Tag Archives: skype

Digital Survival Tools for Agents

Whether the majority of your business is online or in-office, it is crucial for you to have the right tools to help you capitalize on the insurance market and get ahead of the competition in a changing landscape.

It does not matter what type of insurance you are selling, whether it’s employee benefits, life insurance, group insurance, voluntary benefits or property and casualty. While your role may not be directly affected by things like legacy system transformation, robotics and big data, there will be ripple effects. Besides obtaining new clients, presenting renewals and marketing, changes in regulation and advances in technology are all things that agents will have to contend with.

Here are three elements that savvy agents and brokers will want to consider.

Multi-generational marketing

Global populations are now categorized (albeit loosely) into four categories: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z. Although Baby Boomers are still the largest population, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts Millennials will outnumber Boomers by 2019.

These differentiated markets make targeting sales much more difficult. Fortunately, there are online tools that can support you. The trick here is diversifying your presence. Ensure that you have a presence on multiple channels so that you are able to meet your customers where they are.

See also: 10 Essential Actions for Digital Success  

Update your agency website with a live chat feature, and ensure it is easy to contact you online. Examine whether it makes sense to use Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. If you do, you’ll need a strong content strategy that provides real value to pull in visiting prospects.

Don’t just surf the web, observe the web. Set up Google alerts and analytics and Hootsuite streams to follow partners and competitors. Watching for trends will keep you ahead of the game.

Administration tools

A strong agency management system can provide you with everything you need to support your customer lifecycle. When looking for the right one for you, think about CRM and marketing automation. Determine what will make it easier for you to track leads, nurture prospects, close deals and obtain commissions.

Once you’ve sold a policy, a high-quality microphone and webcam will enhance consistent communication with customers remotely on Skype, WebEx, GooglePlus Hangouts or even Facebook.

Get comfortable with automation

As you get comfortable with a new and diversified way of connecting with your customers, you’ll want to consider that insurance carriers are doing the same thing. Accenture’s Technology Vision 2018 report revealed 82% of insurance carriers agreed that their organizations must innovate faster just to stay competitive.

In a world where customers are shopping around for options and prices all the time, retention itself becomes a valuable commodity. Help carriers help you by learning what tools their new systems have to offer so you tap into all the resources available.

Do your insurance companies offer broker portals? Do they offer online quoting capability for immediate results? Can you generate a proposal or immediately sell a policy? Can you offer that functionality on your own website? The carriers that invest in your success by improving sales, underwriting and admin functions for quicker turnarounds and smooth renewals are doing themselves a favor, too.

See also: Agents Must Become ‘Discussion Partners’  

Think strategy

As you determine the best way to move forward, sit down with others on your team, start a Google doc and plan your strategy for the year ahead. As Yogi Berra wisely said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

What free tools will you use? Which ones will you invest money in? How will you track progress to determine ROI? What tools are working for you?

The best agents and brokers will be nimble enough to exploit the tools available to them and prepare for new ones as they arrive. The sooner you start, the more likely you’ll find yourself ahead of the digital curve.

11 Ways to Use Tech Better With Clients

Technology can enhance a strong, trust-based relationship with your clients, but it’s no substitution for face-to-face time. Here are 11 tips that will help you use high-tech tools in a smart and meaningful way.

Technology does a lot, but it can’t do everything. Sometimes, we forget that. We can get so dependent on email and social media that we lose sight of what people really need from us—especially in business. Yes, clients expect to connect with us in various high-tech ways, but they also crave the deep and meaningful connections that can only come from face-to-face (or at least voice-to-voice) connections. It can be tricky to walk the line.

Too little tech, and you’ll seem out of touch; too much, and you’ll lose the personal touch that keeps customers loyal and engaged. As you’re trying to find the right balance, just remember this: Your client relationships are built on emotions and trust, so use technology in a way that maintains and enhances relationships and propels them to the next level.

