With the prospect of Google getting into the insurance business, I am forced to stand back and take another look at our ever changing insurance business. Google has changed how we do business, seek out information and helped to increase the speed of transactions. If our business doesn’t change (like so many others have) then we may get “left in the dust”.
If we act like we are all the same and our business gets “commoditized”, then Google has great prospects in our business. If they can change how people shop and buy insurance then we may get left behind. Most of the internet activity on insurance has been to “shop” for insurance, but the number of actual sales is lagging. If Google can get over that hump, then they are on to something.
So if we want to succeed, then what do we need to do in order to differentiate ourselves? How will we increase the “value” to our customers and make them realize this is not just a “price” transaction?
Let’s first look at the business model online insurance agents are using and see what “advantages” they have:
- Speed – Many online agents have rating engines that help potential customers get an immediate online quote. So when they get their auto insurance bill and the rate just went up, they can go online and get a competing price quote immediately.
- Lower price? Not having gone online myself to get a quote, I am being told that the pricing can be less since they take out most of the agent commission and the ultimate cost of the sale (acquisition cost) goes down.
- Multiple Options – It is easy with automation to give multiple options so people can pick and choose what they want.
- Efficiency of transaction – They can get a quote, bind, have the policy issued and pay for it all right there online. They can come to their computer, and 30 minutes later have a policy in hand and ID cards ready.
Those sound like pretty good advantages and could make it tough to compete, so we should just give up, right? Not so fast. Let’s look at how we can combat these advantage and determine what advantages independent agents have:
Three of the four advantages above are also available for agents. We can quickly get a quote with just a few pieces of information, so as long as we respond quickly, there is no real advantage from a speed standpoint. Multiple options? Sure we can show multiple options, but having too many options can be confusing. We can ask a few questions up front and come to a few options that fit what they are looking for. Much like going to a restaurant and looking over a six page menu and having difficulty deciding what to order. Wouldn’t you rather have a one or two page menu that gives you enough options and allows you to make a quicker decisions. We can also do efficient transactions. The technology is there and we can do very much the same thing that the online agents can do, so this advantage can be downplayed.
What about our advantages?
- Knowledge and skill – Do customers know what they want? Know what they need? Asking a few questions and help guiding them is worth its weight in gold. Very few customers have an extensive knowledge of insurance and are “flying blind” when they approach internet based transactions. The confidence you can instill when helping them to determine the coverage and terms they need will be seen as a strong advantage on the agent’s part. One size does not fit all and they need to be consulted on what they might need or want.
- A better claim experience – Although agents have been “removed” from many claim transactions with their carriers, they can help guide a client through the process. Helping to understand what to expect, timing and getting satisfaction can make all the difference between a happy or unhappy client. Preparing them prior to claim (letting them know the steps they will need to take and what they are responsible for) and answering their questions will keep them coming back. Knowing they are being “taken care of” and are not just being “processed” will build loyalty and satisfaction. This is especially true on a large loss. There will be “twists and turns” along the way and how you deal with them will be the difference between having a long term client or not. Things such as working with their accountant on a business income loss will help to speed up the process and get their claim paid faster.
- Personal touch – Here is where we can make all the difference. A thank you for their business can go a long way. Helping them to control losses or managing risk can pay dividends and help make them be better risk. Helping them know the gaps in their coverage and if or how those gaps can be covered or managed will help them to not be surprised when a loss does happen. Discussing what to expect next such as a “reservation of rights letter”, which in and of itself can seem like there is nothing that is covered by their policy. Also “just being there” when something does happen will help give them reassurance at a difficult time.
- Ability to help them find solutions to their risk problems. – One of the disadvantages of online agents is that they are looking for things to fit nicely “inside the box”. So they become “box underwriting” companies and if it fits, great, if not, go somewhere else. We can help by working with clients who do not fit squarely into the underwriting box. It doesn’t make them a bad client, just different. How we deal with them and how we help them solve their insurance problem will build significant loyalty and satisfaction. As I said before, one size does not fit all and we can’t treat clients like that.
So, obviously, we need to find a way to stand out from the crowd. Not be like every other agent. Provide a higher perceived value than other agents or online agents. So how?
- Know your product, know your client. Spending the time to learn about your insurance products and how they can be properly tailored to each client will give you a distinct advantage. Knowing as much as you can about that client will help you to properly protect their assets and meet their needs.
- Market in a different manner and build your “brand” – If you want to be distinct, you need to be unique. Doing the “same old thing” will get you the same old results. Don’t be afraid to fail. Be consistent though in order to build your brand. A great brand will pay off in the long run.
- If you build a specialty, become an “expert” in that area. If you choose to specialize in hospitality risks, learn everything you can about that business so you can speak their language. You will also be able to see how their industry is changing and help them to deal with and insure their operation better.
- Build a team behind you. When clients have multiple points of contact with your agency, they are building relationships with your whole agency. The more they feel they have the team of XYZ Insurance Agency behind them, the more they value their coverage and agent.
- Continuous improvement. Look to improve every area of your operation over time so you find new ways to stand out and be “above the crowd”.
Half the battle is just realizing you need to stand out, then the next step is how to make it happen. Keep looking around you when you do business with other firms as to WHY you deal with them. What makes them different? A recent example is what got me thinking, when I had to have some body work done on my car. Figured it was just an average transaction that would come and go and be forgotten a couple weeks from now. Wrong. What they did do it detail my car to a point that the interior of my car looks like it just came off the showroom floor. Every time I have stepped into my car since I got it back, I have smiled. I even feel a little guilty I haven’t taken the time to go on and do an online review and praise them for their service. A raving fan now? Think I would ever consider taking my care elsewhere if I needed body work done again? Not a chance… Find a way to make that happen for your agency.
Kenneth Kukral, CIC – VP of Special Risks – That means, call me if you need help on placing a unique, difficult, large or more complex risk. Kennethkukral@intlxs.com 800-937-3497 ext 2079