INSURANCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND MORE
Customer Experience – #1 Strategy for Building Brand Loyalty
As the insurance marketplace continues to evolve and consumer choice grows, customer experience is becoming a leading factor defining brand equity and building customer loyalty. Customer experience is defined by how our customers perceive their interactions with our organization throughout the customer lifecycle, from brand awareness to purchasing products/services to fulfilling on-going needs for support and services.
According to a recent Gartner survey, 89% of companies surveyed plan to compete primarily on the basis of customer experience by 2016. In an industry established on personalized advice and service, today’s independent insurance agencies and brokerages need to create a customer experience framework that anticipates customer needs, offers insight and knowledge and fulfills that need, ultimately earning trust and loyalty during the process.
To develop a customer experience framework, agencies and brokerages should consider these steps and take note of companies that have excelled in these areas:
Define the brand – First, establish or reaffirm the overarching ideas that represent the brand. Agencies and brokerages should use this as an opportunity to emphasize their role as a trusted advisor. By building a brand story, agencies and brokerages increase trust and customer loyalty.
- Who does it well: Nike.
Whether representing world-class professional athletes or building local playgrounds out of recycled shoes, Nike has built and maintained its brand around sportsmanship and health. Alongside the swoosh symbol, Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign perfectly embodied Nike’s image as being an innovative global icon associated with success. Using emotional marketing to put the customer first and tell stories of the hero who overcame physical obstacles, the brand is easy for most consumers to relate to and feel inspired by. This feeling of inspiration and Nike’s positioning as a brand helps everyman achieve goals establishes the company as a trusted advisor.
Know the players – Agencies and brokerages need to re-assess all of the touchpoints in their customer lifecycle, including internal employees, like CSRs and producers, and external communication channels, like online and mobile. As customer experience is defined by all interactions across an organization, agencies and brokerages need each stakeholder actively engaged in the customer experience framework development and execution to ensure consistency.
- Who does it well: Apple.
Apple has a knack for anticipating customer needs and making sure that every Apple employee is equipped to help manage these requests. Apple offers customers the ability to make support appointments at Apple stores to avoid having to wait in line. Once in the store, employees are encouraged to use the customer’s first name shared through their appointment request. In this way, the customer avoids having to introduce himself and the employee creates a personalized experience as if he knows the customer on a first name basis. From there, that employee is encouraged to pass discreet details, such as articles of clothing, about the customer to the other employees encouraging a first name greeting through all interactions with store employees. Even at the point of sale, there is no line to a checkout counter, the transaction can be completed from anywhere in the store. As this Forbes article points out, “the final impression you have is as warm as the first: You’re cared for every step of the way [by every employee], from cradle to credit card.”
Meet the new insurance customer – Agents and brokers looking to build their book of business are focused on the next wave of insurance consumers – the millennials. With an evolving knowledge of the defining characteristics of baby boomers and Generation X, agents and brokers need to shift their focus to millennials to understand their preferences. Whether a baby boomer or millennial, agencies and brokerages should continuously evaluate customer segments and how their varying needs will impact customer experience.
- Who does it well: Zendesk.
Zendesk, a global customer support company, has implemented multiple best practices to attract and retain millennials as consumers. Mikkel Svane, founder and CEO of Zendesk, was interviewed in a recent Forbes article saying millennials are “more likely to tweet about their problem and share their experience with their friends and followers, which makes it hard for companies that aren’t as savvy on social media to handle.” By investing more in these channels and being present where millennials communicate, they can quickly respond to this tech-savvy generation. On top of this, they’ve recognized the need for millennials to want personal conversations and interact by phone. Their approach to phone conversations is not to quickly resolve the issue, but to develop meaningful conversations and act as a trusted advisor. “[We’ve always] tried to “touch” every customer and focus on the relationship more than the sale, and I think we’ve carried all those lessons with us as the company has grown” said Mikkel Svane.
This strategy to serve millennials echoes some of Applied’s findings based on a recent survey of millennials, which noted that 67% of millennial respondents said they call directly to interact with their insurance providers and 65% of respondents also said they preferred calling direct as opposed to other methods of communication.
Tap into technology – With the proliferation of mobile and anytime, anywhere access to information via the Internet, agencies and brokerages need to leverage digital technology to deliver multichannel customer service. This includes maintaining a branded, up-to-date website where clients can access the latest product information, and online client self-service portals. Social media also should be used to raise agency and brokerage brand awareness, as well as used as a channel to learn more about clients. Agencies and brokerages also can look to mobile apps to empower staff to service clients away from the office and for clients to use for self-service insurance needs.