I attribute my career journey to my ability to build strong personal relationships. Following early success in the clothing industry, I experienced a devastating bankruptcy that forced me to rebuild my life from scratch. I went on to join Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., where I created an impressive financial portfolio and won multiple “Top Agent” awards.

Human needs don’t change. Relationships mattered in the days of pencil, paper and snail mail, and they still matter in the days of Facebook and Skype.

Ideally, you would meet with all of your clients in person, but of course that’s not always practical. Still, you should invest in at least one face-to-face meeting with your top clients. Then, use a carefully balanced mix of technology to maintain the relationship. Here are a few tips for using tech the right way.

Don’t let “faceless” and “voiceless” technology become your primary communication tool. Nothing can replace the effectiveness of a face-to-face encounter (even if it’s by Skype), especially in the early phases of your client relationship. And meaningful phone conversations can be great, too. It’s fine to use less powerful tech solutions like email, texting and e-blasts to stay in close contact with your clients. These can enhance and strengthen a well-established relationship. But they should only be supplemental.

Skype important meetings if you can’t be there in person. Ideally, “in person” interactions are best for relationship building—especially with your top clients—but, of course, they can’t always happen. Video conferencing is second-best. Make sure you’re using this tech tool often. It’s a great way to read body language and facial expressions—crucial for building trust and establishing positive and productive relationships.

Pick up the phone regularly. Many people dislike the phone. Conversations can be long and meandering, and we’re all busy. But you must overcome your phone phobia. In terms of relationship building (not to mention problem solving), there is no substitute for the give and take that happens voice-to-voice. Schedule actual phone conversations with clients to catch up and find out how they are doing. Keep that human connection alive!

See also: How Technology Drives a ‘New Normal’  

Pay attention to how the client communicates. If a client seems to prefer phone, text or in-person communication, note it and honor the preferred style while maintaining your own dedication to person-to-person contact. This shows clients you care about and respect their preferences. Find a happy balance between the client’s style, yours and the demands of the day.

Match the medium to the message. If you want to distinguish yourself and have something very important to say, write a letter! If you are trying to book an appointment with a busy person, figure out something complex or discuss a potentially sensitive issue, pick up the phone. If you only want confirmation of a small piece of information and you’ve recently spoken with a client, feel free to use email. Let your instinct be your guide.

Be thoughtful and deliberate with social media. Your competition is taking advantage of these platforms, and so should you. But make sure your online presence is well-planned and -executed. Your Facebook or LinkedIn posts should meaningfully connect back to your brand and mission and provide value to clients and other readers. Don’t bombard your followers with inane content. This negates your credibility. Post less, and make sure your content is good.

Keep your website young and agile. Is your website in alignment with your business image and your mission? Make sure it’s as professional and sleek as your own personal appearance when meeting a client for the first time. Successful companies have streamlined, up-to-date websites with modern fonts, colors and layouts. If it’s been a while since you’ve changed your design, your website is due for a tune-up and a facelift.

Use email to send links to articles you think your client might enjoy. Trusting relationships thrive on frequent contact. To solidify your connection to clients (especially when you haven’t talked in a while), send them little links and articles you know they will enjoy. This gesture shows you are thinking about them and know where their interests lie. Just keep these communications in balance. Bombarding clients with superficial links and articles may actually weaken the value of your contact with them and undermine your relationship.

Send e-newsletters to all your clients. This a good way to engage regularly with clients and stay on their minds. Create compelling content that connects with the various lines of services you are currently offering and craft interesting articles for your clients around related topics.

Personalize your high-tech communication. Sometimes e-blasts make sense, but, whenever possible, include a small personal note at the top that lets clients see they matter to you.

See also: 5 Ways to Enhance Client Engagement  

Allow clients to log in and access their information. Whenever possible, empower clients by putting information at their fingertips. This not only saves time for your clients when they need to get a small piece of information, but also goes a long way toward building mutual trust.

If you harness the power of technology correctly, it can do wonderful things for your business. But remember that it is only one tool in your toolbox. Use technology to enhance business, but don’t let it overshadow your mission to keep trust-based client relationships at the center of everything you do.

