Mind the Gap
By Marc McNulty, CIC, CRM
CUSTOMER SERVICE GAPS: DO YOU NEED MORE TECH TO PROVIDE BETTER VALUE?
Focus on solutions that will allow you to better serve your clients
For the past three years, Mind the Gap has explored coverage gaps along with corresponding solutions. To change things up for the start of a new year, we’re going to shift our focus this month and look at customer service gaps. Specifically, we’ll explore whether your agency needs more technology to provide greater value to your clients.
Let’s face it: Agencies have access to more technology solutions than ever, but are these solutions right for your agency? Just because something new is available doesn’t mean it’s going to help your team sell more, provide better service, or deliver value (real or perceived) to your clients.
For example, consider these technology solutions that weren’t even on the radar screens of many agencies five years ago:
- Automated client emails based on transactions that are downloaded into management systems
- E-newsletters that are automatically sent to clients throughout the year
- Secure client portals containing policy documents, auto ID cards, certificates, and so on
- Client chat (and chatbots)
- Client texting for reminders, policy servicing requests, and more
- Measuring your Net Promoter Score among clients
Your agency’s leadership team might be excited about all the possibilities but not know where to start. Or your team might feel overwhelmed by the choices and find it easier to do nothing. Neither is a good place to be.
The starting point involves a two-step process. The first step is to find out what your clients want or need, and the second step is to find out what you can offer them.
To find out what your clients want or need, ask yourself a few key questions: What are your current client segments, and what segments are you going after? What is your retention rate, and do you know why your clients are staying with you (or leaving)? What do clients believe they are getting from your agency that they can’t get from a competitor?
Gone are the days when an agency management system, comparative rater, and word processor were the only tech gear an independent agency needed.
If you can’t readily answer these questions, or if you would like to go in greater depth with them, consider conducting a survey of accounts you would like to replicate. Also consider undertaking a SWOT analysis of your agency (SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). The results of these surveys should help you identify things your agency is doing well along with areas where you could improve.
Next, examine your agency management system and the processes you use to deliver policies and other documents to your clients. You may find that your system includes features that can be implemented at no additional cost to your agency.
Ryan Deeds, vice president of technology and data management at Assurex Global (and host of the Digital Broker podcast), espoused this idea during a Vertafore webinar titled “Connecting the Dots: Expert Tips from Carrier, Agency, and Industry Leaders,” where he said, “I actually don’t want more features yet; I really want to understand how do we leverage the features that we have today … effectively.”
Take stock of what you already have in your technology arsenal! This includes your agency management system as well as any other third-party systems. If you aren’t 100% confident that you know the capabilities of each system, reach out to your vendor sales reps and user groups (NetVU, Applied Client Network, and so on) to learn more about what your systems can do.
Once you’ve created a list of your existing capabilities, match those up with what you’ve identified as your client wants and needs. Perhaps you’re already doing everything right. If so, congrats! If your agency is like most others, you probably have some work to do. This means looking at additional solutions.
The independent agency market is flooded with a seemingly endless supply of tech solutions. Deeds made this point perfectly during the Vertafore webinar: “Tech is cool … but really, the vendors that win in the future are going to be those that invest in figuring out how to drive value at the desktop with their product. Right now, we’re inundated with product … there’s more crap coming at agencies than ever before; it’s so hard to understand what’s actually going to move the needle.”
For those of you who use or are familiar with Vertafore products, the name Joyce Sigler should ring a bell. Joyce is the systems intelligence manager and a client advisor at Jones & Wenner Insurance Agency in Fairlawn, Ohio, and probably knows Vertafore products as well as Vertafore employees. She was also on the webinar and offered great advice to those who are looking for a third-party solution to help them achieve their client service goals: “If the vendor shows the business solution rather than the features, it would be easier to adopt,” she said.
In other words, don’t get sucked in by vendors that wow you with their system’s features rather than tell you what problem their technology is solving! It’s easy to fall into this trap, and it can prove to be both costly and ineffective. Make sure that the proposed solution addresses a specific client need that is part of your strategic plan. Many of the great systems available offer solutions to problems you don’t even have, so don’t get swept off your feet by high-pressure sales reps who try to dazzle you with extravagant presentations.
Perhaps most important, make sure the vendor provides outstanding and comprehensive product support. Reach out to agencies that use their product. Ask for references directly from the vendor or from your professional networks, including user groups.
Implementing the solution
You’ve identified a client need, found a solution, and are ready to move forward. Now it’s time to ask the vendor how the implementation process will work. Deeds has a pearl of wisdom on this front: “Make your vendors give you a hell of a good implementation plan or don’t buy the product.”
That’s great advice. The last thing you want to do is invest capital in a new technology solution and then spend a significant amount of unplanned time attempting to deploy the product through a less-than-stellar implementation process. I’ve experienced this firsthand when, right before we purchased a product, the vendor switched from using a deployment platform with a live person to a series of YouTube videos. Although they decreased the implementation cost, it wasn’t enough to offset the frustration I experienced throughout the installation and implementation.
Not every product or system is “plug and play” or works “out of the box,” so if a vendor tells you it will work that way, ask: “What do I do if it doesn’t work that way?” Don’t accept vague responses or answers that don’t make sense to you.
Gone are the days when an agency management system, comparative rater, and word processor were the only tech gear an independent agency needed. We continue to see new and evolving offerings for payment processing, VoIP solutions, e-signatures, encrypted communications, automatic client communications, and more.
If you aren’t familiar with these solutions, reach out to your management system’s user group to get started. Or consider attending your user group’s annual conference (Applied Net 2020 is in Nashville and NetVU’s 2020 Accelerate is in Minneapolis; other management systems also have user groups).
These conferences offer educational breakout sessions that focus on current and upcoming system capabilities and also feature display halls with dozens of third-party vendors who are eager to impress you with their product’s features. It’s a great way to learn about all of the new technology in the industry—and it’s also a great way to get overwhelmed by it. The key is to keep in mind your agency’s needs and focus on solutions that will allow you to better serve your clients.
Marc McNulty, CIC, CRM, is a principal at The Uhl Agency in Dayton, Ohio, and has been with the agency since 2001. He divides his time among sales, marketing, technology and operational duties. Reach Marc at email@example.com