Technology is changing the way we think about the distribution of insurance — from adoption of digital technologies to integrated ecosystems and from intelligent automation to artificial intelligence. The rise of insurtechs and the acceleration of digitization have forced carriers and agents to reexamine each step of the customer journey and all interactions associated with it, whether it’s identifying prospects, delivering a quote, issuing a policy or servicing existing clients.
In the past, agents have viewed alternative distribution systems with a jaundiced eye. But agencies are finding they can coexist and thrive in a new world where technology truly complements their offering, becomes a true enabler and enhances the value they bring to the customer.
While digital transformation has occurred much faster in personal lines and is now a staple and a core offering, commercial lines carriers are starting to move in that direction, as well. As new technologies become more readily available and costs continue to decrease, all lines of insurance will benefit greatly from these new platform offerings, robust data and analytics capabilities and more sophisticated and efficient fulfillment processes.
New levels of digital dexterity
The pandemic demonstrated that our industry is capable of rising to new levels of digital dexterity. COVID-19 may end up serving as a technology tipping point for many carriers, and based on early indications many of the business models across different industries may have been transformed forever. Prior to COVID-19, how many agents used Zoom for agency interactions with customers or carriers? How many of our employees worked remotely 100% of the time? Almost overnight, we adopted new methods of customer, agent and employee engagements. Productivity and connectivity are at an all-time high. Our customers and distribution partners are much more comfortable with digital technologies and new interaction methods than ever before. The pandemic has created significant opportunities for insurers and agencies to benefit from this accelerated digital shift.
We’ve learned a lot about being nimble in a short time. As we move forward and seek new ways of using digital technologies, here are six guidelines to keep in mind:
- Start at the beginning. We must always strive to know our customers, understand their needs and engage with them in the ways they choose to engage with us. We need to be able to respond to customers in the way they prefer to do business and when they want to do business. Ease of use, personalization, interactivity, connectivity and digital platform choice are some of the technology “must-haves” that we should build into the customer experience from the very beginning.
- Recognize that agents are a critical part of the value chain. The need for advice, consultation and continued guidance is here to stay. At its highest level, the insurance transaction consists of two activities: value creation and fulfillment. Value creation is when you are connecting with the customer and providing consultation. The rest is gathering information, inputting it, creating a proposal, getting a quote and issuing the policy. As an industry, we spend the majority of our time on fulfillment activity. It’s time to start using data, analytics and digital technologies to flip that equation, so we can spend more time on value creation. In other words, agents should be empowered to leverage data and technology to do what they do best — build relationships with their clients.
- Extend the omnichannel model to commercial lines. Until just a few years ago, few commercial insurance customers would start the buying process outside of a face-to-face meeting with an agent. Today, I’d say more than half of commercial customers begin the process online and know something about the product before they talk to an agent. Agents need to learn how to plug into these digital platforms at the right time and turn a prospect into a customer. Agencies must create a seamless bridge between channels, integrating online portals, chat and even mobile apps. Once the customer starts a journey with you, they want to be connected to all parts of the experience that follow. They don’t want a breakage or have to start over.
- View insurtechs as enablers, not competitors. They no longer operate as disruptors. Insurtechs need an ecosystem to be relevant, and they have come to that realization. Most are moving toward an enabler model to create value for themselves and their partners. Agents need to understand this and figure out how to make insurtechs part of their ecosystem. Which ones do they want to partner with? Which ones offer complementary capabilities and competencies to achieve the outcomes they want?
- Design systems with customers in mind, not internal efficiency. Digital transformation shouldn’t be just about cost reduction and efficiency alone. If that’s what digitization is for you, then you’re missing a huge opportunity in the marketplace. You may reduce some of your costs, but that will not translate into a sustainable, competitive advantage for your organization. To accomplish that, you need to have an outside-in view, and you need to transform your business with the customer and your distribution partners in mind — not with you in mind.
- Embed intelligence into workflows. We hear a lot of talk about artificial intelligence and machine learning. Data analytics are powerful, but they become much more powerful and effective when you integrate them into your workflow. If you harness information and analyze it after the fact, you’re managing to a lagging indicator. Instead, think about how you can turn data into actionable insights and manage to the leading indicators by embedding intelligence at the point of sale or service. Rather than starting fresh at key points in the journey and chasing the same information over and over — at the time of endorsement, renewal or policy changes — use that embedded data to forge a true partnership with your customers.
See also: New Ways to Monitor Customer Experience
In short, this is not your father’s alternative distribution system. This is a new way of thinking about the customer and adding value where it’s most beneficial and advantageous to the client. It’s using the power of embedded intelligence and digital technologies to enhance the overall customer experience and the decisions associated with it. By putting the customer first, you’ll be able to offer your clients a richer, more rewarding journey. This is how you’ll stay competitive, unlock the potential in the marketplace and grow your business into the future.