- Who does it well: Delta.
Delta has invested in multiple technology opportunities to improve customer service. The Fly Delta app (ranked #1 airline app) allows customers to quickly check in and go paperless through security and gate ticketing with easy access to their eBoarding Pass. What’s even better is the app can keep customers engaged during their flights, giving them the ability to explore different Delta destinations, activities at various destinations, and entertainment options such as music and movies. While technically a robust app, it is easy to use and provides the self-service that customers expect.
Delta also uses social media to effectively communicate with customers. Have a question or concern about your flight? Tweet @DeltaAssist and their customer service team will quickly respond. From their mobile app to social media, Delta ensures technology can be used to streamline every touchpoint within each customer’s experience.
Measure and assess – It is important for agencies and brokerages to determine meaningful metrics at the beginning of the process to effectively measure and evaluate customer experience success and momentum. Measurement and analysis should be a continuous component of the customer experience, ensuring each element of the overall experience is seamless and consistent.
- Who does it well: Amazon.
Amazon’s customer-centric attitude and culture is what makes the experience with the company so great. In fact, Jeff Bezos makes sure all employees, no matter what department, know how to properly communicate with customers and cater to their needs. Amazon also makes their experience unique by using customer data collected during each interaction with their site. Amazon’s use of browsing history and recent purchases helps them predict who will order what and when. The use of “predictive analytics” allows them to use past buying patterns to ensure the right items are in stock and recommend alternate purchases.
Developing a customer experience framework requires multiple tactics and commitment to robust planning and process. Agencies and brokerages that develop their own multi-tactic customer experience framework will earn trust, loyalty and ultimately create clients for life.
What tactics are you using to enhance your customer’s experience? Share your thoughts below.
Kristin Hackney, executive vice president of customer experience, is responsible for Applied’s customer delivery strategy and operational execution for the Company’s Professional Services, Support and Cloud-based solutions. She is the former vice president of Worldwide Enterprise Solutions & Services for Chicago-based SPSS Inc., a leading global provider of predictive analytics software and solutions, now part of IBM.
Making Insurance Agencies’ Priorities a Reality – A Look into Accenture’s IA Survey
In the recent report “Evolving to Compete and Win in the Long-Term,” Accenture discusses the growing division between the independent agent and carrier relationship – one that is both simultaneously interdependent and competitive. In fact, 39% of independent agents saw carriers’ direct solutions (website and other direct-to-consumer channels) as their greatest source of competition.
To enhance their competitive value, participating independent agents named improving the customer experience and concentrating on providing higher value service to the existing client base as their number one business priority. Additionally, adding sales capabilities is the second priority – yet, with capital constraints, it is a difficult operational objective for many agencies to fulfill.
The report identifies a noticeable and critical discrepancy – agencies are prioritizing customer experience while placing less emphasis and investment in new technology capabilities, which are key in reaching today’s more tech-savvy consumers. To maintain the strength of the IA channel and lay the platform for dynamic growth, independent agencies need to harness the benefits of technology and digital capabilities to improve their customer experience and increase operational efficiency.
PropertyCasualty360 reviewed the survey and published 5 steps that agents can take to optimize their channels. Below I evaluate these key opportunities and how technology can support agencies’ top priorities.
1. Maintaining and improving customer loyalty
Property Casualty 360 says: “Independent agents should focus on providing differentiated services that are important to customers, and selectively choose carriers that have similar goals. Furthermore, independent agents can sharpen the focus on advisory services in order to put an agent in the position to give customers choices, while also assisting them in making sound decisions on complex insurance and financial offerings.”
My technology advice: Recent Accenture research confirms that customers trust the advice provided by independent agents more than others, which is a clear competitive differentiator for the IA channel. However, in order to maintain the trusted advisor role, agents need to have adequate time and insight into their clients to provide superior advice. Technology can streamline business operations and reduce time spent on administrate tasks, creating more time to focus on providing an improved customer experience to drive client loyalty.
Technology allows the agent to automate customer touchpoints, based upon historical and current activity, as well as predict future opportunities. For example, your system can automatically alert you when policy renewal premiums increase beyond a preset amount or percentage, prompting you to evaluate the policy for your client. Additionally, advanced technology can deliver insights into an agent’s book of business, allowing them to identify opportunities for better client coverage – which increases client retention and drives organic business growth.
