The Connected Business of Insurance
March 25, 2015
Guest: Steve Anderson, Insurance Technology Expert
Steve Anderson, executive editor of The Anderson Agency Report and recently named a Top 150 LinkedIn Influencer, has been a licensed independent agent for more than 30 years and educates insurance organizations on how understanding and applying technology can help them navigate transformation in the marketplace. In this podcast, Steve breaks down what’s driving the insurance industry online and how agencies can meet consumer demand for online customer self-service. Having studied customer experience among insurance agents for 12+ years, Steve discusses why building an experience through digital technology is pivotal to sustaining long-lasting customers and driving business success. Steve also dives into his recent customer experience survey based on independent agents’ adoption of online self-service applications.
Here are highlights from our conversation:
- Applied Systems: Delivering a superior customer experience at all customer touchpoints is a trending topic in insurance. Are you seeing this trend take shape in the independent agent channel?
- Steve Anderson: Well, I’m certainly seeing the conversation being started around the difference between customer service and what I phrase as “creating a compelling customer experience.” Many agents, for so many years, have thought that what they provide is customer service and frankly they did, and most of them did a very good job of it. But I think in today’s age, certainly with the changing expectation of consumers, customer service isn’t really enough anymore. It really is about creating an experience with an organization…What is an agent going to have to do to create an experience that builds and sustains a relationship that will keep a customer coming back to them?…
“…With the changing expectations of consumers today, customer service isn’t really enough anymore.”
- Applied Systems: Direct writers and comparison sites are requiring independent agents to change how they engage with their clients online. What are independent agents doing in response to this?
- Steve Anderson: Well, again, I think more and more agents understand that they do need to be online; it is a communication channel that more and more people are accessing and using. In fact, I was just reading earlier this morning, in one of the industry trade publications, an article about the new Affordable Care Act and the people that have signed up online for that medical health coverage. The article’s statistics said that 1 in 5 people used a mobile device to actually sign up – either a smartphone or a tablet. I think that’s pretty significant [and] that there is a percentage of people out there who expect to be online…. At the same time, there are times when I really do want to talk to somebody, but balancing that out is actually a difficult process. Perhaps a little more difficult for older agency owners who built their business on either people walking in the door, calling them on the phone or interacting with them in person. I think that’s a hard transition. One of the comments I hear all the time is, “Well my clients don’t want online access.” That may be true, however, are you really sure that is true? I think that’s an area where agents need to be thinking “it’s not what we like or don’t like, but what do [our] clients like and don’t like.”
“…Agents need to be thinking, ‘it’s not what do we like or don’t like, but what do [our] clients like and don’t like.’”
- Applied Systems: Do you see mobile devices driving the need for self-service?
- Steve Anderson: Oh absolutely…A high percentage of iPad tablets or Android tablets [are] coming out… I think that adoption of technology is driving mobile usage and people just expect to be able to get information, to do things whenever they have a few minutes. Be that waiting at a stoplight or sitting on their porch and just pulling their phone up to say, “Oh, I should have paid that bill” or “I should have done this” or “I wanted to look up this information.” …I would say a majority [of consumers] are used to accessing information and doing things using whatever device makes sense to them at the time.
- Applied Systems: How have you seen agents adopt and leverage online portal solutions?
- Steve Anderson: …I’ve been tracking this literally for probably 12 years now, at least… This whole idea of online – I’ve been talking about it and frankly, agents have been resistant, saying their clients don’t want it. I actually conducted an online survey, and I had over 250 responses to the very simple survey.
The first question was: Does your agency have an online client portal? …Of those responses, 41% said yes and 59% said no… I go back to the statistics, and what I’m reading and the changes in consumer’s attitudes, expectations, [or] what consumers consider a good customer experience, more and more of that is online access. I know agents are afraid of losing the relationship and those are certainly some points to keep in mind, but the reality is, that may mean we need to be more proactive at how we interact and build relationships with customers.
Then the second question I asked [was]: Of the 59% that said no, why not?… Almost 42% of those 60% that don’t have [a client portal] said, “Our clients are not asking for this capability.” Again, I pause and I guess, are you asking whether they want [it] as an agency?
The other question I asked was: How many are planning to add it in 2015? Only 8% said that they were planning on adding it this year.
The final question was: What technology platform do you use? … [We saw] that Applied CSR24 represented 54.5% of those that had said yes. …Applied CSR24 has been around for a very long time, it’s built a great solid base, it has lots of functionality, it allows customers to do certificates and auto ID and get documents or request changes.
I would say [agents] are not nearly fast enough at responding to this changing expectation that is going on with consumers…I should mention at this point, when I say consumers, I mean personal lines, individuals; I also mean businesses because I’m absolutely convinced that people who buy insurance at the very largest businesses are just people and they’re consumers too – they have expectations of what should or shouldn’t happen.
“I would say [agents] are not nearly fast enough for responding to this changing expectation that is going on with consumers.”
- Applied Systems: When you mention mobile apps, are there other channels that you see increasing in importance for agents when interacting with their clients online? Would mobile apps be part of that or are there other technologies that you would include?
- Steve Anderson: I think the other “channel” that I might say that we need to pay attention to is texting. That’s a whole other area [for agents] but, more and more people… are using text messaging as a means of communication. “I’ve had an accident and I’m at the corner of this or that” and texting that information in. That opens up a whole bunch of questions – How do you respond? How do you get notified in the office? Can you get enough information in a small 160 character text message?
What are your thoughts on independent agent adoption of online communication channels? We welcome your thoughts and questions below.