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Agencies not quite grasping what customers want in an insurance experience

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Attention agencies and brokerages: You are on notice.

Within the next two to four years, customers want the insurance space to catch up to the current marketplace and offer click-to-chat or click-to-call through smartphones and tablets, as well as e-signatures, PDF capabilities and comprehensive portals, according to a recent Market Insight Group report, sponsored by Applied Systems.

The report, “Adaptability: The insurance customer experience imperative in an online digital mobile society,” is based on a survey of 1,200 Applied System North American and U.K. agency/broker owners and customer service reps. From that data, the software provider says that in order for agencies and  brokerages to increase the quality of customer experience, they must be more accessible, more responsive and more personal with customers.

Four factors drive customer expectations, the report says: a shift in location of commerce from place to space; an expanding set of online information, search engines and review sites; continual growth of the number of mobile and smart devices; and continual proliferation of social media (click charts to enlarge).

There are four phases of known and potential customer interaction options:

Phase 3 is rapidly becoming the “new normal” of online digital communication, and to successfully compete, agencies need to acquire social media, digital brand marketing and content management skills to lure prospective customers and keep them engaged. Each phase augments, rather than replaces, the previous phase.

“If you think of Amazon, they are constantly reaching out to you, seeking feedback, making recommendations,” says Kris Hackney, executive vice president of customer experience at Applied Systems. “These digital firms have learned over time and have shown what it means to engage with the consumer and drive a conversation. We think that the independent agencies need to be cognizant of that and be ready to engage with their customers and prospects in ways they expect.”

The report recommends six steps to support the customer experience: 

How well do agencies meet customer experience expectations?

Across the board, survey respondents overwhelmingly say that increasing client retention is the main reason to strengthen customer experience. Other factors that drive an improved customer experience are increased cross-selling, client expectations, competition and internal plans.

However, three barriers prevent agencies from providing a stronger customer experience: time, staff and money.  

“I think one of the interesting and sobering things of the report is the realization from firms that they don’t always have the resources to do everything that they know they need to do,” Hackney says. “As they continue to learn about the possibilities, they are looking to make investments in the technology and in the overall staffing to drive customer experience. From our perspective, while tech can seem daunting, the investment to drive customer experience can seem large. The use of multiple channels, and the recognition of mobility will drive productivity over time.”

Accessing and interacting with agencies are the essential activities that customers engage in throughout their insurance journeys. Within the next four years, respondents say that e-mail (about 90 percent) and face-to-face (about 80 percent) interactions will be the most helpful, which indicates that agencies may be out of touch with what customers want.

“We are doubtful that F2F will be important for personal lines of P&C insurance in four years, whether for purchase, administrative service or claim notification. We also are doubtful that customers who have purchased commercial P&C insurance will be satisfied with F2F for administrative transactions or even investing their time in e-mail threads to get service interaction resolved,” the report says, and suggests click-to-chat and click-to-call as the most important interaction options within the next four years.

“Insurance agents are not thinking futuristically enough about where they need to be in the next couple of years,” Hackney says.

And interaction isn’t the only segment in which agencies fall short on realizing what customers actually want. Although agencies recognize the mobile value of e-signatures and PDF files, Applied asks agencies to take that a step further as clients will expect to start and complete the entire policy acquisition process on their smart devices, request consumer services using video connections and smart devices, and complete these tasks through apps.

Social media

Social media can level the playing field between small and large firms, the report says, and can be done with three best practices:

  1. Manage the agency’s brand and reputation.

  2. Monitor comments about the agency and correct errors­ — but never get into an argument. Use client comments to strengthen any perceived weaknesses.

  3. Provide information about the agency, its services and producers. Be prepared to answer questions.

Social media also can be used the wrong way:

  1. Using a social media site as a cold-call list.

  2. Engaging in a hard sell.

  3. Joining a site primarily to sell products.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook and LinkedIn are the top two social media sites. Within the next four years, YouTube will become an increasingly important social media site, as society moves from text to pictures to video over time.

What the insurance industry needs to do is keep doing what we have done, and that’s building our businesses through relationships,” Hackney says. “But take advantage of tech advancements that we have seen over the last 20 years. It’s a great way to grow the insurance industry and drive that level of engagement.”

See also:

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