2. Adopting an omni-channel approach to engage with customers on their terms
Property Casualty 360 says: “Integrating with the online distribution ecosystem, by becoming part of the growth of new and alternative channels, is one way an independent agent can adopt, fostering an omni-channel approach to business.”
My technology advice: Today’s consumer expects access to insurance information anywhere, anytime and carriers are clearly investing in providing this access. Agents need to evolve their customer service model to include multichannel servicing, extending client touchpoints to reach each client through their preferred channel – whether online, in person, or on the phone. By leveraging technology, agents can increase their mobility to service clients away from the office and can extend their online presence to include client self-service portals, providing access to insurance documents and claims processing 24/7.
3. Engaging in advice-oriented sales and services
Property Casualty 360 says: “While selling insurance products is the essential crux of an independent agent’s role, no less important is their ability to address customers’ needs holistically. Agents should work to provide advice for their clients on risk management and value-added services.”
My technology advice: In an effort to increase client retention and satisfaction, agents need to evaluate opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell their current client base, ensuring they provide more complete, full coverage and advice to clients while expanding their book of business. To maximize cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, agents need an advanced, modern agency management system that provides a single view into their entire client base across different products and regions.
4. Creating efficient, effective and adaptive agency operations
Property Casualty 360 says: “Making the most of capabilities provided by carriers, deferring low-value tasks to them while motivating producers to sell and serve customers is key in laying the groundwork for effective agency operations. Agents must also consider investing in new technology solutions that operate business through an integrated and highly efficient platform.”
My technology advice: Time is money. Leading agencies require advanced agency management systems with pre-built, best practices operational workflows that will streamline processes and reduce time spent on duplicate tasks. Additionally, agencies can leverage ancillary mobile and online technologies that extend access to information within the agency management system to producers via tablet devices, enabling them to service clients and prospects on-the-go, and to clients via online portals, allowing client policy and claims self-service.
For carrier-agency connectivity, Direct Bill Commission Reconciliation and Commercial Lines download are two examples of functions many agencies perform manually (at considerable payroll cost) when there are effective automated solutions. Automated Direct Bill Commission Reconciliation from carrier download can save many agencies up to 15% of their servicing payroll. Implementation and integration of these technologies can increase agency productivity and mobility, allowing agents to focus more time servicing clients and driving higher rates of business growth.
5. Leveraging data to achieve insight- driven actions
Property Casualty 360 says: “Agents need to apply basic analysis to current customer data and interactions to identify relationship building, cross selling and retention opportunities, Accenture claims.”
My technology advice: With the immense amounts of data agencies accumulate daily, insurance businesses’ agency executives are quickly and increasingly adopting new business intelligence (BI) strategies and product solutions needed to provide additional, data-driven visibility into their clients, prospects, internal operations and carrier relationships.
Agencies can leverage BI solutions to better understand “why something happened” – why one producer outselling another, why clients are based in a particular geography, and why one carrier is quoting more business than another, among other key business considerations – to make more informed business decisions. BI brings insights that will refine an agency’s decisions, permeate client, carrier and employee discussions, and ultimately create new business opportunities and more profitable relationships.
What are your thoughts on implementing new technologies? Do you feel technology can help your agency enhance its competitive value?
Michael Howe, senior vice president of product management, is responsible for the strategic direction of the Applied product portfolio. Howe joined Applied in 2013 with more than 20 years of experience in enterprise software. He formerly served as senior vice president of Marketing and Product Management at Aptean, a global provider of industry-focused enterprise software. Prior to Aptean, Howe held senior executive management positions at SAP and other leading software companies.
Top 3 Cloud Myths – What Does it Mean to You?
According to a new forecast from International Data Corporation (IDC), public IT cloud services spending will reach $56.6 billion by the end of 2014 and grow to more than $127 billion by 2018. While demand and spending for cloud services continues to trend upward, there still remains mystery and confusion surrounding the technology among some business and IT stakeholders.
Gartner recently highlighted some of the most discussed myths about the cloud, so I took a closer look at the top three myths that could potentially mislead your agency/brokerage.
The Cloud is Less Secure than On-Premises Capabilities
Gartner says: “Cloud computing is perceived as less secure. To date, there have been very few security breaches in the public cloud — most breaches continue to involve on-premises data center environments.”
