Agents Aren’t Shy, and That’s Good News for Carriers

Everybody likes to take surveys, right? Maybe not when you’re busy and your Internet provider wants you to drop everything and tell them about a recent customer experience. But I’ve found that independent agents will always take time to tell you what they think. 

Channel Harvest has been surveying agents for 13 years, asking them how their top carriers are performing. Questions range from underwriting responsiveness to claims service to brand reputation. Our carrier partners commission the survey and help write the questions; they say the survey yields actionable information that they can’t get anywhere else. 

This year, nearly 2,000 agency staff — from principals to producers to CSRs — participated in the survey between February and April, answering over 100 questions. In addition to the standard questions about carrier performance, we wanted to know how agents are planning for the future – e.g. via digital capabilities and marketing to younger consumers. So we expanded our survey, with guidance from our carrier partners. 

A few weeks into the survey period came the COVID-19 pandemic, and the world switched into survival mode. Naturally, we wanted to know how agents were managing the crisis so we developed an additional instant survey. More on that later. 

The Digital Divide 

“Agent Voices 2020: The Channel Harvest Survey of Independents” reveals an industry at a key inflection point, marked by a split between agents who value the personal touch and those who promote self-service. Only half report having a mobile-friendly website and 20 percent aren’t sure what kind of website they have. 

Being visible in search is required these days, yet the survey revealed large numbers on both sides of the digital divide. Of the 88 percent whose agencies have a website, 42 percent say their firm uses search engine optimization (SEO), while nearly one third do not, and 17 percent are not sure. 

Ease of Doing Business 

Self-service is another big differentiator, as over half of respondents say they do not offer customers the ability to purchase a policy, add a vehicle, change a deductible or change or add coverages.  

More agents use tools furnished by their carrier than those who use a vendor solution or build it themselves. Fewer than 10 percent of agents say they have their own technology allowing customers to purchase a policy, add a vehicle, change a deductible or change or add coverages. However, a larger number – nearly one-third – allow prospective customers to get a quote online. 

Self-service is merely table stakes for agencies that want to attract more millennial customers, and our carrier partners wanted to know how much agents are investing in younger demographics. Nearly half (45%) said they do not actively target millennial consumers, while about four in 10 said they do. However, six in 10 say they do offer products and services that appeal to millennials, such as pay-as-you drive insurance. 

Pandemic Pulse  

A temporary disruption or a new normal? We wanted to know how agents are managing the pandemic, so we went into the field twice – April 15-16 and May 20-21 – taking their pulse on working from home, communicating with customers and revenue trends. Some 200 agents responded to each survey and here are the key takeaways: 

  • About half believe working at home is temporary and expect all staff would return to the office. 
  • About one-fourth say at least some staff would continue to work from home, and 10% say that all employees would work at home. About 13% said they weren’t yet sure what they would do. 
  • Morale held up pretty well between the first and second surveys. Just 7% reported low morale (0-3 on a 10-point scale), down from 9% in the first survey, while 38% said average (4-6), which was unchanged. Over half (55%) said morale is good (7-10), a slight increase from the first survey. 
  • About half of respondents reported their revenue has dropped since the crisis started in early March, an increase from the April survey, where 41% had reported a decrease. On the other hand, 17% said they have posted increased revenue during the crisis, up from 10% in the April survey. 

To purchase “Agent Voices 2020: The Channel Harvest Survey of Independents” or to learn how to become a carrier partner, visit channelharvest.com.

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