Please set up your API key!

The Rough Notes Company Inc.



December 30
13:17 2021



How can program providers and others better take the pulse of their “lifeblood”?



By Steve Bristow

Program administrator/managers and insurance carriers must make it a priority to create opportunities for the voice of the independent agent to be heard on a range of business topics: products, underwriting and service. With life in a remote world during 2020 and 2021, though, some companies deprioritized this step because they were in survival mode.

In hindsight, the pandemic slowdown provided a chance to effectively use digital formats to gather agent opinions without ever hindering the feedback loop. Not only did this continue to garner good insight on a range of topics, but it also gave a newfound opportunity to connect with agent partners—even as in-person visits were off the table.

Many insurance program managers and carriers—US Assure included—have stated that independent agents are our “lifeblood.” They’re critical to our business. Without them, we don’t exist as we are today. We view agents as vitally important in building new products while also advancing and enhancing products and systems.

The place to start with capturing and using agent feedback is to home in on an objective. Capturing feedback takes strategy, time, and commitment. Lacking a goal means an insight-gathering project can wander and ultimately peter out without generating results. The principles apply broadly and relate to capturing input in many areas and from other audiences.

As we seek feedback on key topics such as products and technology, we start by asking: “What’s the objective?”

What’s difficult for insurance providers is that success often breeds complacency. Successful organizations can unknowingly adopt the mindset of being comfortable with their offering because they’ve issued it profitably for so long. In fact, I’d argue that it’d be easy for a company to say: “Well, we’ve got this down. We know what we want to do. We know what the independent agent wants, and this is the product we’re going to give them.”

By contrast, it’s vital to consistently engage independent agents in order to assess your progress as well as their needs. Overall, the objective in getting that feedback is to make sure you’re able to give them an experience that meets their expectations.

Feedback helps make sure the product stays relevant, coverages work for customers as their needs change, and the quote-and-issue process is as simple as possible. Further, understanding opinions about claims outcomes allows us to extend evaluation of policy performance and support through the entire lifecycle of the account.

Companies interact with agents over the phone. For instance, we field 700 to 1,000 such phone calls per day. Through the years, we’ve always used these touch points to listen and learn. When an agent has feedback or can tell us something we can do better, that’s valuable. But we’ve evolved into formalizing feedback processes. This includes an internal practice where we assign subject matter experts and leaders to that feedback. They’re responsible for reviewing the suggestions, gauging how and what the company can do, and reporting back to the agent.

For instance, builders risk policies tend to be made up of relatively small transactions that agents want to quickly complete because they don’t have a lot of time. After agents have had a full experience with a carrier or program administrator—whether it’s submitting an application, quoting coverage and even working in their online system—it’s a good time to ask them to rate their interaction.

Three other feedback avenues that can be effective include:

Ask for feedback immediately following the transaction. For in-stance, customized Net Promoter Score surveys can be released when an agent has completed an application, received a quote, or issued a policy. Surveys sent by email can ask, “Did the product meet your needs?” or, “Is there something better we could do from a product perspective?” or, “What about the coverages?” and, “How was the service?” The survey also can ask how the underwriter or claims professional that worked on the account performed.

Conduct workshops via video meetings and conference calls if you can’t arrange an in-person visit. During these one-on-one sessions, a representative may provide training for the agents but also reserve time for dialogue to address pain points. This dual agenda tends to be valuable in strengthening the relationship and getting more context about the input beyond what you’re able to obtain in a one-way digital survey.

Capturing feedback takes strategy,

time, and commitment. Lacking a goal

means an insight-gathering project can wander and ultimately peter out without generating results.

Start a producer/agency council. This gathering, which we call our “Distributor Advisory Council,” gives a face-to-face interaction with a group of agents and the company. Started at US Assure in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, 30 agency representatives from across the country participated.

Made up of key agents who do a lot of business with us, the agent council is a format for deeper and broader conversations directly with organizations’ employees who manage the customer experience. Our marketing department organized these meetings, bringing in subject matter experts from multiple departments, not just executive level participation.

The council had set questions and our team sat back and listened. There was no preaching. It wasn’t us telling them what they should think or how things are going. It was: “What do you need? What works? What doesn’t?”

Our recent session garnered more than 80 points of opportunity for the company to consider—a positive and hefty result. These were comprised of system issues, product improvements, communication preferences and others. For example, agents asked for a visual tool to help them understand coastal eligibility, which can vary widely by company with each having a distinct process. In turn, we easily created maps in PDF format for each territory. Delivering the simplest of tools that agents have directly asked for is a win-win.

A vital part of the process was committing to dates to review the ideas then providing updates back to agents. We established internal procedures to manage the projects and sent follow-up emails to external council members to inform them of the progress we made as a result of their involvement.

Starting a council during the pandemic was interesting, but it turned out to be really meaningful. Many in the industry, including us, value face-to-face discussions for a better experience. We considered postponing the agency council, but agents were still willing to do it. So, we switched to a virtual meeting. We were able to demonstrate the value we place on the voice of the agent no matter the circumstances.

With all this said … to be the best at what you do, you must make sure that customer needs and expectations are big drivers for the objectives of your organization.

The author

Steve Bristow is senior vice president and head of operations for US Assure, which exclusively distributes, underwrites and services Zurich’s builders risk insurance program across the United States. For more information, visit

About Author

Rough Notes Editor

Rough Notes Editor

Related Articles






Philadelphia Let's Talk - Click Here

Spread The Word & Share This Page

Trending Tweets