Applied’s advice: In today’s more digitally connected world, maintaining security and access to critical business information is a top business priority. With a cloud system, your critical applications and data reside in a secure data center. Our data centers deliver redundancy for power and Internet access, and a physical infrastructure that offers greater protection from natural and man-made disasters and other unpredictable business interruptions. With 99.9% uptime, Applied data centers deliver both data security and business continuity. Most locally deployed environments do not have dedicated security professionals that are monitoring the health and safety of the data. Just having a firewall is no longer sufficient. It is necessary to maintain a comprehensive security program with multiple layers of defense and monitoring. Applied has this multi-layer approach and professionals that are looking out for the interest of all data that resides in the Applied Cloud.
The Cloud is Always About Money
Gartner says: “While it’s sometimes the case that the cloud always saves money, there are many other reasons cited for migrating to the cloud, the most common of which is for agility. Saving money may end up one of the benefits, but it should not be taken for granted.”
Applied’s advice: A cloud solution eliminates many requirements for hardware and software on premises and additional personnel to manage IT infrastructure. This frees up more time and money for core insurance activities like selling insurance. Additionally, your Internet-based applications and software update automatically with the cloud, so your business continually runs the latest applications without incurring delays or extra expenses that may be required with a manual updates. The cloud can deliver both cost savings and business agility.
Migrating to The Cloud Means You Automatically Get All Cloud Characteristics
Gartner says: “Cloud computing has unique attributes and characteristics. Gartner’s cloud attributes include scalability and elasticity; they use service-based (and self-service) Internet technologies; they are shared (and uniform) and metered by use. The most common use case for the cloud, however, is new applications.”
Applied’s advice: The flexibility of a cloud solution can be ideal for insurance agencies that need to scale their business quickly to meet changing needs such as a business acquisition or rapid growth. The cloud eliminates the additional time and expense it takes to add or integrate new IT capacity, including applications. Since applications are hosted remotely in data centers and accessible via the Internet, your agents, CSRs, producers and others can access complete client information – anywhere, anytime – enabling them to provide clients faster service with greater flexibility that can lead to higher productivity. With Applied Online, agencies and brokerages benefit from more deterministic pricing based on individual usage, providing static budgeting for agencies and brokerages that is difficult to determine in other cloud environments.
How are you embracing the cloud? Share your thoughts below.
Tim Sander, senior vice president of IT, Cloud Services, heads global IT operations for Applied’s Cloud Hosting and corporate IT services. He began his Applied career in 1987 as a systems technician and has held numerous technical leadership roles, helping Applied to evaluate and transition to new technologies. Today Sander is responsible for the company’s corporate IT services and oversees the operations of Applied’s four global data centers.
Who Are Millennials? Why Do They Matter To Your Agency?
There are more than 80 MILLION individuals in the millennial generation including me. This generation is larger than the baby boomer generation and our 1.68 TRILLION dollars of purchasing power is transforming how companies market their products and services.
Who makes up the millennial generation?
Millennials are individuals born between the years 1980 and 1996. We have strong opinions and high expectations of businesses and employers. We are also considered the most educated generation as a result of growing up during the digital age. True digital natives, technology and social networking are a part of our everyday lives. In fact, we use mobile devices more than any other generation according to the YAYA Connection.
Why millennials matter to your business
Millennials are transforming how insurance agencies operate, from how to market products and services to providing multichannel client touch points. With the proliferation of this new demographic, it’s imperative that your business develops a strategy to attract and retain this younger generation both as clients and employees.
Consider these millennial preferences when developing your strategy:
- Millennials navigate seamlessly between devices
- Always connected, millennials send upwards of 100 texts a day
- 80% of millennials visit social media sites daily
- An online search is the first stop to finding a solution for 71% of millennials
- Once they go online for support, millennials expect a resolution within 80 hours
- Millennials are 2.5 times more likely to be early technology adopters than older counterparts
I encourage you to learn more about millennials and their growing influence in the marketplace. Our ebook, “Why Millennials Matter: Guide to Understanding the Insurance Industry’s Fastest Growing Consumer Base and Workforce” covers all aspects of working and selling to the millennial generation.
What are your strategies for attracting and retaining millennials? Share with us on your favorite social channel using the #futureofinsurance hashtag.
Christen Kelley, product marketing manager at Applied Systems, leads the marketing strategy for various products including Applied CSR24 and Applied MobileProducer. Christen enjoys presenting on the insurance industry’s latest topics and trends including mobility and multichannel engagement.
