4 Ways for Independent Agents to Compete with Direct Insurers
It’s 2019 and customers are more digitally conscious than ever. They expect seamless conversations, up-to-date technology, and personalized offerings online. Unfortunately, insurance has faced difficulty providing digital innovations that enhance the customer experience. In 2013, BCG found that insureds were highly dissatisfied with the digital experiences offered in insurance.
Direct insurers and even some agencies have risen to the challenge, interacting with customers on online platforms and embracing digital technologies. If a competitor such as Embroker or even another agency is offering a better digital experience than you, take note. Your insured might decide it’s time for a switch.
Independent agents must undergo digital transformation and meet customers where they are to outperform competitors. For example, instead of simply cold calling, digital companies should participate in social selling. Or instead of sending long, bulky emails, agents should direct clients to online portals that store their application forms.
And these innovations pay dividends. A study at MIT found that companies that have embraced digital transformation are 26% more profitable than their peers.
Ultimately, your digital strategy shouldn’t depend on your competitors — it should depend on your customer’s expectations. With the customer journey as your starting point, review the following strategies and find the best combination for your agency to implement.
1. Create a digital transformation action plan
Before you can begin the digital transformation, you first need to determine what your current client journey looks like. Do you scan paper applications and attach via email to send to your clients? How do you communicate with them? Do your clients only have access to your work phone?
Now assess the current digital state of your agency.
- Do you have an agency management system?
- Where are the gaps in your current digital strategy?
- What are your long-term goals?
- What digital assets does your agency need to reach these goals?
- What steps do you need to take to implement these digital assets?
- How will you measure success?
The overall goal of a digital transformation is to become more customer-centric. Meeting your clients’ experience expectations should be top of mind.
Once you have clear guidelines set, get your leaders and staff onboard — team adoption of digital innovations is essential to success. Peter Dahlgren, the former CEO of Nordnet, once said “There is no specific organization dealing with the digital transformation. The entire organization is responsible for the shift.”
If leadership and staff members aren’t embracing digital assets, your attempt at a digital culture will be a bust. Educate each member on the benefits of digital transformation (i.e., efficiency, increased revenue) and establish an implementation timeline for each digital asset. Plan to review progress regularly.
Use your digital culture as a foundation for the following strategies.
2. Adopt the right technology.
The more efficient your internal processes, the more time you’ll be able to spend on the customer experience. Technology helps accomplish this.
So why aren’t more agencies adopting technologies to improve their internal operations? The Insurance Digital Revolution found that 59% of agencies cited cost as the main barrier to improving agency technology. Granted, technology is typically a larger investment. But consider this: What are the long-term costs if you don’t transform?
A client-friendly website is a good start. To assess how your current website is performing, check Google Analytics or use heatmaps to determine how clients are using your site. Make necessary updates and then plan to implement other innovations.
Technologies like online customer portals, smart forms, automations, and e-signatures make your operations more efficient and give you more time to spend on actual customer needs.
- Online customer portals. An online portal is a central location where you can digitally store and manage applications and renewals. You can manage all your insurance documents in one place and the insured has easy access to complete their applications online.
- Smart forms. Paper and PDF applications are time intensive, they increase the chance of errors, and are confusing for the insured. Adopt digital smart forms that can easily capture, store, validate, display, and submit customer information. You can also add comments and make certain questions “required” to make the application process even easier for the insured.
- Automation. Automation is the “cornerstone of effective digital customer experience.” Things like automapping answers on smart forms so that no same question has to be answered twice, automated email reminders, and chatbots programmed for customer support reduce time spent on data-entry and create a shorter application process.
- E-signatures. Insureds should not have to print, sign, and scan an application. It’s too much of a hassle. Instead, give the insured the opportunity to sign their application forms electronically. Not only is this method more secure, it also increases the chances of you getting a fully completed application back the first time around.
Technology should be so seamless that clients don’t even notice it’s there. They just feel the benefits. Insurance is already complex. Make the process as efficient and simple as possible for your clients.
3. Implement a consistent, omnichannel experience.
An omnichannel experience means that no matter what channel a customer decides to interact on (e.g., phone, email, live chat, etc.), the messaging and brand voice stays the same. The client experience is thus consistent across all touch points.
For example, an omnichannel experience means that if a client starts an application on their desktop, they should be able to easily continue on their mobile phone and ask questions via live chat on your website. If they visit your website, the copy should be similar to that of your other channels.
