September 21, 2018
Agents Must Become ‘Discussion Partners’
With digitization greatly increasing customers' expectations, here are eight ways that agents can become valued "discussion partners."
The insurance industry is going through a revolution, and too many carriers, brokers, agents and team members are failing to keep up with the rapid pace of change.
Customers have grown accustomed to convenience, a plethora of information and unending choices in whatever they buy, and this applies to the purchase of insurance products and services, too. People expect it to be easy, efficient and understandable.
The insurance industry as a whole is miles behind in the race to deliver unrivaled service to customers. To keep up with the radical transformation, insurance professionals must earn the trust of existing clients and new prospects and become their gateway to everything related to insurance and financial services.
The path to this transformation is for the insurance agent or representative to become a “discussion partner” — a trusted advisor who guides customers toward optimum financial decisions by offering them every possible insurance and financial services product while disclosing exactly how his or her superior advice works.
The goal is to convert everyone into discussion partner clients who do not want to be sold or told; rather, they want a consultant who will advise them on the best products, protection and asset-accumulation guidance they need for their families.
Looking closely at the not-too-distant future, here are just a few ways the insurance industry will evolve:
- There will be total transparency about coverages and pricing. Customers will know all the details when they purchase property and casualty products, financial services products, life insurance products and more, in much the same way financial services and securities are sold today.
- There will be a convergence of distribution models. Local storefronts will welcome the use of the omnichannel experience, such as digital, after-hours 800-number call centers; claims service; and 24-hour customer self-service through technology or telephony.
- Technology will streamline processes. The local storefront housing brokers/agents and their teams will still provide service and sales at the point of personal interaction, but they will also leverage the power of digital technology and call centers.
- Collaboration will become commonplace. Open architecture — a financial institution’s ability to offer clients both proprietary and external products and services — in both technology and service will force the insurance industry not only to adapt but also to move quickly toward radical transformation.
The key to agents’ survival is that they must provide unrivaled service at the highest level. Nothing else will be acceptable if the local insurance provider is going to be a part of the consumer’s purchasing and reliance on service in the new world.
So how can carriers, brokers, agents and team members evolve to the “discussion partner” model of unrivaled service? Here are eight strategies for making the transition:
- Focus everything you do on the customer. The customer is at the apex and the center of every decision, every system and process. Agents must be hyper-focused on meeting our customers’ needs — everything they desire and have every right to expect. This begins with providing unrivaled service as a discussion partner.
- Create a team of experts. This is usually referred to as specialization, teaming or collaboration of experts. Agents must build a larger and stronger local team through hiring, mergers and acquisitions and strategic relationships.
- Collaborate with expertise partners. Not every broker or exclusive agent is going to have access to every market today. In the future, with open architecture, everyone will have a view into the competition’s coverages and rates. Until then, creating collaborative arrangements is important. If clients do need and want specialized products and services, referring them to someone else will not be prudent any more. Agents must have relationships with experts in many areas. Agents must be quarterback, sitting in on the coverage presentation and purchase. This means getting to know experts in various fields and working with them, although agents might not always make a commission. Build partnerships before you need them.
- Embrace and retool all technology. Agents need to assess current capabilities in the area of technology. Everything is moving at light speed due to artificial intelligence. The things once innovative are now commonplace. Agents need to embrace new technologies and use them to create a seamless experience for customers in the front room. Open architecture will introduce new technologies that discussion partner agencies must embrace as they move forward.
- Control every step of customer service and the purchasing process. This is the foundation for a successful business model in the future. Insurance professionals need to assume the role of the gateway to everything related to insurance and financial services and guide clients through every step of the process. Agents need to remind clients what they do for them and assure them that they are worrying about the details so the clients don’t have to.
- Help clients declutter. Insurance agents must be the only financial adviser their clients will ever need. Professionals don’t just refer clients over to other experts any more; they make everything easier. An agent’s job is to declutter clients’ paperwork, declutter how many people they are working with and make their lives easier. Life is complicated enough.
- Be open to change. The tsunami of change happening in the insurance industry is affecting everyone, from the carrier to the broker/agent to the local team member providing service to clients who have never needed it more.
- Agents should embrace change, not fear it. Yes, they will lose some clients to technology, such as robo-advisers. But we didn’t lose the entire banking industry because of the ATM. The typical client still wants someone to hold his or her hand through the maze of madness in this world.