The New Agent-Customer Relationship

Consumers who once valued the agent relationship now prioritize instant changes and self-service. But agents still have an opportunity.

Your grandparents likely had a single insurance agent, someone they called with all of their needs and questions. Now, insurance customers are far more likely to consult Google with their questions and sometimes skip an agent altogether. The dynamic has changed. Consumers who once valued the agent relationship now prioritize instant changes and self-service. But agents still have an opportunity to capture customers with even the most modern preferences, preserving that mutually beneficial relationship between agent and customer. About half of insurance shoppers obtain a quote through an insurer website before purchasing a policy, according to J.D. Power’s 2016 U.S. Insurance Shopping Study. Despite this, only 25% actually buy their policy online, according to the report, and half complete the sale through direct contact with an agent. It’s easy to feel discouraged by the move to automation and online services. As an agent, your skills lie in matching customers with the right insurance policies. The fact that about half of all insurance customers buy through an agent means you shouldn’t lose hope. Although the industry is in flux and customer preferences are changing, it’s still possible for you to do what you do best. See also: How to Support the Agent of the Future Help customers navigate the insurance landscape We’ve all seen bad information and advice doled out online as expertise. You recognize it for what it is, but consumers might not. They don’t always know how to weigh the value or validity of what they find. This is where you can help. Be an online guide for people by:
  • Sharing worthwhile articles and websites on social media and via email. Add value to what you share by offering your own short commentary.
  • Pointing out examples of bad advice or inaccuracies and pairing these red flags with your accurate, expert information.
  • Sending on-the-fence customers out with reliable resources. If you can’t close the deal today, know your lead will likely go online to do additional research. If you point them toward good information, they’ll be more likely to return to the source when they’re ready to buy.
Be available Modern customers don’t want to wait for a response, so don’t make them. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers 2014 survey that asked customers why they purchased a policy online, 60% responded that the “24/7 availability” of online services was a contributing factor, second only to “ease of access.” No one is suggesting you make yourself available to clients all day and night, but agents who keep flexible hours and answer phone calls the first time may have an advantage. Let customers know you’re accessible by:
  • Answering the phone, every time. Show your customers that even when you’re busy, you can make time for them. It’s better to say hello and ask if you can call a client back than to send them to voicemail.
  • Following up when a customer is waiting to hear back from you. Even if it’s a call or text to say you need another hour to finalize their quote, they won’t have to wonder whether you’ve forgotten about them entirely.
  • Responding to social media and email requests with the same urgency as phone calls. Customers go online for availability and ease of access, so deliver that to them. Demonstrate that these qualities can come from attentive agents, not just automated online services.
Don’t abandon old-school techniques Agents of days gone by knew the value of having ongoing relationships with their customers, and that value still exists. Sure, modern customers want quick, easy service, but there’s a reason half call an agent to close the deal. See also: How the Customer Experience Is Shifting   Create this mutually rewarding relationship by:
  • Being proactive. It’s easy to fall into reactive mode with current consumer preferences, but use online contacts and a lead-generation service as jumping-off points. Each introduction should be seen as the beginning of something long-term, not just a single transaction.
  • Striving to be that single source of information, like agents of past generations. Act as a risk advisor, identifying opportunities for clients to protect their assets throughout their life.
  • Focusing on the customer, not the policies. Know your client base, their families and their lifestyle. This will come through in your communications, and you’ll be better prepared to offer your customers the best insurance for their needs.

Nahu Ghebremichael

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Nahu Ghebremichael

Nahu Ghebremichael is the head of insurance at NerdWallet, a go-to personal finance resource that provides consumers with tools and information for all of life’s financial decisions.

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