Increase market share by using digital tools
For insurance agents today, standing still and doing business the way they’ve always operated is not an option. They must be keenly focused on the future. Many are actively shifting the mix of products sold, growing their commercial books, or expanding into life or financial services. Others are considering an exit, selling or merging with another agency. Most agencies are surveying the competitive landscape, making note of the emerging contenders in the personal lines and small commercial categories, including direct writers and digital agencies.
Agencies need to go beyond static websites—those that just list information like a brochure—and develop interactive websites that allow users to generate content.
Beyond the business, from a technology standpoint, a variety of tools can help improve customer service and grow market share. Most of these solutions are readily available, inexpensive and easy to use. Yet many agents have been slow to act, unsure of where to start.
Ask any independent agent about the foundation of their business and they’ll tell you it’s all about the personal relationship they offer customers, providing them with one-on-one service and deep domain knowledge. But in today’s world, that is not enough. The personal attention must be backed by a solid digital technology infrastructure. Cold calls, faxes, filing cabinets, and mailing insurance documents, such as policies and ID cards, are going away. Agencies are due for an upgrade to a digital infrastructure—one that is built using tools that provide the on-demand service customers crave and automates routine tasks, allowing agency staff more time to provide personal customer service when handling complex and unique insurance needs.
What is the agency digital infrastructure?
A digital infrastructure consists of solutions that are consumer-facing as well as agent-facing, front office and back office. It includes technologies that improve the customer experience, such as a mobile-friendly website, comparative rater, client portal, mobile app, and social media. It also consists of tools that help agents manage their workloads, follow leads, and close new business, such as an agency management system, lead management, customer relationship management (CRM) system, marketing automation platform, and analytics/reporting dashboard.
These tools are the core for any agency, but the business also has to be flexible, so it can accept new functionality when it becomes necessary or pivot when certain methods are not working correctly. For example, an agency might want to branch out from its current network of clients or marketing tactics and try to reach new prospects through social media advertising, paid media, and referral marketing campaigns.
Knowing where to begin and what tools to adopt can be a challenge. Here are the three areas to focus on first:
Mobile—it’s more than just an app. Mobile capabilities are more than a nice-to-have feature, yet few agencies have these in place today, putting them at a distinct disadvantage in the market. According to Google, people spend more time searching on their mobile devices than they do on desktops. Consumers want access to insurance information anytime, anywhere—which often means when they are not at home in front of a computer. With mobile capabilities, agents can offer clients the experience they require.
Creating an effective mobile strategy can be challenging. Apps may look and sound cool. Many third-party vendors try to convince agents that a mobile app is the solution to all of their technology problems. While apps can be useful for some insurance processes, such as a carrier app that allows users to quickly upload evidence to support claims adjusters or an app from an insurtech that allows comparative rating, they are extremely limited. Agents cannot rely on these applications as the ultimate solution to reaching customers and prospects on their phones.
Most agents serve as diversified advisers to their customers. They are not limited to a singular function. Therefore, they need to consider a mobile experience that caters to customers’ growing demand for efficiency that also takes into account the dimensions of their relationship with their clients.
The mobile strategy should be comprehensive, embracing all the capabilities of a smart device. Start with a mobile-responsive website—meaning that the website can easily be viewed and browsed on a mobile device. Clients should be able to communicate with their agents via text messaging, in addition to phone calls and emails. Agencies can also utilize text messaging as another outlet for marketing and advertising. Click-to-chat and rate-to-bind functions that are easily accessible on desktop websites also need to be available when the customer is interacting with the site on a mobile device. With these capabilities, the agent can provide a guided experience to drive efficient interactions that include rate, quote, bind, claims processing, and access to customer and policy information.
As the agency’s mobile strategy evolves, its business operations and customers will embrace the ease of completing insurance transactions. For example, clients will be more comfortable texting their agents about simple insurance questions instead of calling and leaving messages, enabling them to receive a reply more quickly. Consumers can easily buy and bundle commodity products through quick point-and-click steps. After an accident, the insured can take pictures of the damage with a smartphone and upload them to the client portal, which they can access either through the mobile-responsive website or through the agency’s app. A comprehensive mobile strategy enables an agency to improve its customer experience and provide the on-demand access consumers desire, allowing it to grow business and increase market share.
Create a strong digital presence that engages and also gets your agency found
Having a strong digital presence is more than just having a website. It means that the agency not only is accessible online but is present on the Internet. This includes first-page and location search engine rankings, and consistent name, address, and phone information across local directories such as Google listings or IIABA’s member directory. It also includes managing targeted paid media campaigns, content deployment through social channels, a responsive and guided customer experience for all devices and browser types, interconnectivity of offline tactics with online landing experiences that are tracked, and virtual meetings and webinars on products and areas of expertise. The agency should not only be accessible by those who know its website’s address, but by those who are searching for key insurance terms or particular areas of coverage.
