Why Agent Response Time Is More Critical Than Ever

By | May 20, 2019

Two years ago, I wrote a column on “speed-to-value,” in which the time agents took to respond to and resolve inquiries/requests from policyholders and prospects had become an important factor in customer satisfaction. What a difference two years makes. Today, many studies show that consumers consider timeliness to be not just one factor but indeed the most important differentiator — above efficiency, professionalism and knowledge. With increasing pressure from insurtechs coupled with skyrocketing consumer expectations, response time today must now be measured in minutes, not hours or days. The fact is, neither carriers nor agents live in a vacuum and must compare their performance to services outside our industry, not just peers. Insurance consumers certainly do.

All of this emphasis on speed does not mean taking shortcuts in the risk management process. As Bill Wilson of Insurance Commentary said in a previous column, “Consumers need to understand that, from a service standpoint, their insurance programs are not like buying consumer goods on Amazon. They are creating and modifying complex legal contracts.”

“It’s important to be responsive, but when most of your assets and potentially a big chunk of your income are on the line, some steps in the process must be deliberate and thorough no matter how long they take,” Wilson added.

In today’s digital marketplace, however, adhering to the insurance process does not excuse the absolute need to find ways to do it faster.

This revelation was hammered home in a just-released study from Celent called “Navigating the Pace of Change in P&C Insurance” that measures the industry’s readiness for technological change. The study, commissioned by Duck Creek Technologies, said that the P&C industry is “undergoing only moderate acceleration of change, despite consumers’ expectations of radical improvements.”

Among the study’s key takeaways:

  • Speed to market is imperative for success but insufficient on its own. Leading firms go beyond upgrading transactional systems and are accelerating their abilities to keep pace with customer expectations, technology innovation and increased data.
  • Progress against the most consequential driver, customer expectations, is slow. In fact, the pace of individual firms meeting customer expectations scored lowest among the six drivers.
  • Increasingly, customers want the personalization and ease delivered by other industries such as online retail. Insurers report that they are finding it difficult to address their expectations at speed.
  • Insurers spend 64% of their customer engagement benchmarking efforts comparing themselves against other insurers, and less than 10% against digital retailers. This allocation creates an echo chamber effect that will impede progress on the customer expectations driver.

Central to speeding the insurance process, of course, lies in the adept use of technology.

For agents, finding ways to do it faster must now be a top priority. The big fixes from carriers and agency management systems take time (maddeningly so) so agents must start making smaller fixes on their own in a two-step process.

The first step should include a website upgrade to a true conversational search engine and adding secure messaging and artificial intelligence tools (bots) to your website (see last column for tips) to give staff more time to interact with clients and prospects.

The second step involves a thorough reexamination of procedures to look for ways to cut the time to perform even the smallest of tasks.

The Celent study cited earlier also addressed one other huge challenge facing the industry — the looming talent shortage, and attracting and retaining the best and brightest of the next generation.

The good news for agents is that making full use of the latest digital tools including AI and messaging will help attract Millennial employees and allow them to thrive in the agency setting.

The bottom line is agents cannot be satisfied with the status quo and must take greater charge of their futures.

About Tom Wetzel

Wetzel is owner of Thomas H. Wetzel Associates, an insurance social media consulting firm. Phone: 708-771-1533. Email: twetzel@wetzelandassociates.com. More from Tom Wetzel

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Insurance Journal West May 20, 2019
May 20, 2019
Insurance Journal West Magazine

Agency Technology; Markets: Cyber & Security