Digital, Accelerated: 5 Better Ways IAs Can Use Digital to Their Competitive Advantage
A few months ago, Agency Nation readers were introduced to a new Agent for the Future series: Digital, Accelerated. As Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance president Tyler Asher wrote at the time, “digital is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a must.”
Despite the many questions that remain about how the global pandemic will impact the independent agent channel in the long-term, Tyler’s sentiment still rings true. Now more than ever, IAs are being challenged to embrace digital at every turn.
To learn how to optimize the new tools and strategies agents may be adopting, Agent for the Future sat down with the Liberty Mutual and Safeco Agency Capabilities and Programs (ACP) team. This team of marketing professionals work with independent agents on a daily basis to guide them through growth and innovation projects.
In their work, the ACP team sees many agents making great digital moves to meet customer expectations and gain competitive advantages. But every agent is at a different place in their digital journey, and how agents navigate will depend the specific needs and goals of their business.
To help agents plot a path forward no matter where they stand on their digital journey, here are five members of the ACP team and their unique takes – on good ways, and better ways – independent agents can embrace digital.
Good: Adopting a modern agency management system (AMS) to bring all your tools and technologies together
Better: Leveraging data from your AMS to automate and optimize the customer experience
Most agencies rely on an agency management system and it makes sense – an AMS offers a streamlined path to digital, with many important tech tools built right in. Yet many struggle with how to use all of the consumer-facing capabilities to their full capacity.
Of the dozens of AMS solutions available to the insurance industry, which one you choose largely depends on your agency size, business mix and technology needs. Whether shopping for an AMS for the first time or looking to move from an outdated system, there are a few key things we recommend agents consider: mobile, cloud and automation.
The first two, being mobile-friendly and cloud-based, help make sure you’re investing in a solution that will take your agency into the future. They allow your staff to work on the go from whatever device is most convenient, which becomes especially important if people can’t get into the office.
The true power of an AMS starts to unlock when you look at how it makes your business more efficient and boosts your marketing muscle. Automation-friendly systems efficiently handle data, eliminating rekeying of data and edits. They offer self-service capabilities that help customers get things such as policy documents, ID cards and certificates of insurance on their own, freeing up staff to focus on revenue-driving activities.
They also have customer relationship management features (or they seamlessly connect to CRM tools) to drive marketing automation. It becomes a breeze to automate customer-friendly communications such as “happy birthday” emails and policy renewal reminders, all while helping you utilizing the communication channels preferred by each customer. And most importantly, your marketer can more easily and effectively launch marketing campaigns, including cross-sell, upsell and recapturing lost customers to drive new business growth.
With the right AMS and implementation of its features, you don’t have to balance customer experience with the bottom line: you can have both.
Good: Adopting text messaging to connect with customers
Better: Leveraging texting services that all agency employees can access
Consumers today expect the ability to connect with agents in the ways that work best for them, and text messaging is among the best tools for doing so. Emails get lost in cluttered inboxes. Phone calls go unanswered. Mailers take days to arrive.
Texting, on the other hand, is quick and effective. Where the open rate for email is typically in the 20-30 percent range, nearly all text messages get opened. If you’re looking to make immediate contact, get immediate answers – texting really should be at the top of your list.
The challenge that agencies run into with texting, however, is when they try to do it from a singular phone. That approach ties the conversation to one staff member and locks it into one device.
Instead, a solution could be as close as your AMS. Most have a built-in messenger solution that can put text messaging into the hands of your entire staff. This means different staff members can pick up conversations at different times if needed. Also, records of those conversations are all stored in one place which reduces errors and omissions exposure.
If you can’t use or prefer not to use an AMS-provided texting solution, remember there are also third-party providers that offer standalone solutions. Many of these vendors also integrate directly into your AMS.
Good: Adopting an eSignature solution
Better: Leveraging cloud-based solutions to go completely paperless
Adopting an eSignature solution is an important first step in making the move to a digital office, but we know that making this leap can be tough. Some see document signing as a relationship building opportunity. After all, it may provide an opportunity for you to see a customer for the first time in months or years.
We encourage agents to rethink this mindset and instead put themselves in the shoes of your clients. Most don’t want to go out of their way, especially during a time that is inconvenient for their day, to visit your office and sign something.
Moving to an eSignature solution also best done essentially overnight: one day you use pen and paper, the next all documents are signed via eSignature. Once eSignatures become second nature for your staff, the move to a truly paperless office becomes much easier.
While the operational benefits of moving to a cloud-based storage system will only become more obvious over time, it’s important to remember that the move is also critical from a customer experience perspective. You’ll save customers time and give them the freedom to handle their insurance needs on their own time. And remember: if you’re not offering eSignature and paperless, the agency down the street probably is.
Good: Using digital to serve clients outside of the typical 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Better: Leveraging carrier service centers to keep “doors” open after hours
Many agencies struggle to balance the need to extend office hours to remain open during times that are convenient for customers to come in, and the desire to maintain a more regular 9 a.m.-5 p.m. schedule.
Digital unlocks so many ways to keep your doors open, even when the physical office is closed. Live chat on your website, for example, offers a way to answer questions for clients without physically being in the office. Adopting online self-service tools allows customers to take action whenever is best for them. The list goes on.
To take it a step further and maintain a high-quality of service – and importantly, to do so without being on-call at all times – consider adopting your carriers’ service centers. Most offer extended hours and a few are open 24/7/365. Whether in the middle of the night or on a holiday, a service center gives you the peace of mind knowing that customers are taken care of while allowing your employees to unplug from work.
Good: Creating a modern, mobile-friendly website
Better: Leveraging paid search to bring new prospects onto your website
Your website serves as the face of your agency in so many ways. It can give your prospects a positive first impression of your agency, agency staff members, and involvement in the community. Allowing your existing clients to self-serve via a customer portal can help save your agency staff time.
A modern, mobile-friendly website is a one of the best ways to secure that competitive advantage. Following close behind is the adoption of paid search.
Paid search can be a highly effective channel for bringing qualified leads into your pipeline. It requires a lot of upfront investment of time and resources, but the ROI can be significant.
The most digitally savvy agents we speak with say they were able to land a new customer within the first couple of weeks of adopting paid search. It then took them about 3-6 months to get comfortable with the associated tools and concepts. Another year or two was then needed to really hone strategy, develop strong ad and landing page copy, and fully optimize the search terms they were bidding on. These agents continually improve and evolve their strategy as the landscape also evolves.
It’s important to remember that paid search is a marathon, not a sprint. However, once you see your investment starting to pay off, you will never turn back.
The ACP team covered several of these topics and more in a recent panel-style video addressing digital opportunities in times of disruption. Check it out below.
We exist to help independent agents succeed. On Agent for the Future™, we share actionable insights, practical advice and agency success stories to help agents thrive today and evolve to take advantage of new opportunities in the future.
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