Embracing Technology in a Changed World

Saying this year has been a game changer for small business is an understatement.

The pandemic is forcing small businesses, including independent agents, to do what they should have been doing all along — making essential investments to improve their technology, efficiency, sales and marketing. Whether independent agents are still commuting to the office, working from home or combining the two, the right technology can keep them competitive and help them move forward safely and securely.

Before the pandemic, some independent agents were just getting by with simple, outdated technology. That is no longer good enough. Today, any independent agency that wants to survive and thrive needs to have an agency management system (AMS) and an online presence with interactive technology, a website, social media and more.

Better Customer Service

Look no further than your existing base to understand why this is true. Clients — commercial lines and personal lines — shop, connect and interact through technology in almost everything they do. A high level of access via technology is expected, and without it, many clients will shop elsewhere.

Review your current technology to understand what, if anything, is holding you back from running a fully virtual operation. This perspective will give you a look at what gaps exist in your ability to provide excellent customer service.

An investment in client-facing technology begins with an informative and engaging presence online with a modern website and ways for clients to connect 24/7.

Clients and prospects should have simple, secure ways to connect via phone, texting, email, or video chat — whether the agency is up and running five days a week or open only for limited hours.

Using live chat or a chatbot on your website to answer questions is often anticipated. Enabling clients to speak with a live agent will ease stress and resolve issues faster. Agents can also hire a customer service center to answer calls and questions when agents are busy with other clients. These tools can help gather data and free up an agent’s time to work with existing clients on larger issues.

A mobile-friendly website and social media enable clients to learn more about an agency quickly, while they are on the go. These tools should inform and educate consumers, and include comprehensive information about your agency, its menu of services, and share why you differ from your local competition.

A mobile app makes it easy for clients to access their policies and billing information on the go. It also enables the independent agent to use push notifications and send direct emails to all clients at once. Agents can schedule calls and offer discounts or loyalty programs as well with a mobile app. To great effect, it puts your agency in the palm of your client’s hand.

Capturing Client Data

For independent agencies, using a trusted data network not only enables you to share files securely, schedule appointments, download and share data from carriers and conduct transactions, it can also provide the right tools to capture client data — data that can be used to target sales and marketing efforts.

An AMS makes an independent agency more efficient. It enables all client data to live in one place, automates an agent’s office, provides a streamlined communication channel between carriers and agents, and provides the ability to use data analytics for targeted sales and marketing campaigns to increase

income generation. In addition, inbound marketing can encourage prospects to fill out a basic form on your website or social media pages, allowing you to collect their name and email. Then, you can reach out to them with a monthly e-newsletter or other in-depth content to drive new sales and ensure prospects receive valuable information.

Google Analytics is another key tool. The data provides an understanding of how clients and prospects view or navigate your website — analyzing which pages inform and which pages need new content. Identifying strengths can help you streamline your marketing and change the course of your agency’s website content to best align with your clients’ needs.

Identify who’s looking at and commenting on your agency’s social media as well as learn what calls to action are working and what can be modified or addressed to attract more visitors. Messages can be targeted to specific clients and prospects to share your branding, give succinct information and provide them with a call to action. Short videos can provide updates, invite clients to networking opportunities, and encourage client engagement.

Lastly, comparative raters integrated within your website are essential to provide fast quotes for clients and will capture their data while making a self-service option available for those who prefer it. A quality rater can also connect a client to an independent agent to answer questions and close the sale when needed.

An important note: make sure your website has a posted privacy policy informing your visitors how you use information gathered about them. If you are using cookies, be sure to disclose the same information about them.

Working Virtually and Safely

With more people working at home, a virtual private network (VPN) for the home office is a solid investment in keeping information safe, retaining clients and maintaining a good reputation in the industry. A VPN will encrypt your information so you can send and receive emails and files while working within the agency’s network. Make sure all agency staff is using a VPN for the best security.

Virtual meetings and presentations are here to stay, so subscribing to an online meeting platform is a must. It will enable video conference calls, networking and online conversations to engage clients and prospects while putting your expertise at the forefront. As long as content is valuable and concise, you can show your community how accessible you are to answer their questions.

Adding cyber protections to staff computers will further protect your business. Agents working from home are tapping into the main office network — using a pathway to critical client information in their agency’s database. Every agency needs to ensure intruders won’t have access to confidential data. Communicate how vital it is for all staff to protect usernames and passwords, and change them often, especially when working from home.

Finally, a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) gives an independent agent a cloud-based, hosted telephone system at home. Many Windows PC-based phone systems enable agents to use their personal computer to make high quality voice and video calls privately for their business using the computer speaker or headphones, and perhaps a camera.

By reviewing and integrating the most efficient, user-friendly technology, the independent agent can move forward efficiently, engaging clients with innovative tools, providing solutions and using effective sales and marketing tactics to drive agency growth.

Business principles don’t change much, but the manner in which we execute them does — largely because of improvements in technology.