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Independent Insurance Agents Have an Edge in the Digital Market

Win the race against InsurTech by cementing client relationships.

By Jason Walker

As the insurance industry continues to shift, and many new InsurTech companies enter the market, the personal relationships that independent agents provide give them a sales advantage.

Consider a young couple buying their first home. They need homeowners’ insurance, so they visit a website to get a quote. They input the information they think is relevant — location, home value, and its current condition — and receive an initial quote.

Not wanting to commit to a big decision immediately online, they contact a local independent agent to compare. The agent asks them additional questions they never even considered:

What is the condition of the roof?

Does the home have a swimming pool or hot tub?

Will anyone be working from home?

The agent is also familiar with their neighborhood and asks if they considered flood insurance because the area has experienced severe flooding in the past.

The couples leaves the agency with coverage that fully protects them; a comprehensive policy designed for their unique situation.

Great Service is Key

This scenario is not unique. Customer service is the hallmark of all great agent-client relationships. When purchasing policies and filing claims, customers want to be able to talk with someone who understands their needs. As the industry continues to shift, and many new insurtech companies enter the market, the personal relationships agents provide give them an advantage. But in this era of digital disruption, customer service alone is not enough — independent agencies must evolve their businesses too, and they must do it quickly.

Consumers today want the ability to conduct insurance business anytime, anywhere for simple transactions, while at the same time be able to have a relationship with a professional to discuss complex policy questions or walk them through the claims process. Independent agents need to translate their customer relationships into the digital environment. Must-have technologies include client portals, instant chat, and interactive websites that allow customers to access insurance information, resolve simple inquires, make changes, or submit a payment whenever they want. At the same time, agents need to be available for phone calls and meetings to handle difficult questions.

For agents just beginning to adopt digital technologies, knowing where to start and what tools to implement first can be a daunting task. Here are three things all agents should consider when advancing their businesses to compete in the digital market.

No. 1: Recognize that not All Technologies Are Created Equal

With so many digital tools available, it can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to start. Agencies first need to ensure they have interactive websites that customize the prospects’ experiences based on where they are in the buying cycle. This is often the first interaction a consumer has with an agency, and it is important to make a good first impression. Product offerings, request for information forms, and the agency’s contact information should be clearly listed.

It’s also important to incorporate technologies that will keep the agency top-of-mind with prospects. Social media marketing platforms, and marketing technologies that automate communications can ensure that you are at the right place at the right time. A robust email marketing plan can create a cadence of prospecting, retention and upsell communication to a segmented audience. Finally, an agency can only grow if it manages leads effectively. Implementing lead forms that capture multiple lead sources ensures no new business opportunities are missed.

No. 2: Understand and Embrace Best-of-Breed InsurTech Models

Agents should view insurtechs as virtual research and development (R&D) departments. Innovating from day one, insurtechs introduce consumers to new ways of conducting business seamlessly while avoiding the burdens of legacy technologies and processes. Their successes and failures are highly publicized as they rapidly prototype and introduce new products to the market. As educated spectators, independent agents have the opportunity to learn from insurtechs and determine which winning formulas can be used in their organizations to create incremental efficiency gains. For example, borrowing from insurtechs to apply even the most basic artificial intelligence (AI) that automates low-impact prospecting, sales, and retention touchpoints can eliminate expensive manual entry and allow agents to re-focus their efforts on margin-rich activities.

No. 3: Getting Employees and Customers on Board, Right from the Start

Persuading employees to adopt new technologies — especially if the current processes are working well at the moment— can be difficult. Transparent communications and comprehensive raining can help everyone understand the need for the change and ensure they become comfortable with the new tools.

Describing the benefits of digital adoption is very important. The new technologies will not replace any particular employee, but rather make everyone more efficient. Routine and mundane tasks will be automated leaving agents with more time to handle complex customer needs.

Incentivize producers and customer service representatives with additional commissions that reward the adoption and utilization of digital technologies within the agency.

In addition, it is not just employees that need to be convinced to incorporate new technologies but also current customers. Share regular announcements and reminders that introduce them to the new tools and explain how they provide a more convenient insurance experience.

With a foundation in customer service and building client relationships, agents today have the advantage, but there is a short window to sustain it. Agents will have to adopt new tools in order to remain competitive. By leveraging technology to complete routine tasks, agents can have more time to work with prospects and customers to handle more complex issues. In the digital age, independent agents that embrace technology while maintaining superb customer support will always hold the advantage over pure technology firms that rely solely on robo-agents and algorithms. 

 

Article originally appeared in PropertyCasualty360