The New Age of Internet Reputation Management

Most agencies’ reputations are based upon customer service and referral. At a certain point in the career of an agent or broker, cold calls via “smiling and dialing” become antiquated. At the point of either critical mass, or “economic comfort”, organic growth comes from a constant stream of customers leaving one company and joining another.  Customers also start acquiring new properties or businesses, which naturally fall into their influence. Customer centers of influence, such as mobile CFO’s and HR Professionals, repeatedly leave one startup to join another. In the past, it was normal for these employees to have the power to introduce the new agency to the decision maker(s), and in doing so bring business with them!

In the past, that was good enough!  However, as Bob Dylan said, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”  This creates a new reality for insurance agents. If insurance was a movie, today’s reality could be encapsulated by the following scenes:

Scene #1

There is a startup office buried deep in the heart of a “Valley”.  There are neither cubicles or offices. The camera pans from the entrance, which is partially blocked by a foosball table and a ping pong table.  It continues to pan toward the side wall, which is lined with refrigerators, filled with every conceivable beverage and snack and type of fruit.

The camera moves over to the center table.  In the middle of the table is a variety of bagels and breakfast bars.  A coffee machine is broken down from all the use, but luckily two more are lined up next to it.

The camera cuts to long tables on the outside walls, which are held up by factory-made saw stands. Monitors pop up from nearly every inch of table space. Heads are intently staring at those screens while typing furiously.  A countless stream of Millenials are standing up, imitating the actions of those that are seated using an elevated typing station.

The camera flows to the back, where a newly hired CFO or HR VP is standing in front of the CEO’s table using his/her hands to describe the amazing services of his/her past professional insurance brokers.

 

Scene #2

The early 20’s CEO, clothed in a baseball cap and t-shirt, is smiling and nodding while doing research on agents and agencies.  The camera angle changes to show the search results. It has no results showing the name of the agent or agency. It has no information regarding the prowess of the professional.  In fact, the only information that is presented is their; address(es), ownership information, average star rating, and reviews.

CEO:  Thanks for the recommendation.  Great Idea. Let me get back to you on that

Scene #3

The newly hired CFO or HR professional sees the CEO on the phone.  No face-to-face business is occurring. The CEO seems uninterested in their agent, and it’s no wonder why.  A single personal recommendation can not outweigh the weight of a web filled with reviews.

According to data from Google and Yelp, 89% of customers go online and read at least nine reviews before calling a new agent/agency.  These reviews overshadow the personal recommendations of even the most trusted employees. If an agent doesn’t have a powerful & sourced reputation online, word of mouth doesn’t cut it.  The word of a well-respected employee can get an agent’s foot in the door, but his/her online presence must back it up if he/she hopes to get their pocket in the door as well.

A search for “Best Mortgage Broker in Anytown, USA, will find an agency that has hundreds of reviews based upon thousands of surveys that have been completed by previous customers.  That agency has a Google Business Page with all those 100’s of reviews and survey results from credible and named sources that have vouched for them. In the modern digital age, the battle for business is won by having:

  1. Preferred placement on Google’s Results (search engine optimization)
  2. Internet verified credibility and referrals

Here are critical statistics that every Agency Owner should contemplate when planning the transformation of their customer relationship management:

  1. 89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. (RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report)
  2. 83% of consumers require some degree of customer support while making an online purchase. (eConsultancy)
  3. 76% of consumers believe the customer service they received shows how the company values them as a customer. (Aspect Consumer Experience Survey)
  4. 45% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly. (Forrester)
  5. 45% of companies offering web or mobile self-service reported an increase in site traffic and reduced phone inquiries. (CRM Magazine)
  6. It takes 12 positive customer experiences to make up for one negative experience. (Parature)

Number 6 is probably on the low or optimistic side. When shopping on Amazon, the one-star reviews stick out more than the five-star ones.  It causes a potential buyer to dig deeper and click the “more reviews” button, just to be sure that there aren’t more one-star reviews claiming the same or different defects.

Discovering these defects and eradicating early in the product lifecycle is why the survey system is so crucial.   It can instantly forward any negative review to the attention of the CEO or Customer Service Leader. This allows customer service to isolate the cause of the issue.  Getting to the root cause of customer dissatisfaction is critical to prevent the loss of future customers and to possibly correct any defects or detrimental protocols inherent in the company.  

Despite the clear benefits, the online feedback process can be a double-edged sword.  Some review sites publish any and all reviews, even those which are obviously false. Unfortunately, one person who has a vendetta can completely ruin an online reputation, unless the review sites grant the company the ability to mitigate and ameliorate the problem. If the company does not carefully manage their online reputation, it can lead to disastrous results.  Taking steps in house, as well as hiring a reputation management partner can help a company to write their own online narrative.

When selecting the reputation management partner, it is important that companies select a vendor that can integrate or develop API into their Agency Management System or CRM.  The ability to differentiate producers is critical. Each producer needs to create an inventory of excellent reviews and ratings. The more producers profiles an agency has, the more optimized their search engine performance is.

Also, this individualized attention to each producer can build the competitive spirit of a team. Rewarding top performers perpetuates the behavior that leads to highly flattering reviews.  High marks lead to more referrals and more new business flow.

Carefully managing online reputation can help an agency take control of their own competitive destiny.  Owning an agency sometimes forces one to feel as though they’re on an island in the middle of the ocean.  Rescue doesn’t come from a message in a bottle. Those hail marys are only answered for Tom Hanks. The average person must take more practical measures, such as building a ship to escape.  Just as a building a ship is a more practical route to escaping an island, managing online reputation is a more practical route to acquiring and retaining customers in the modern insurance world.

About Larry Lipman

Larry is a long-time agent who has sold both the biggest and the smallest of insurance policies. He's now Regional Vice President at SocialSurvey/

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