Insurance Agents: Change is GOOD!

by Safeer Hassan - Chairman/CEO - Impowersoft on May 12, 2010 · 6 comments

To all my fellow insurance agents,

You have witnessed how our industry has changed over the last several years in all aspects including how we obtain new business, maintain the business we have, communicate with our prospects and customers, and much more.  The question is:

How have you modified your agency practices to adapt to these changes?

Insurance is becoming more and more retail.  Those days where everyone wanted to personally know their insurance agent prior to buying a policy are long gone.  Commercial insurance is the last hope in which relationship still plays a role in most cases, but even this will eventually die out.  Personal lines insurance, especially auto and home, have become more about ease of doing business and price than service, credibility and carriers.

Many of us don’t welcome change and this is completely natural.  However, at this point, if your book of business is not growing exponentially, just sustaining or worse, declining, it’s time to evaluate your agency and its practices and identify the areas where improvement is possible.  This has to be done with an open mind and you must realize now that not all endeavors will have a tangible ROI.  For some, based on the severity of your situation, I recommend the involvement of a third-party consultant who can assist you to get on track and up-to-date with current standards and best practices.  This should not be necessary for most if you and your colleagues are seriously willing to change.
Vote for Change
Here is a short list of some of the fixes I recommend.  A few may seem elementary, but I see these areas lacking day after day so I thought I would address them.

1.  Professional website design: I’m glad to see that most agencies have some sort of website these days; however, many are poor and seem homemade.  Even if you only want a one-page site with your basic information, make sure it looks good (appealing to the eye in layout and color scheme).  Many prospects may not scope out the insurance company you quote them with, but they are more likely to take a look at yours and this impression matters.  Most websites that people frequent belong to big companies who continuously spend tons of dollars to make sure they are utilizing the latest technologies and features to not only improve form, but also function.  This, knowingly or not, gets their eyes used to a certain look and feel making a poorly designed website stick out like a sore thumb.  So keep an eye on trends and update your look from time to time.

The other important factor has to do with the content on your website.  Make sure you post text which your visitors find useful and use as few words as possible.  Your main pages (home, about, products, services and contact) need to have content which is easy  to understand and is laid out well, preferably using bullet points rather than paragraphs.  Content is also crucial to SEO (Search Engine Optimization).  Where possible, use words and phrases by which you want to be found.

2. Corporate Email: I’m sorry to say that some agents still utilize email addresses through sbcglobal, gmail, etc., to run their businesses.  This is  a big no-no.  Your agency has a name and whether you have a live website or not, you should have a domain name and use email from that domain name only.  This goes for you and your entire staff.  It is not okay to use!  People are a lot more aware of these things nowadays so take a few minutes of your time and spend the small amount of money it takes to get this set up.  You may think no one notices, but they surely do.

Having an email address and not checking/using it also seems to be a problem for some.  Check your email regularly and respond in a timely manner, especially if it has to do with business/clients and comes during normal business hours.

3.  Automation: Every dollar spent on automating your agency, if done correctly, will save you money in many ways.  This includes administrative personnel costs, office supply costs and many other reductions in operating expenses.  Granted, the printer and physical fax machine will not completely disappear from our offices anytime soon, but their use is declining. For some, they’re already gone.  Use a good agency management system which supports a paperless environment and if possible, includes fax integration and task management capabilities.  Good task management systems reduce redundancy, provide accountability and easily allow you to track what your staff is doing and where they are along each step of the way, saving you time, money and headaches.

4.  Marketing: For most of us, regular post card and letter mailers from time to time just don’t have the same effect they used to.  If you want to snail mail a piece of marketing material to prospects, make sure it stands out (by size and colors used) and utilizes more personalized text for the recipient.  Only then will you see responses worth pursuing again.

Also, if you are not using the world of social media marketing, you are way behind.  Use of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are absolute musts for any credible agency so if you think they’re for children, you are mistaken.  Yes, there will be standards to uphold if these avenues are used so make sure you are on point with your statements, services, etc., because you risk tarnishing your agency’s reputation quickly.

5.  Sales: You can attempt all the marketing methods available but if you don’t have a good sales team and processes in place, you won’t see results.  Make sure you answer calls or return voicemails promptly during business hours.  Respond to emails in a timely manner.  Monitor your social media pages daily.  Fulfill your promises to your prospects and customers by getting back to them when you say you will, even if you have to let them know you need more time.  Make sure you and your team sound cheery, are respectful and show care for the agency and its clients no matter what’s going on in their lives outside of the office or even inside the office.

