Every agent I’ve met in the past decade understands the need to adapt in some way to the digital marketplace — a better-looking website, a more effective email marketing program or adding a mobile app. When the discussion turns to improving customer experience, many of these same agents resist the pressure to text clients, accept phone tag as an annoyance but not a roadblock, and see many digital upgrades as less critical to building stronger relationship with existing and potential clients.
“It’s the personal touch that’s our strongest advantage” is a frequent response. This viewpoint sets up a false “either/or” proposition — that somehow going digital means abandoning the personal touch. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Consumers consider timeliness to be the #1 differentiator, more important than professionalism or product knowledge. What this means is that response times must now be measured in minutes, not hours or days. Finding information on the agency website should take one minute instead of five. It matters if no one is available over the lunch hour to take calls or texts, or respond to emails, and the only option in the evening or on weekends is to leave a message. Minutes can mean meeting the expectations of clients and prospects or pushing them away.
Sam Friedman, Insurance Research Leader for Deloitte Services, is unabashed in his support of independent agents. In an August blog, he called on agents to “disrupt their own outdated business practices and integrate many of the same tools and technologies being deployed by those looking to displace them.”
Friedman’s key points (edited for brevity) include:
Going 24/7: Agencies need to have a robust web page and mobile app with intuitive self-service options, and give customers direct access to coverage information, first notice of loss capability, and claims status, at a minimum.
Having the option to contact a live person via phone or text, like a doctor with a service to reach them in case of an emergency, would retain the agency’s key competitive advantage — its customer-centricity.
Going virtual: Some insurtechs serve as virtual wholesalers and incorporate legacy retail producers into their business models. Joining such platforms can extend an agency’s market reach among those who may want to window shop for insurance online, yet might still be convinced to opt for an expert intermediary who can get adequate coverage at a competitive price, while providing value-added risk management advice and claims support.
Going electronic: Enabling electronic signatures, policy delivery and proof of insurance certificates can make doing business with brick-and-mortar agencies much more convenient than asking clients to come to the office or exchange documents through regular mail.
Getting automated: Chatbots can help agencies refer calls to the proper people or even directly handle routine queries about coverage or claims, setting or confirming appointments, or seeking preliminary information about buying or renewing policies. Automated systems can also help agents determine placement options for new or renewal business before involving a live producer to close the deal with customers.
Getting advanced analytics: Agencies can tap into big data and artificial intelligence programs to identify new prospects and cross-selling opportunities, pre-populate applications, and assess a client’s coverage and risk management needs. This saves agents time and effort, and better prepares them for a face-to-face (or better yet, virtual) consultation with customers.
Insurance cannot be sold like a loaf of bread. However agents cannot use that as an excuse to put off adapting to the demands of the digital marketplace.
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