Insurtechs trying to replace the broker and disrupt the traditional insurance structure have leaned heavily on a variety of technologies and innovations.
According to Agency Nation, the main strategy that these companies are using to disrupt conventional insurance agencies is attacking the customer loyalty loop — the personal connection that a customer and an independent agency share.
These companies target the customer loyalty loop by offering faster turnaround times, better communication options, and easier access to information for customers. The result? An improved customer experience that encourages customers to switch their allegiance.
In order to stay relevant and retain customers, insurance agents and brokers must double-down on customer experience by becoming risk advisors. By providing their customers’ knowledge, guidance, and experience on matters related to complex risk and insurance decisions, they will remain valuable in ways that direct insurers (and even other agencies ) are incapable of becoming.
Go beyond transactional agency relationships
Too often, agencies get in the habit of pushing the clients to purchase and don’t really nurture the relationship. Known as Transactional, these relationships become harder to retain because they’re focused on one result: the customer purchasing the product (or policy). A better approach to take with clients is Relational — a focus on the quality of the relationship with the client.
Becoming an advisor to your client starts with adding value and knowing what to offer them is just the foundation. According to Sitkins Group, 15% of agencies achieve the “Gold” status — they are trusted advisors to their clients. They do a good job of analyzing coverage gaps and provide excellent reactive service as well as some proactive client services. Customer retention sits at 90% or higher.
But you can take this role a step further. Be proactive rather than reactive. Sitkins found that the top 5% of agencies — “Platinum” agencies — were “indispensable risk partners with their clients.” They carefully assessed and considered client risk. The clients believed that they couldn’t run their business without their agent. The retention rate was high, at 95%.
If your own agency is not yet in the Platinum category, or even Gold, here’s how you can expertly advise your clients.
1. Reduce operational inefficiencies.
It’s difficult to understand client needs and provide expert advice when you’re focused on accomplishing daily manual tasks. First, become more efficient in your operations so you have more time to spend on being an advisor.
There are lots of cumbersome, manual tasks that your agency can digitize or automate to free up time and resources. For example, sending email reminders over and over again to clients reminding them to complete their renewal forms is something that can be automated via technology. Another area with a high level of inefficiency is the prepping of renewal forms and applications. Agencies looking to provide a white-glove approach will devote a significant amount of time to pre-filling the new year’s forms for their client. This is another area that can be automated using technology.
Agencies who have digitized and automated their application and renewal process, including the examples above, have been able free up their team’s time and elevate themselves into true risk advisors. One way to digitize and automate the renewal process is to leverage an online portal. The right portal will help by providing tools such as:
- Form Library. Store all your insurance applications and forms within an online portal. When you email the insured, you can direct them to this portal — all documents and spreadsheets are organized in one place and are easy to locate.
- Smart Forms. Paper and PDF supplemental carrier applications are time-consuming and inefficient. Use digital “smart” forms so clients can fill out everything online in a “TurboTax” like experience — from basic information to exposure data.
- Automations. Automapping common answers on forms, automated marketing messages for customer engagement, and automated reminders are all forms of automation that reduce the amount of time you have to spend on manual tasks.
- E-signatures. Avoid having your clients print, sign, scan, and email their applications back to you. E-signatures mean that the insured can easily complete the form online and quickly/securely return to you.
Research firm IDC, found that inefficiency costs companies anywhere from 20% to 30% of their revenue every year. By using technological innovations such as the ones above, your agency can avoid the high costs of inefficiency and also the cost of customer dissatisfaction.
2. Specialize in a certain industry.
To rightly serve the customer, you must know the customer. Customer specialization is an excellent way to understand client needs, segment customers, and improve customer lifetime value.
When you specialize in certain lines (i.e. Cannabis, Transportation, Construction, etc.), you have your finger on the pulse of these industries and the risk they present, which ultimately allows you to become a trusted risk advisor. You also naturally attract a certain type of customer which helps you build your expertise. After all, specialized companies are going to prefer an insurance agent who understands their risk over one who is more generalized.
In addition, specializations help your agency become more efficient by focusing on your work. Rather than hopping from industry to industry trying to be a generalist, you’re able to apply your single domain of expertise across all your clients.
For example, let’s say you specialize in the Life Sciences industry. You consistently stay up-to-date with new medical regulations, developments, and understand how these changes will impact your insured. You also have regular conversations with clients about what coverage they need based on external and internal factors. As you regularly work across the same industry and deal with similar company problems, your growing expertise and specialized advice attracts other Life Sciences companies.