5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Applied Net
(as told by an 8-year conference veteran)
It’s that time of year again, when Applied software users join together at our annual conference to collaborate and brainstorm ideas to maximize the return on our Applied technology investment. Since my first conference eight years ago, the program has gotten bigger and better each year due to the expanded partnership between the Applied Client Network and Applied Systems. In fact, at this year’s conference there will be approximately 2,700 insurance professionals and 175+ educational sessions. That’s really impressive! So whether you’re a first-timer or just haven’t quite figured out how to get the most out of Applied Net, you’re probably going to ask yourself: What should I do? Where should I go?
To help all Applied Net attendees, here are my 5 tips for a great experience at the world’s largest event for independent insurance agents and brokers:
Tip 1: Build Your Agenda Online
Before the conference starts, visit appliednet.com or use the Applied Net mobile app to build your agenda in advance so that you’re ready to roll come Monday. Like I said before, there are more than 175 educations sessions to choose from! But there’s no need to get overwhelmed.
Here are my tips for choosing the most beneficial sessions:
- Choose sessions related to your interests
- Determine which sessions address your agency’s/brokerage’s challenges
- Identify sessions that can help make your job easier
- Keep your eyes and ears open for must-attend sessions talked about by your peers
- Be flexible; don’t hold yourself strictly to the agenda you built in advance because it’s likely you’ll be interested in checking out others on the fly. Feel free to switch sessions as needed.
Tip 2: Download the Applied Net 2014 Mobile App
With the Applied Net app, you’ll have all of the resources you need at your fingertips to successfully navigate the conference. You can manage your session schedule, network with peers, get the latest Applied Net news, and more – conveniently from the app. There are maps of the entire venue to help you find you way around, as well as text notifications that tell you what’s going on and where to be throughout the day. You can also play the Click! game, which is a really fun scavenger hunt played through the app. You earn points by taking and submitting photos for each challenge. Best of all, iPad minis are given to the top 3 players!
Watch this short video to learn about all of the cool things you can do with the app.
Tip 3: Plan to Network, Network, Network
With 2,700 insurance professionals in attendance, you don’t want to leave your office without packing your business cards. Industry peers, Applied staff, Applied Client Network members and exhibitors are ready and willing to network with you. At my first conference, I didn’t bring any business cards and found myself writing my email address down repeatedly! Business cards also come in handy when you’re visiting booths in the Applied Net Exchange. Practically all of the exhibitors have giveaways you can enter with your business card. While you’re in the Applied Net Exchange, be sure to visit the Applied Client Network and Applied booths. There you can get answers to questions you might have about Applied software, demo the latest Applied solutions and learn the many benefits of being an Applied Client Network member.
Along with sharing your contact details and business cards with others, be sure to collect attendee information yourself. Connecting with peers and Applied Client network members who use Applied software is an invaluable resource. And if you’re a first time attendee, the First Timers Reception is a great way to kick off your conference.
Tip 4: Join the Conversation
Whether you’re on Twitter, Facebook or Google+, you can use the #AppliedNet hashtag to follow and join the conversation. Your posts might even show up on one of the jumbo social media screens set up around the conference. If you follow Applied Systems on social, you can get exclusive behind-the-scenes content:
Lastly, a lot of the conversation takes place on the Applied Client Network forum. If you’re a member, you can keep up with your newfound connections on the forum website.
Tip 5: Take Lots of Notes
You’ll learn so many new things at Applied Net that it’s impossible to remember everything. Bring your tablet or smartphone and use the “My Notes” section of the Applied Net app to jot things down. You can also view session handouts from the app. I recommend downloading your handouts and reviewing them before the conference so you know what to expect. As you’re listening to presenters, think about tips they provide and points they make that can favorably impact your job or agency’s business. Don’t be afraid to ask that burning question that’s been nagging you for some time. Answers to questions and tips become important action items you can bring back from the conference.
Last but not least, have fun! The evening events are always unique, well-planned and allow you to unwind and mingle with your colleagues in an engaging atmosphere.
Do you have any tips to share? Leave your comments below, and to learn more about Applied Net visit appliednet.com.
