“My view is that the world is not less complex; it’s getting more complex. And the notion that buyers don’t need help is just crazy; it’s silly. It’s a silly notion.”
That’s the view of Frederick Eppinger, CEO of Hanover Insurance. It helps explain why he is bullish on the future of the independent agency system. From personal lines, to professional lines, to weather-related risks to coverage variations and limits, insurance buyers need more, not less, help, according to Eppinger. Independent agents are the ones best able to provide that advice.
Findings from Ernst & Young’s Global Consumer Insurance Survey 2012 support Eppinger’s notion. Ernst & Young surveyed 24,000 insurance consumers in 23 countries, making it one of the largest insurance surveys ever.
The survey confirms Eppinger’s sense that consumers often feel that insurance products are too complicated, and that they still need expert assistance when making important decisions. Yes, customers are increasingly turning to online sources to inform themselves before making a purchase and Ernst & Young’s research found two-thirds expecting to do more online research in the future.
But when it comes to actually making their insurance purchases, the vast majority still want to rely on personal interaction. On the property/casualty side, the survey found that personal interaction is particularly important when extending coverage (71 percent), making a claim (82 percent), or dealing with other customer service issues (78 percent).
“You know, most of us don’t want to be experts in insurance. We want to run our business and live our lives… I believe that value that they [agents] provide is getting greater because they’re being more and more efficient in delivering it, and it’s more needed,” said Eppinger.
Independent agents have the expertise to guide customers through this crazy and complex world. But what is the best way for agents to deliver this advice to customers in today’s online and offline world?
Ever entered a retail store and been immediately confronted by a sales clerk when you’d rather just browse by yourself? In most cases the clerk backs down after say you will let her know if you need her. Then when you want one, a clerk is nowhere to be found. The next time, you might just shop online.
Retail stores face great challenges from online shopping. Ernst & Young suggests that insurance providers also need to find ways to integrate online and offline services. While discount insurance websites have little or no economic interest in providing personal service, insurance agencies are positioned to provide personal attention along with online convenience and efficiency. They should let their consumers choose the communication method that suits them at any time. When the customer wants to browse, they should leave them alone. Then whenever the customer wants them, they must be there.
It would be silly to operate otherwise.