6.  Better renewal ratios: In a retail market, clients have the ability to shop their insurance on their own without any involvement from you so it’s better you don’t give them a reason to.  Unfortunately, obtaining a new customer today isn’t the income builder it used to be where you could rely on their renewals year after year.  Factors such as customer service issues, increased pricing, agency and/or carrier claims handling, etc., surely play a role in losing renewals, but this should be limited to a very small percentage.  What agents need to do is create a relationship with clients after the initial sale (yes, in reverse to what it was before) and then maintain this relationship.  Communicate with customers regularly by checking up on them (not always trying to sell them something), sending them newsletters, birthday/anniversary cards/phone calls, and more.  Don’t be scared to occasionally engage them in your business by asking them for feedback and sending them surveys to complete.  This will allow them to get to know you better so the relationship is reciprocal.  You have a brand to build and you want your agency name to be the first to come to mind when they hear the word “insurance.”  Constant connections on multiple levels through various means, without becoming bothersome, will help.

7.  Make it easy to do business with you: The web allows customers and prospects to do business on their own terms and when they have time.  Provide a way for customers to submit requests for quote (live, online quoting capabilities would be even better) through your website.  Use a live chat service through your website.  If your agency management system has a client portal option, buy it!  Customers will be able to submit requests through this portal, download their own policy information, ID cards, etc.

Outside of the web, have nice and simple application and request forms which you can fax/email to customers to complete and send back to you.

8.  Get organized: Have written procedures in place for you and your staff to follow for all aspects of your business.  This insures consistency and prevents things from falling through the cracks.  Make sure your team knows how to use your agency management system well and is trained to make note of anything and everything.  If you utilize a PBX system, make sure it functions like you want it to and voicemails are checked regularly.

9.  Stay on top of your business: As agency principals, it’s important to know what’s going on in your agency.  You have a lot to manage but it comes with the territory.  It’s important to set aside time to review, track, evaluate and adjust if necessary.  Use the reporting tools your agency management system offers.  Monitor marketing campaigns closely to see what works and what doesn’t.  Set up analytics reporting for your website and see how people are finding you, what they’re looking at and if they are converted into prospects.

The insurance industry is massive and predominantly old-fashioned so it’s slow to react to the ever-changing marketplace.  However, you cannot afford to wait until you start seeing declines to react.  Stay abreast of shopping patterns and available technologies which can help your business prosper and run more efficiently.

Technorati Tags: corporate email, corporate website, voicemails, organized

  • Jamie Deapo

    I agree that agents have to acknowledge the change happening in the marketplace and take full advantage of today's technology. I do take exception to your statement that "those days where everyone wanted to personally know their insurance agent prior to buying a policy are gone". Insurance is becoming more and more retail because direct response companies like Geico have spent enormous amounts of advertising dollars turning insurance into a commodity. They do this because they realize the key to THEIR success is selling price. I believe consumers understand and want the professional advice and recommendations that independent agents and brokers provide. This is especially true in today's world where they are witnessing so much financial fraud and misrepresentation. Knowledgeable consumers with important assets to protect realize that there is more to purchasing insurance than price. Insurance policies are legal contracts and many times they include minor variations in the wording of certain coverage sections that dramatically alter how the policyholder is covered. Agents and brokers can identify these areas and help consumers find the policy that provides them with the protection they want and need. In addition to recommending the right coverage they intercede on behalf of their client when there is a claim to make sure it is handled quickly and fairly.

    • Safeer Hassan

      Jamie: I agree with you in that the selling price should not be the primary basis of obtaining new business. Agents need to be selective when going after carrier appointments and thoroughly analyze policy language on behalf of the client in order to adequately protect their most valuable assets. Producers should know their competitor's policy terms and advise prospects of differences to earn the business, ideally. Unfortunately, this approach is more effective in outbound sales and far less on sales driven through internet leads, especially personal lines.

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  • My observation, for what it is worth, is that in addition to fulfilling the fixes you list, agents that market successfully also can articulate who their target customers are. This is somewhat easier to do if the focus is a commercial class of business like artisan contractors or accounting firms. But those agencies that are growing in personal lines are able to describe their target customer for that product line as well.

    One target market for personal lines could be the GEICO disaffected. It's hard for an independent agency to compete with a company that has a marketing budget well into the *nine* figures, heck, GEICO's daily SEM budget alone pushes a quarter million. But GEICO suffers a churn rate that would put most independent agencies out of business and provides a lot of opportunity for agencies ready to pick up these customers on the rebound.

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