Earl Kelly, Chief Information Officer, Greene Hazel Insurance Group has been in the Information Systems industry for over 20 years, and joined the Insurance industry in 2003. In his current position he provides Support, Training, and Project Coordination for all aspects of the information systems on site. His agency started with Applied TAM in 1988 and has recently moved to Applied EPIC. Earl holds many certifications including Data Encryption and Security, Database Administration, Desktop Support, Server Administration, and Disaster Planning. At present Earl sits on the Member Relations Committee for the Applied Client Network, and is also a past president of his local user group the ASCnet North Florida.
Business Lessons from the #WorldCup: Win the Game by Going Mobile
The past few weeks have been a long and exciting journey for World Cup contenders. Following each game closely, I was on the edge of my seat. Brazil’s loss was a hard one to swallow, and Germany’s win over Argentina was epic. Regardless of where I was during each game, I knew the score and possession details within a matter of seconds through Web updates, a mobile alert, or live game stream.
On-demand, real-time access to information is the new norm – whether you want to know the latest news, weather conditions or game score, you can access that information anytime, anywhere and, more likely than not, ‘there’s an app for that,’ as Apple continues to tell us.
Here are some reasons why this year’s World Cup was the most mobile yet:
- 2 out of every 3 American soccer fans used their smartphones or tablets for World Cup coverage
- FIFA’s new website included the “Global Stadium,” which aggregated content from all 64 games, designed specifically for smartphone or tablet users
- Visa used swipeless pin-and-chip technology during the World Cup to make transactions more seamless
- Apple used iBeacon Bluetooth low-energy wireless technology to help World Cup attendees find their seats, send instant messages, and make purchases right with from their iPhones
Additionally, consumers watched the game on their TVs or in-person, while at the same time interacting on their mobile devices, creating a unique and personalized user experience.
How can mobile technology improve your agency?
Today’s consumer is “always-on” and connected, personally and professionally. Just as the World Cup embraced mobile technology, you must also adapt to the changing digital environment by being more mobile compatible. Mobility is a key factor in communicating to your customers and prospects.
Here are a few reasons why you should embrace mobility:
- Enable Your Agents
In an article from Insurance Business Magazine, Jim Schubert discusses how future insurance agents will be able to “sit across the table from prospects they found on social media” and service them using their iPads. Agents will be able to work more remotely with cloud-based mobile tools. Mobile connectivity reduces the need for office locations, resulting in lower overhead cost and increased efficiency, with less time in meetings and more time to service customers. Applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, PocketCloud, Evernote and Applied MobileProducer keep agents connected while in the field. Mobile capabilities become increasingly important during disaster situations, when it’s best for agents to be on-site and quickly to collect information.
Takeaway: More mobile capabilities for your agents will allow them to more efficiently service customers.
- Be a Mobile Technology Leader
Today, consumers are interested in keeping up with the latest technology. For prospective customers, knowing that you offer cutting-edge mobile technology, such as Applied CSR24 or Applied MobileProducer, could be a major factor in their buying decision. Using the latest technology shows customers and prospects that you understand the impact technology has on their lives and establishes you as a leader in technology adoption. Additionally, offering the latest technology will enable you to attract the younger millennial generation, as well as “Boomers” born between 1946 and 1964, who have shown a growing increase in mobile usage.
Takeaway: Stay ahead of the competition by enhancing the mobile experience and catering to a new generation of consumers.
- Provide Customer Self-Service
In an increasingly digital landscape, customers expect multichannel communication on their terms with 24/7 service and the ability to connect with you on social media channels from their iPhone or tablet. As part of the purchasing process, prospects spend time conducting online research, often on their smartphone. If your website isn’t mobile capable upfront, your agency could be omitted when prospects are making their initial purchase decision. As noted in Agents and the Digital Future, “customers who use emerging technologies as complementary channels to their purchase channel are significantly more satisfied than are those using only their purchase channel to meet their service needs.” Being present on channels that are mobile compatible such as social media, email, Web pages and apps will provide extra convenience for both customers and prospects.
Takeaway: Take a “self-service” approach to mobile technology and think about what transactions customers expect to accomplish through mobile devices.
- Drive Mobility with the Cloud
Cloud technology is rapidly transforming the insurance industry by driving greater connectivity and mobile access. The cloud is a collective term for a secure data center that houses information that can be easily accessed by a wired or wireless Internet connection. The cloud allows for greater accessibility, less worry about data backup, and more focus on the business of selling insurance. By housing all information with a cloud provider and connecting your mobile devices to the virtual environment, you are better enabling your agents to be mobile.
Takeaway: Cloud technology allows agents to access data anytime, anywhere while keeping information safe and secure.