Why Phones Are Bad for WC Negotiations

A litigation analysis found that lawyers used telephone negotiation in 72% of the cases studied, resulting in settlement only 35% of the time. That means that phone negotiation sessions or other processes had to be used multiple times to get to settlement. We can assume that repetition resulted in a loss of time and money for the participants.

In contrast, mediation resulted in resolution 100% of the time in the studied cases. Yet, lawyers used mediation in only 2% of the cases.

Here are some of the problems with telephone negotiations:

Lack of Visual Information

You can’t share documents or other visuals over the phone. Even if all participants to the call are supposed to have the documents in their possession, you can’t be positive they are actually looking at a document, even if they say they are, or if it’s the right one.

Body language provides visual cues to the negotiator about how things are going. Facial expressions can show surprise, anger or anxiety as parties exchange information. You can’t look someone in the eye over the phone. Without the visuals, it may be easier for people to dissemble. Likewise, over the phone you are unable to enhance your own message with gestures or other body language. In mediation, the mediator interprets participants’ body language to better facilitate negotiation.

See also: Work Comp: Mediation or an ‘Informal’?  

Getting Negotiators to Pay Attention

Listening is hard work. When negotiators use the phone, they may not be focused. There could be active interference, e.g., flashing lights and text messages on the phone, incoming emails, other notifications from multiple devices or co-workers coming by. Even without those distractions, people’s attention may drift.

Technology Can Get In the Way

What about using Facetime, WhatsApp, Skype or another video call utility? Theoretically, this could overcome some of the deficits of voice-only negotiation. On the other hand, have you seen the hilarious Tripp & Tyler video about video conference calls? Even when the technology is working perfectly, body language can be difficult to interpret or convey through video.

It’s true that video conferencing might be helpful during mediation if, for example, the adjuster or injured worker is in another state and unable to travel to the mediation, assuming the principal negotiators are physically present.

See also: Tips on Mediation in Workers’ Comp  

Driverless Vehicles: Brace for Impact

On June 26, Waymo (Google’s autonomous car firm), signed a deal under which Avis Budget Group will provide “fleet support and maintenance services” to Phoenix-area Waymo vehicles. Waymo uses Chrysler Pacifica minivans to autonomously shuttle Phoenix residents around town. Its first fleet of 100 minivans quickly grew into an order for 500 more.

The Waymo/Avis agreement may only be a pilot, but the implications are enormous. Not unlike standard cab companies, Waymo realized that a fleet of autonomous vehicles would need cleaning and maintenance throughout the day and storage throughout the night. When practical matters like auto cleaning and storage become news enough for a press release, something big is going on.

Here are some fun facts:

  • According to USA Today, Avis’ stock rose 14% on the news.
  • The Chrysler Pacifica was chosen, in large part, because it could close its own doors. Waymo usage experts theorized that riders might often hop out and forget to close the door.
  • Within hours of the Waymo announcement, Apple likewise unveiled a deal where Hertz Global would manage its autonomous fleet.

Autonomous vehicles have picked up the pace of disruption over the last two years. What will life be like when the Autonomy of Things takes on many of our everyday behaviors or occupations, like driving? Will we be safer? Will we need insurance? Will auto manufacturers cover accidents via product liability? Who will cover bodily injury or property damage? How will risk products be changed to fit this new model? Is there an insurance right-road to surviving autonomy?

See also: The Evolution in Self-Driving Vehicles  

Is Autonomy Impact Still Underrated?

There has been a lot of talk and certainly a wealth of words written on the impact of auto autonomy, and safety is at the top of the concerns and promises of autonomous vehicles. Insurers are, of course, focused on how autonomous vehicles might cause a decline in the need for auto insurance.

The pace of development, rollout, experimentation and expansion of autonomous vehicles has far exceeded original expectations. In his blog, Peter Diamandis (XPrize Founder) noted that a former Tesla and BMW executive said that self-driving cars would start to kill car ownership in just five years. John Zimmer, the cofounder and president of Lyft, said that car ownership would “all but end” in cities by 2025.