Omni-channels also give you the opportunity to engage in a number of ways. You not only can offer customer support and answer questions, but you can also share interesting resources and content on social media channels. Give your customers the opportunity to decide how they want to interact with you.
Here are several steps that your agency can use to create an omnichannel experience:
- Map out your customer journey. Look at the steps your clients take to interact with your agency. Do they experience roadblocks or problems when contacting you? Also, find out what channels your competitors are offering to their clients. What channels should you implement?
- Set up a mobile website. Along with engaging on different channels, your clients should be able to interact on different devices. Optimize so your website is mobile friendly. The view on the client’s desktop should be consistent with the view on their mobile phone.
- Be consistent across channels. Your messaging should be the same no matter what channel your client visits. For example, the tone on your blog should be the same as on your LinkedIn. Also, ensure that all information such as contact details is the same across platforms so the experience is seamless.
And don’t always make the client reach out to you. Engage with your clients on multiple channels and encourage regular communication.
4. Review your data.
Customer data analytics give you deeper insights into your customers so you can make better business decisions. It provides the opportunity to quantify your digital efforts and offer a more personalized customer experience.
Before you can rightly analyze client data, you should first implement a uniform data management strategy within your agency management system. Data visualization is important, but as stated in Indio’s Digital Broker Podcast, “A dashboard is only as good as the quality of the data put into it.”
Decide what data is critical to reaching the digital transformation goals you set early on. Collecting unnecessary data is a waste and “between 60% and 73% of all data within a company goes unused for analytics.” Also, outline the data verbiage within your agency. For example, if one agent refers to incoming revenue as “Billing” and another agent input calls it “Collected,” you’ll end up with inaccurate information overall.
Next, determine what the most important metrics are to review. Customer retention rate? The number of client interactions? Use the insights to make the customer experience more personalized. Accenture discovered that 75% of customers are more likely to purchase from a company that does the following:
- Recognizes them by their name
- Knows their purchase history
- Recommends products based on their past purchases
Analyzing your data provides you with this information. Review the data before client meetings or conversations. Let customers know that you recognize their needs. Also, use these insights to be a better advisor to your clients.
Case study: How One Agency Digitized Their Application Process
When a business applies for insurance for the first time (or when they renew), it’s usually a very manual and inefficient process due to complicated PDF or paper supplemental carrier forms and schedule workbook data being sent via email. For many agencies, this application process is in dire need of digital renovation. Take All Spectrum Insurance Brokers for example — an agency in San Jose, California.
According to Dmitriy Lazarev, CIC, CRIS, co-founder of the 17-person agency, their process—though it had been fully digital since they founded the agency thirteen years ago—was still disjointed and confusing, involving multiple documents being sent back and forth between the agency and insured.
“We were dealing with fillable PDFs. We would send out applications to clients, and there were a lot of custom applications and carrier supplementals. The process was complicated, confusing, and definitely overwhelming to clients. Turnaround was not great; it involved lots of follow- up and, to be honest, it was hard to get applications back.”
The agency assessed the gaps in their current strategy and then incorporated new digital technology. They chose Indio as their online portal provider, which comes with a 5,000+ library of digitally enhanced “smart” insurance forms and applications, automapping data capabilities to prevent the need to rekey information, and a built-in e-signature solution.
Indio’s online portal that organizes and manages client applications
“Now, with Indio’s help, we’re positioning ourselves to be a 3.0 agency,” Lazarev outlines, “where applications and supplementals are no longer lengthy and confusing PDF files, but rather easy-to-complete online forms; renewal questionnaires are online surveys; proposals are interactive online presentations; and data flows between the agency management system and Indio.”
Client applications are now more accurate due to smart form features such as required questions and automapping of common answers. Productivity has increased as only one link is required to send to clients rather than a line of emails. Follow-up time with clients is also faster as online forms are easier to understand and fill out.
Above all else, the agency provides a better customer experience for their clients thanks to more efficient operations and digital offerings. Lazarev says, “We’re spending more time interacting with prospects and clients instead of completing applications over the phone or in person. The result: We’re improving the quality of our client interactions.”
Embrace digital innovations
With both direct insurers and other independent agents embracing the digital experience, your agency needs to get on board with digital transformation. Don’t get branded by clients as “behind the times.” A combination of digital strategies should be used to effectively compete in the insurance industry.
Start with a clear vision of how your digital transformation should look and then focus on strategies that add the most customer value for your clients. You’ll not only lower costs and increase revenue but most importantly, you’ll promote customer satisfaction.