Businesses must keep up with mobility to engage and service customers. FIFA and World Cup sponsors like Visa offered mobile technology that created a seamless user experience and increased customer satisfaction. As an agent, you can do the same. Mobile technology enables your agents to work more efficiently, positions your business ahead of the competition with enhanced technical capabilities, and, most importantly, makes customers the top priority by offering them on-demand access.
How are you embracing mobile technology? Has it led to more sales or better customer service? Leave your comments here, and learn more about agency mobility by reading our resource brief on mobility best practices.
Tom Ives, product manager, Applied Systems, is responsible for strategy and design of Applied CSR24, Applied CertTrax, Applied InsWorld and Applied WebEngine products. Ives served most recently as a director of national accounts with Artizan Internet Services and various other roles for automation providers in the insurance industry, including sales, business analyst, system installer and software support.
Can You Weather the Storm?
Over the years, I’ve personally worked with several customers who were impacted by large scale disruptions, including Katrina, Sandy, High River Flood and various tornadoes. In each case, those that were prepared from a business perspective were better prepared in their personal life as well. Disasters do not discriminate against businesses or our personal lives, and our customers need us the most during times of loss. Like the Boy Scout motto says, “Be Prepared,” as disasters are truly a difficult time for everyone impacted.
In 2013 alone, there were seven weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the U.S. These events included five severe weather and tornado events, a major flood event, and the western drought/heat wave. Overall, these events killed 109 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted. As weather events continue to devastate much of the US, many people remain unprepared for dangerous high winds, heavy rainfall and other hazards. After disasters, you, as agents, are often a lifeline for your customers to begin rebuilding their lives.
Your Business Continuity Checklist
Some threats are predictable, while others give no warning at all and can shut down your business, leaving customers exposed. As we enter National Hurricane Preparedness Week, it’s the ideal time for agencies to prepare for the worst, so they can operate at their best when disaster strikes.
- Make a plan: Analyze threats and determine how to safeguard your agency or brokerage to provide uninterrupted customer service.
- Consider mobility: Use laptops and wireless devices to remotely access data, and host your company website in a remote location.
- Protect data: Back-up daily in multiple locations and send your most recent back-ups to your system provider when disaster is imminent.
- Prepare employees: Provide proper training and the information they need during a crisis, such as including emergency services numbers.
- Prepare resources: Use a 24/7 phone service, contract with a disaster recovery company and consider an online version of your agency or brokerage management system.
- Assemble claims information: Report claims right away and have first response from claims adjusters to ensure your customers can quickly start rebuilding.
- Pack necessities: Include office and first aid supplies, energy sources, digital cameras, ACORD forms and bottled water.
- Cultivate relationships: Connect with businesses that are useful during a disaster, including tree and debris removal companies, contractors and others that will respond to your customers first
How to Prepare Your Customers
Proactively communicate with your customers now and when your community is preparing for a pending disaster.
- Share resources: Use The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to educate your customers on hurricane and severe weather preparedness.
- Communicate across multiple channels: Write blogs, post on Facebook and tweet about how to prepare their business, homes and families for a disaster.
- Create an emergency hotline number: Send your hotline number out to customers regularly.
Commitment to Customers Creates Loyalty to Your Agency or Brokerage
It’s important to demonstrate commitment to your customers by going above and beyond the call of duty. Be proactive and volunteer to help your community with clean-up efforts, and contact customers to see how they are coping and what you can do assist them. That level of service builds customer loyalty and trust.
How are you helping your customers prepare for a disaster? Has your agency/brokerage or another company in your community gone above and beyond to help in a time of need? Share your stories with us.
Gregory Shiple, AIS, Senior Vice President of Support, leads client technical support for Applied Systems in the U.S. and Canada. Greg began his Applied career as a programmer in 1986. Before he assumed his current role in 2007, he was responsible for data conversion development and systems development.
West, Texas – Looking Back a Year After the Explosion
A Day I’ll Never Forget
Last year, on April 17, two fertilizer plants exploded, and life changed in West, Texas. Nearby houses, the plants and the school were all on fire within minutes, and more than 200 homes were damaged or demolished that day.
I serve as mayor, a fireman and an insurance agent in West. As a fireman, I was at the plant immediately after it exploded. We had to totally evacuate the north side of town, so as mayor, I opened the football field and led the evacuation, and started running triage and search and rescue. It is a day I will never forget.
