First the Why
In a word, “access” specifically the lack of access by consumers, and what they expect from any on line shopping experience, in our case that would be an insurance transaction or request for service. While agency use portals are getting better and have improved efficiencies in processing new business and servicing existing clients, they will never satisfy the 24/7 expectations of today’s insurance consumers. In fact, just recently InsuranceBusinessMag.com published an article titled “It’s happened-customers now like websites more than real insurance agents.” Additionally, once exclusive agency partners like Allstate and Liberty Mutual are now enticing shoppers on-line to buy direct from them, by offering significant discounts to do so. Quoting a recent Coverager email, “Bottom Line: agents are surrounded by conflicted partners.” If you agree with me and want to know the solutions to this problem then keep reading, otherwise don’t bother.
Still reading? Good, you are among us who still hold out hope for the future of the agency distribution channel as we further enter the 21st century where the big money is riding on the direct writing Insurtechs not with the local insurance agent.
It’s all about the Customer Experience
I don’t think anyone will disagree with me on this point. In fact, these are the buzz words being thrown about at every single insurance marketing function, podcast and blog, circulating throughout the nation and the world. Direct writing Insurtech and legacy companies are keenly focused on the on-line customer experience, and frankly have the upper hand on agents when it comes to 24/7 accessibility for sales and service. So, what can agents along with the carriers and vendors that still support them do to beat them at their own game?
Carriers and Insurance Vendors (e.g. companies like ITC, Vertafore, Applied and EZ Lynx) need to provide producer level quote & bind web forms, and self-service agency web sites and apps for every line of insurance the agency sells and services. What’s both interesting and somewhat disheartening is that many insurance carriers are working towards their own Q&B web forms for in house use, i.e. their D2C channel. Many already offer mobile apps and web site access for customer self-service once an account is established. Some carriers are offering Q&B web forms on an agency level, but none to date are offering Q&B web forms down to the local producer (i.e. the associate agent) level. By now you might be asking the question “so what?” Why is it important to provide these web forms down to the local producer level anyway? Again, the short answer is consumer access. Meeting their expectations is critical.
….so now What?
By having the associate agent’s photo, cell phone, email address along with the agency logo on the web form, consumers are way more likely to complete the quote request questions, not bailing out, even calling the producer if they don’t quite understand something within the form. Web forms that leverage data pre-fill greatly improve the odds of a successful submission too. Presently, web forms that are on the agency level are way less effective, especially after business hours, since all contact info is usually tied back to the agency office, being dumped into the general mail box for both voice and email communications. While this might have been OK 10 years ago, it clearly isn’t today as we witness the continued demise of the agency distribution channel at the hands of direct writing Insurtechs.
Some good News
Progress has been made, and continues to be made by vendors that support the independent agency distribution channel. Many of the companies mentioned above do offer agency level web forms that feed the lead data into the agency’s multi-rater, notifying the agency of the lead and speeding up the quoting process. Some automatically pull in 3rd party underwriting information as well, allowing the on line shopper to validate the information while improving the odds of the agency receiving a complete quote submission from the prospect.
Close but No Cigar
Ok that’s just a dated expression but I think you get what I mean. To use another analogy, comparing multi-rater agency level web forms to the AI driven quote and bind web forms of Insurtechs, is like comparing the first place and second place winners of a prestigious horse race which was decided by a photo finish. The truth is 1st place winners are always remembered and make the lions share of the prize money even if they win by only a nose. So, what can agents do to start placing 1st place more often than 2nd? For the answer I will continue to use a few more horse analogies, so be warned.
You must always put the Horse before the Cart
As previously mentioned, to be truly effective, agency use web forms, regardless of being Q&B capable or not, must be available down to the local producing associate agent. These same web forms should tie back to the associate agent’s bricks and mortar agency principal’s location as well. It is well known that successful agencies have multiple local producers that serve many different communities within their state(s) of operation; many of which actually work remotely from their homes. For the purpose of my analogy, these local producers and their personalized agency web forms are the horses. How their web forms get found are the various carts that the horse pulls. Cart examples include the producer’s own social media accounts, email accounts and any DMCO (Digital Marketing Co-Operative) in which she participates. The more producer web forms that are in circulation the more business the agency brings in. Additionally, these same hungry producers are much more willing to make themselves available to discuss insurance, answering the calls from prospective clients late into the night and/or on weekends, unlike the agency principals who have already paid their dues years before.
Now about those Carts….
I promise this is the end of the horse and cart analogies. The carts that our horses pull are important. Why? Because they are hauling people and/or cargo which generate the revenue in order to pay for the oats and care for the horses! Translation: No matter how good your producer level web forms are, if they’re not getting found they’re of no value to the producer, her agency principal, or the insurance companies they’re representing. This is the reason why all appointed producers must utilize their web forms in every media resource at their disposal. As previously stated, examples include, the producer’s own social media accounts, emails, and any DMCO (Digital Marketing Co-Operative) she wishes to join. If the agency principal subscribes to his/her own 1Lead1Buyer account, like the owner of FloridaInsurance.com does, then the local producer could get found on the agency principal’s web site, all within her community’s zip codes where she lives and works. This is possible since 1lead1buyer.com is a SaaS that can be utilized by any service industry DMCO or insurance agency franchise-partnership where multiple producers are spread out through the state(s).
Agency use portals while still needed, will not be enough to stop the decline of market share currently held by the agents in all but mid to large commercial markets. Consumer expectations demand 24/7 access to both service and new business via on-line transactions. The survival of the agency distribution channel along with the vendors and carriers that support and rely on them must rapidly adopt the technologies that meet these consumer expectations.