Digital presence starts with a website. It is vital for every agency to have a website—a large number of consumers begin their insurance research online. But just having a site is not enough. This is the initial interaction that most consumers will have with the business, and it is important to make a good first impression. Agencies need to go beyond static websites—those that just list information like a brochure—and develop interactive websites that allow users to generate content. This should serve as the digital storefront and should be the home base for media campaigns, referral programs, social and email marketing campaigns, and offline advertising.
The website should allow consumers to easily search for the products that will fulfill their insurance needs. For example, site visitors should be presented with catered content that matches their search intent, such as home or auto insurance. The site should then immediately funnel them to a page or form that allows them to submit information about themselves, their desired coverage areas, and possible products of interest. This will then enable them to be contacted by an agent to discuss their insurance needs further, direct them to a rater where they can compare different options, or, if they are a returning customer wishing to buy additional coverages, provide access to a client portal. Agencies might even want to consider a pop-up chat functionality—if they have the personnel to staff it—where an experienced agent can guide the customer through his or her search of the agency’s website.
The design of the website should balance the user interface with the user experience to lend a guiding hand to arrive at a conversion point. Though the look and feel of the site is subjective, and will vary from agency to agency depending on its own personal brand, all sites should incorporate American with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance requirements content that attracts search engines. Incorporate human intellect such as videos and photos, and security so the consumer can feel at ease to disclose the personal information needed to complete transactions and get serviced accordingly.
Agencies should refrain from including very detailed information about all of their products. Instead, provide just enough to inform consumers about different offerings and encourage them to reach out for further detail.
After the agency has built a strong, engaging website, the next step is to improve search engine optimization (SEO) so consumers can find it. Online content is still king; however, agencies need to be strategic with the words that are used—search engines and devices can now interpret intent. For example, during the advent of search, it was enough to repeat keywords that reflected products and services. But over time, search engine providers realized companies abused this practice and then altered the algorithms to be more sophisticated. Today, the agency’s site must focus more on keyword categories and associated ancillary terms that help support the intent of its primary keywords. Agencies should also leverage business-to-business (B2B) partnerships, associations, and charities, and encourage them to link to the agency’s site from their domains. This increases the page’s rank and establishes the agency’s involvement as a local contributor.
The last key piece of a strong digital presence involves social media engagement. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are great referral sources for the agency’s web assets, as well as humanization tools that demonstrate that the business and its staff are real people. Activity on these platforms should not be about selling the latest new product or the value of bundling, but rather showcasing another facet of the agency or providing helpful information to its community of followers. For example, the agency could demonstrate its community involvement by reminding followers that hurricane season is approaching or that it will be volunteering at the local shelter. Social platforms should be used as a tactic to build credibility, obtain peer reviews to learn what the agency is doing well and what areas need improvement, and act as an additional source for referrals.
Close more leads with a robust CRM system
Most independent agents manage their day-to-day workflow with an agency management system (AMS). While these platforms help with daily insurance transactions, such as downloading policy information from carriers or other third parties or keeping track of a client’s claim status, when it comes to managing leads and shepherding a prospect from referral to close, many have been designed to support the back office and lack the necessary functionality to nurture the prospect/customer relationship.
That’s where CRM functionality comes in. CRMs focus solely on customer relationships and organize, prioritize, and prescribe prospecting workflows while retaining all interactions and eventually customer records. They help ensure that a lead doesn’t slip through the cracks, notifying the agent when it is time to reach out again with products and services that fit the prospect’s insurance needs. They also keep track of communications with the prospect to ensure that the agent does not become a nuisance through a bombardment of sale messages.
Agents should look for CRMs that can be integrated with the agency management system. This gives them access to a solution that can perform pre- and post-sales as well as marketing activities that continually communicate with prospects and customers. The CRM/AMS bundle should also include lead development, prospect nurturing, rate, quote and bind along with automated drip marketing.
Upgrading to a digital infrastructure is more important than ever. Independent agents have a unique opportunity to increase market share using digital tools. These technologies support agents’ day-to-day operations, while complementing agents’ customer service skills, enhancing the overall customer experience. Agents who can smoothly transition—both themselves and their customers—into the digital world, while maintaining the human element through exceptional customer relations, will maintain their competitive edge in the evolving market.
Jason Walker is managing partner at Smart Harbor. He oversees the strategy, development and delivery of the company’s technology solutions and analytics platforms for the insurance market. He brings significant insurance and business-to-business technology marketing experience to his role. He was previously founder and executive of People To My Site, a company that developed digital marketing programs for automotive dealers and franchises. He is currently an advisory council member for the Insurance Digital Revolution, an industry organization focused on advancing digital technology adoption among independent insurance agents.