Consumers crave authenticity over artificial intelligence
In June, I attended a conference that hosted several hundred of the industry’s most forward-thinking insurance professionals. Our company was co-sponsoring the event, which aimed to help agents prepare for the next generation of insurance consumers. Everything was going well; agents were learning new things, sharing ideas, and even enjoying a craft beer or two.
Then it was as if someone at the party suddenly yanked the cord from the jukebox.
A company was showcasing new technology that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help sell more policies. Following their presentation, you’d think that many of the agents saw Keanu Reeves bust through the door and tell them the matrix was going to take their jobs. They were spooked. There was no way they could enlist robots in their office to do what these guys were doing. They didn’t have millions of dollars to invest in cutting-edge technology.
They were suddenly insurance dinosaurs, and they were in trouble.
Or so they thought.
After witnessing their reaction to that presentation, I became aware of a deeper myth held among some independent agents: that they are at odds with technology and an increasingly digital culture. And that clients would soon prefer interacting with a computer or nameless rep than a local agent.
[C]ustomer behavior is moving toward genuine relationships, and away from faceless automation. The agent of the future will embrace technology, and implement tools that improve their capacity to establish and maintain meaningful relationships.
This concern is reasonable, when you consider the recent talk of world-dominating insurance companies and their armies of algorithms and robots. But rather than waiting for a hypothetical tipping point when innovation may render them obsolete, today’s insurance agents should embrace technology. They should be excited about the new tech available to them and their position in today’s market. Automation should enhance the agents’ ability to connect with their clients, not make it obsolete.
Positioning—zig when they zag
The insurance industry is engaged in a rat race to attract the modern consumer. The trend is to create tools and processes that make buying and managing insurance more convenient. Ultimately, it seems, the goal is to make everything as simple as pushing a couple of buttons on a smartphone. Leading the charge are the direct carriers with their phone apps, do-it-all websites, and cute mascots that hope to reassure you that they’re a friendly (and totally not faceless) corporation.
This often prompts independent agencies to feel like they need to play catch-up, so they focus their energy on obtaining the same technology as the big guys. After all, this is what consumers want, right?
Not exactly. Although convenience is important, consumers today are craving personalization and meaningful interactions with businesses more than anything else. In 2015, the Huffington Post reported that, above all, Millennials—and their $200 billion in annual buying power—are seeking “authentic messages, authentic brands, and authentic interactions.” We are seeing a move toward people making use of local businesses, as they desire interaction with real human beings, not faceless corporations.
This is good news for insurance agencies, as they are positioned to benefit from this shift in culture. An agent is an actual person—as opposed to a random representative—who knows the customer, puts customers’ interests first, and has their back, when needed.
Tech tools to help, not hinder
I’m not suggesting that insurance agents ditch technology all together. Quite the opposite, in facI encourage agents to adopt innovation that aligns with their strengths. Good agents are known for having personal and lasting relationships with their clients. They are known for providing excellent communication and service. They are known for offering choice and insurance that meets individual needs. The technology they implement should improve their capacity to deliver on these characteristics, rather than work against them.
Embrace and enhance efficiency
In any business, technology that helps improve the efficiency of day-to-day operations is a must. Insurance agencies can easily get bogged down if they don’t have the right systems in place to keep them organized and automate common tasks. This means investing in software that makes the agent’s job easier and gives them more time to focus on things that improve their bottom line.
At the top of the list here is an agency management system (AMS). It should be tailored to the insurance industry, easy to use, and, above all, it must manage data effectively. The best systems are able to integrate with other technologies that bring their own advantages and core functionality.
Make your customers feel heard
An agent’s client base is their most important asset. Not only do clients provide recurring revenue, but they also shape an agency’s reputation and its ability to attract more customers moving forward. Technology now exists that can automatically measure client loyalty and put agents in control of overall retention and word-of-mouth. At Rocket Referrals, we believe in the Net Promoter Score (NPS), because it provides an accurate picture of how agencies are performing in the eyes of their customers.
Agents can collect client feedback, gather testimonials, pinpoint clients at risk of leaving, and identify trends within the agency. These metrics are invaluable for agencies that seek to better connect with customers in ways that are important to them. Engaging clients for feedback not only signals a customer-centric business, it provides the agency with information needed to spot trends and provide a more tailored and authentic experience to their clients.
This may be technology, but it is designed to help you connect with your clients and for them to feel heard.
Communicate on a human level
Research has proven that clients rank regular and meaningful communication above all else, when evaluating their insurance agency. Yet, although most agencies understand the importance of reaching out to clients, regular communication falls to the wayside when the agency grows. This often results in clients shopping for new insurance because they feel as if their agent doesn’t care about their relationship. And after all, what’s the point of having a nimble, independent agency if you just ignore your clients like the big guys do?
The challenge for agents is finding a way to communicate with clients on an individual basis, rather than sending impersonal mass emails or newsletters. The solution is using systems that combine loyalty data collected from the NPS with other client details to deliver very personalized and targeted communication. The objective is to automate emails and direct mail that meet very specific goals of the agency. This includes improving retention, increasing online reviews, and inspiring referrals, to name a few. This way, you automate your communication, but the customer feels cared for individually. Win win.
Other technology helps agents improve efficiency when answering and returning phone calls and email. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems can now plug directly into a management system and provide agents with important client details within seconds of a call coming in. I cannot overstate the importance of effective communication. Any system that helps agents communicate more effectively with their clients, while remaining authentic, is worth considering.
Embrace the tech, but keep it meaningful
Insurance agents’ competitors will try to convince them that they are on the wrong side of technology. But customer behavior is moving toward genuine relationships and away from faceless automation. The agent of the future will embrace technology, and implement tools that improve their capacity to establish and maintain meaningful relationships.
Carl Maerz is the co-founder of Rocket Referrals, an automated communication strategy that helps agencies improve their referrals, retention, reviews and relationships. He aims to help local agencies leverage their advantages over direct carriers by replacing common industrial myths with relevant and practical advice. Contact Carl at firstname.lastname@example.org