Take the following steps to become a specialized agency:
- Find the talent. Look for people within your own agency who have specialized in the past and who could train your other agents in your target specialization. Or, if you don’t have specialized agents in-house, hire agents or industry specialists. Make sure they have a clear understanding of the clients and risks in your target industry.
- Carve out your specialty. Check your current book of business. Do you already have a list of accounts that you could use to build your specialization (e.g. three medical companies)? The chart below is an example of different specialization options and how you could segment your customer specialization by a particular size (based on revenue), as well as possible pain points that you could advise on:
|Customer Specialization||Size (Revenue)||Example Pain Point|
|Cannabis||$2-$3 million||Client is unsure how to navigate the risk of the industry.|
|Life sciences||$2-$4 billion||Data breaches within medical companies have become prevalent.|
|Construction||$10 million-$1 billion||Confusing number of workers’ compensation packages available.|
|Trucking||$10-$15 million||FMCSA states that interstate truckers must meet minimum limits of coverage.|
- Review risks. Track industry news and updates on a regular basis (anything that might affect client exposure). Also, check your clients’ websites, social media accounts, and past application information for any internal factors that could hurt your client. Even better, schedule conversations with your clients. If the client has been with your agency for a while, find out if anything has changed in their business that might affect their coverage or policies.
- Build awareness. Advertise your agency’s value proposition or your USP (unique selling proposition). Unlike consumer-facing businesses, it’s harder for clients to differentiate between the insurance offerings of your company and your competitors. Make your value proposition (i.e. your specialization) apparent and also defendable. Incorporate your USP into your website messaging, email, and social media platforms. Also, ask your top 20% of specialized clients for referrals to drum up even more business.
By knowing your customers and advertising your value through specialization, you can offer more personalized advice to individual clients.
3. Establish an advising process.
According to a study by the Deloitte Center for Financial Services, “half of the buyers surveyed would not purchase coverage from an insurer without an agent or broker to shop for and advise them.”
Use this desire to your advantage. Create an advising process that you can replicate for different customers. As you establish your advising structure, consider the six dimensions of a trusted advisor.
Hit all of these dimensions by implementing the following advising practices:
- Keep detailed notes. Whenever you have conversations with clients, listen intently. Note what policies they have currently, what concerns they’ve expressed, etc. Also, to establish an emotional connection, note things they have going on in their personal lives. Log all this information in a secure place or consider logging it within your AMS or CRM. Refer back to these notes during client conversations.
- Know your client’s industry. Follow your clients on LinkedIn and other social media platforms. Especially if your agency is specialized, track news outlets and forums on their industry. What are the local market changes? If it’s a new client, demonstrate first that you recognize the client’s general industry, and establish credibility with your knowledge. The client shouldn’t have to tell you about events or changes in their industry.
- Communicate on a regular basis. Keep in touch with your clients (and not only when it’s convenient for you). According to a survey by the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents, “73% of customers want to hear from their current insurance provider more often than just at renewal.” Email, snail-mail, and phone calls are all viable communication options. Schedule reminders on your calendar for advising check-ins.
For actual advising, offer tailored, customized suggestions that match the client’s needs. What are some things that are separate from the core offering that you can advise on? You could suggest areas that clients might be exposed to that they don’t know about. Elaborate on the different options available. Explain the ins and outs of different types of insurance and demonstrate your competency right out of the gate.
Equip yourself to have detailed conversations about your client’s industry and risk exposure. Let’s say that one of your clients is a medical company and you discover that a major data breach occurred in the industry. Reaching out to your clients and informing them of the news, along with how they can prevent something similar happening to them, is a way to truly stand out as an advisor. A simple message such as, “I noticed that there was a large data breach with UnityPoint Health. Data for 1.4 million patients were accessed. Although you don’t store massive amounts of data, you do collect customer information that includes Social Security numbers. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself from a similar cyber attack.”
Other ways to build your status as a trusted advisor include:
- Give social proof on your website, such as case studies of clients you’ve helped in the past.
- Explain policies and coverage options in layman’s terms so the client can easily understand.
- Respond quickly to client questions on whatever channels clients use to reach out to you.
Use these tactics to establish authenticity and prove to the client that you actually care about them and their business.
Becoming a trusted advisor to your client means that you’re playing offense rather than defense. Invest substantial time in your clients, and have meaningful, in-depth conversations with them about their coverage. Consider yourself a valued resource rather than just a provider of basic policy information. By providing value that many direst insurers and even other agencies can’t provide, you’ll improve the customer experience and increase trust.