The Wall Street Journal reported in July 2016 that auto insurance represents nearly a third of all premiums for the P&C industry, with projections that 80% could evaporate over the next few decades as autonomous vehicles are introduced, some of them replacing legacy vehicles and some created for shared transportation. At the same time, U.S. government support strengthened in September 2016 when federal auto safety regulators released their first set of guidelines, sending a clear signal to automakers that the door was wide open for driverless cars and betting that the nation’s highways will be safer with more cars driven by machines instead of people.

Those statements, among others, might cause some scrambling. Manufacturers are working frantically to partner with AI providers, cab services and ridesharing services such as Uber, Lyft and Waymo. Naysayers will note that rural areas will be highly unlikely to use autonomous vehicles soon, and it’s true that the largest impact may be in urban areas. But if car ownership were even cut by 5% by 2030, a tremendous number of auto manufacturers and auto insurers would be affected.

Autonomy and its insurance impact isn’t limited to personal autos. Truck company Otto is testing self-driving commercial trucks — a necessary automation that could help alleviate the growing lack of truck drivers. Husqvarna has several models of autonomous lawn mowers on the market. Yara and Rolls Royce are among companies working on autonomous ships. Case, John Deere and Autonomous Tractor Corporation have all been developing driverless tractors.

In nearly every one of these cases, there are safety benefits and disruptive insurance implications, but there are also revenue growth opportunities for those that think more broadly and “outside the box.” From developing partnerships with automotive companies to leveraging the autonomous vehicle data for new services, each offers alternative revenue streams to counter the decline of traditional auto insurance. The key is experimenting with these technologies to find alternative “products and services” and develop an ecosystem of partners to support this, before the competition does.

Share and Transportation as a Service — Insurers May Like

In our report, A New Age of Insurance:  Growth Opportunity for Commercial and Specialty Insurance in a Time of Market Disruption, we cite a report from RethinkX, The Disruption of Transportation and the Collapse of the Internal-Combustion Vehicle and Oil Industries, which says that by 2030 (within 10 years of regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles), 95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals, in a new business model called “transport-as-a-service” (TaaS). The report says the approval of autonomous vehicles will unleash a highly competitive market-share grab among existing and new pre-TaaS (ride-hailing) companies in expectation of the outsized rewards of trillions of dollars of market opportunities and network effects.

Welcome to the adolescence of the sharing economy and transportation as a service. Autonomy isn’t the only road for vehicle progress. Vehicle sharing is growing and will remain in vogue for some time. Just as Airbnb and HomeAway have given rise to new insurance products, Zipcar and Getaround and Uber have given rise to new P&C products.

At the same time, a merging of public and private transportation and a pathway to free transportation is in the early stages of being created in the TaaS model. This will shift risk from individuals to commercial entities, governments or other businesses that provide the public transportation, creating commercial lines product opportunities beyond traditional “public transportation.”

Vehicle users, whether they are riders, borrowers, sharers or public entities, are going to need innovative coverage options. Tesla and Volvo may be promising some level of auto coverage for owners of autonomous vehicles, but that kind of blanket coverage is likely to mimic an airline’s coverage of passengers and cargo — it will be limited. Those who lend their vehicle, through a software-based consolidator, such as Getaround, will need coverage that goes beyond their auto policy.

In the past few weeks, we’ve also seen how cyber attacks can undermine freight and shipping, not to mention systems. Nearly all of these service-oriented options will require new types of service-level coverage. Autonomous freight may be safer in transit, but in some ways it may also be less secure.

The lessons appear to be found in brainstorming. Technology is breeding diversity in service use and ownership. There will be new coverage types and new insurance products needed.

See also: Will You Own a Self-Driving Vehicle?  