Fortunately, My Agency Had a Business Continuity Plan
The following day, it was insurance time. We used my wife’s antique shop as a claims center. Fortunately, my agency did have a business continuity plan in place and accessed Applied TAMOnline to service customers. As the calls came in, we looked up clients. We actually began pre-processing all of our clients on the north side of town because we knew they would be coming in with claims very soon. We proactively pulled their files and started the process.
It was an emotional experience meeting with clients – some had lost everything. They were shocked, dismayed and confused. They didn’t know what to do. So we took them by the hand and walked them through the process. If they lost their home, we got them a place to stay. We approached customers one at a time and personally walked them through everything. There were a lot of tears. The explosion and resulting fire did $250,000 worth of damage to my house, so I could relate to everyone who came into the office with home claims. Luckily, everyone had coverage and felt assured because of the policies we had put in place for them.
We Helped People Get Their Lives Back on Track
It was critical that we had a business continuity plan in place. I’m so thankful that we had already considered what to do in the event of a disaster and the technology was already there. Because we were able to access our agency management system through the cloud and stay operating during this tragedy, we greatly helped the people of West deal with the aftermath and get their lives back on track.
Do you have a business continuity plan in place? How do you help your customers safeguard and protect what matters most? Share your comments below.
Tommy Muska, Mayor of West, Texas, is an insurance agent and volunteer firefighter. Following the April 17, 2013 West Fertilizer Co. explosion, he restored the small Texas town back to normalcy. Muska began his insurance career at Walla Insurance Agency in 1978 and in 1991, he purchased the business. In 1998, the agency incorporated and the name was changed to Muska Insurance Services, Inc. Muska holds an ACSR designation in commercial and personal lines.
How We Stay In Touch: Educating Consumers and Engaging Customers
My “Ah Ha” Moment
The other day, a colleague suggested that we add an online chat feature to our website. I was hesitant at first, but he said to me, “People are going to communicate with you one way or the other. If they want to reach you, they will pick up the phone, email, send a letter or chat online, but they won’t do them all at the same time.” His point was that the online chat provides another channel for potential communication. That was an “ah ha” moment for me, thinking in terms of multichannel communication. You must make available every type of communication to reach consumers. Otherwise, you’re missing out on business opportunities. As an insurance agency, we have to constantly think about the future consumer and adapt our communication methods as technologies change.
A New Normal
When I was growing up, computers were new. I can remember being in college and using WebCrawler – one of the first Web search engines! Obviously, things have changed. My daughter, who’s in college, sends more than 10,000 texts a month. It’s outrageous, but that’s how she prefers to communicate. It recently became clear to me that there was a communication gap between us. For her, email is too slow – she wants instantaneous communication. Soon, this new generation will be needing insurance for their homes and families. The change in the core consumer is something we need to examine and embrace. Independent agents need to realize that we are no longer the gatekeepers of insurance knowledge that we once were. People can search online for all the insurance information they need. In order to remain relevant, we need to position ourselves so that the consumer searching for answers finds us.
At Bryan Insurance we use FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, a mobile app, radio show, YouTube channel and customer support software to communicate with our customers. I try to post things that are relevant to what’s happening in the world. It’s extremely important to post educational materials to build that trust and loyalty. For example, if there’s a news story about earthquakes, I might send out a post about earthquakes in Texas and how to insure against them. It is important to address what’s on people’s minds. I try to post information that makes people curious and think, “Wow, maybe I need earthquake coverage.” It’s meant to be thought-provoking.
Social media is about distributing information. One of my producers likes to say, “I’m not in sales, I’m in education.” We must educate consumers about their coverage and help them understand that, as insurance agents, we can provide guidance, not just products. Bottom line, if direct insurance writers are engaged in social media and we’re not, when it comes time for people to buy insurance, the direct writers will be “top of mind,” and we will lose business. If you push out educational content through a variety of channels, people understand we just want to help them, and that’s a value-added service.
Tommy Dies, CFO, Bryan Insurance, left an accounting firm 10 years ago to join Bryan Insurance which was an Insurance Journal “Best Insurance Agency to Work For in 2012.” He served on the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas (IIAT) Finance & Budget Committee and is part of IIAT’s Agency Financial Managers Affinity Group. He has held various local board positions and now serves on the Young County (TX) Appraisal District’s Appraisal Review Board and as a third-term Rotary Club board member. Connect with Tommy and Bryan Insurance on Facebook and Twitter @BryanInsAgency.