clients.” Her role at Northwestern Mutual is focused on ensuring the customer experience is both efficacious and as effortless as possible. When discussing clients’ needs, she emphasized the importance of unbiased and trustworthy characteristics. “With (Northwestern Mutual’s) experience,” she explained, “we are uniquely positioned to provide unbiased insights that can help our clients build financial security… Consumers prefer to do business with trustworthy companies, so preserving that trust is crucial for us.” Sangeetha believes the utilization of AI enables Northwestern Mutual’s employees and advisors to provide this unbiased, trustworthy information. 

Northwestern Mutual is no stranger to new technology. Sangeetha stated “In (Northwestern Mutual’s) 166 years of business, every time a new technology has come along, we reviewed it to see how it could benefit our customers. AI may be new, but business and the ability to adapt to new technologies is not.” She discussed the organization’s circumstances for the new technology, which consisted of automating their underwriting for individual life insurance policies, developing new ways of automating risk, eliminating manual tasks, and digitizing manual tasks, which frees up almost 50% of their advisors’ time. She also shared a use case where clients can now forgo an in-home exam and rather fill out an online questionnaire, resulting in a decision turnaround time in potentially 3 days or less (vs what was previously up to 60 days). On top of these incredible results, Sangeetha mentioned her plan on enhancing their client experience. She said, “We are working on several experiments with generative AI to boost customer engagement experiences. Some examples would be summarizing contact center conversations, saving our agents up to 3-5 minutes per call. Also building our knowledge base to help our advisors be more productive and avoid follow-up questions, and so on.”

Although there is much excitement in the world about AI, we would be remiss to believe there is not fear as well. Sangeetha advised to approach the new technology with a balanced perspective. “It’s understandable that people have concerns about the impact of AI on jobs in society,” she stated, “but AI also presents incredible opportunities for innovation and progress.” She gave her perspective in three parts. “Here’s what we know,” she expressed, “number one is that thousands of jobs have not been invented yet. So as AI continuously evolves, there will be new opportunities that will emerge that we can’t even fathom at this time and while certain jobs may be transformed or replaced by AI, it’s crucial for us to focus on the potential for new and meaningful work that will generate as a result. The second thing is that AI is here to stay and there’s no turning back. It’s become such an integral part of our lives and will continue to play a role in the future. The last piece is both humans and AI have unique strengths that complement each other. So, we have qualities like empathy, creativity, common sense… adaptability, problem-solving skills that can be approached in various creative ways. On the other hand, AI can store and process vast amounts of information faster than humans, excel at precise tasks, and work tirelessly around the clock without being bored or tired. So, I think together we have the ability to collaborate and solve complex problems, as well as create new products and services by leveraging the strengths of both humans and AI.”

Sangeetha is a major advocate for utilizing AI in her organization. As a leader of Customer Success in a Fortune 500 company, she encourages others to embrace AI and pay attention to the industry evolution. She advised that “AI is here to stay… It is important as leaders for us to know what is happening in our industry and pay attention to it.” 

As Sangeetha expressed, “The world of AI is this greenfield of unknowns and with the right mindset, research, and attention to industry developments, I think we can uncover endless possibilities.” 

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