Laptops, smartphones and tablets are giving consumers the power to make buying decisions from anywhere, and at any moment of their choosing.
“We’ve entered this new age — the age of the customer,” said Ellen Carney, principal analyst, Forrester Research at the ANE, Agency Network Exchange annual conference in April. “Digital has moved that power shift into the hands of customers.”
Forrester predicts 2.4 billion smartphone users and another 651 million tablet users by the end of 2017. The pervasiveness of these devices has changed consumer expectations: insurance agents need to provide their clients with the tools they want to interact with the agency. Agencies must have a robust mobile-friendly website, a mobile app, client portal and provide a location-specific experience.
Agents must rethink how they use technology to improve, differentiate from competitors and make data work for them.
At the ANE conference, I asked several industry executives and ANE member agents for their thoughts on how agents can stay relevant in the age of the customer:
- Matt Kirk, senior vice president, The Hartford: “Your clients are going to need advice and counsel about the products they are buying. They expect you to take care of their needs. That doesn’t change. What is their expectation of that engagement? How will you communicate with them? The way they are engaged is going to change, and it will change rapidly.”
- Gary Capone, vice president, Franklin Mutual Insurance Co.: “People still want to do business with an independent agent. Millennials are not just looking to buy online. They want professional advice. You have to listen to the customer, give them what they want, the way they want it, be very flexible and use many channels.”
- Bob Redden, vice president, Selective Insurance Companies: “The challenge is where to start. Everyone has limited resources. Where do you get the best return? Moving forward, a focus on an omni-channel experience for the customer becomes even more critical. You may have customers who prefer to interact by phone, some by web or text. One way to be relevant is to let them know their options.”
- Ellen Carney, principal analyst, Forrester: “A lot of organizations are available to help independent agents. You can have the same advantage as the most technically sophisticated agency. Someone else can manage the infrastructure, make sure the experience is fast, easy to navigate, and meets expectations in terms of mobile, social and whatever the next digital touchpoint could be. Technology is a lot different than it was in the 1990s when you had to build it yourself. Now there’s someone else who will build it and by the end of the day, you are up and running.”
- Freddie Marin, ANE agent, Your Insurance Solutions: “I was afraid that physical agencies were no longer relevant. Everybody is addicted to cellphones and 80 percent are doing research online, but they are looking for agents. You have to learn to interact in a new way through technology, but still provide the personal touch that a digital device can’t provide.”
- Doug Mohr, vice president, Vertafore: “It’s those little touches. I get the Starbuck’s card on my birthday, a note when it’s time for renewal. I think of my agent first before I think of the company. It’s because my agent has that personal touch.”
- George Reese, agent, Henry Young Insurance Agency: “We are in a changing world and the pace of change is accelerating. We need to be open to everybody in all the various ways they want to communicate, and be responsive to that.”
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