Up Next … Flying Vehicles

Remember the movie “Back to the Future” and the Jetsons flying cars that were so cool? Well, they are quickly becoming a cool reality. A June 2017 Forbes article says flying cars are moving rapidly from fiction to reality, with the first applications of flying vehicles for recreational activities in the next five years. The article says that, in the past five years, at least eight companies have conducted their first flight tests, and several more are expected to follow suit, indicative of the frenzied activity in this space.

Companies such as PAL-VTerrafugia, AeromobilEhangE-VoloUrban AeronauticsKitty Hawk and Lilium Aviation completed test flights of their flying car prototypes, with PAL-V going further by initiating pre-sales of its Liberty Pioneer model flying car, which the company aims to deliver by the end 2018. This sounds like Tesla and its pre-sales move!

Not to be left behind … ride-sharing companies are aggressively entering the space. Uber launched the Uber Elevate program, with a focus on making flying vehicles transport a reality by bringing together government agencies, vehicle manufacturers and regulators. Google and Skype are entering the space by investing in start-ups: Google in Kitty Hawk and Skype in Lilium Aviation. Not to be left behind, Airbus has unveiled a number of flying car concepts, with plans to launch a personal flying car by 2018. Airbus also plans to build a mass transit flying vehicle…the potential next TaaS option.

So, it pays for insurers to keep their attention on autonomous vehicle trends … because it is more than the personal autonomous vehicle … it is the transformation of the entire transportation industry and will have a significant impact on premium and growth for auto insurers. As we recently found in our commercial and specialty insurance report, the transportation industry is rapidly changing and new technologies may be lending themselves to safety, but the world itself isn’t necessarily growing any safer.

Risk doesn’t end. Insurers will always be helping individuals and companies manage risk. The key will be using the trends to rapidly adapt to a shift to the new digital age. Insurers will need to understand and value new risks and offer innovative products and services that meet the changing needs in this shift during the digital age.

The Big Lesson From Amazon-Whole Foods

I doubt that Google and Microsoft ever worried about the prospect that a book retailer, Amazon, would come to lead one of their highest-growth markets: cloud services. And I doubt that Apple ever feared that Amazon’s Alexa would eat Apple’s Siri for lunch.

For that matter, the taxi industry couldn’t have imagined that a Silicon Valley startup would be its greatest threat, and AT&T and Verizon surely didn’t imagine that a social media company, Facebook, could become a dominant player in mobile telecommunications.

But this is the new nature of disruption: Disruptive competition comes out of nowhere. The incumbents aren’t ready for this and, as a result, the vast majority of today’s leading companies will likely become what toast—in a decade or less.

Note the march of Amazon. First it was bookstores, publishing and distribution, then cleaning supplies, electronics and assorted home goods. Now, Amazon is set to dominate all forms of retail as well as cloud services, electronic gadgetry and small-business lending. And the proposed acquisition of Whole Foods sees Amazon literally breaking the barriers between the digital and physical realms.

See also: Huge Opportunity in Today’s Uncertainty  

This is the type of disruption we will see in almost every industry over the next decade, as technologies advance and converge and turn the incumbents into toast. We have experienced the advances in our computing devices, with smartphones having greater computing power than yesterday’s supercomputers. Now, every technology with a computing base is advancing on an exponential curve—including sensors, artificial intelligence, robotics, synthetic biology and 3-D printing. And when technologies converge, they allow industries to encroach on one another.

Uber became a threat to the transportation industry by taking advantage of the advances in smartphones, GPS sensors and networks. Airbnb did the same to hotels by using these advancing technologies to connect people with lodging. Netflix’s ability to use internet connections put Blockbuster out of business. Facebook’s  WhatsApp and Microsoft’s Skype helped decimate the costs of texting and roaming, causing an estimated $386 billion loss to telecommunications companies from 2012 to 2018.

Similarly, having proven the viability of electric vehicles, Tesla is building batteries and solar technologies that could shake up the global energy industry.

Now, tech companies are building sensor devices that monitor health. With artificial intelligence, these will be able to provide better analysis of medical data than doctors can. Apple’s ResearchKit is gathering so much clinical-trial data that it could eventually upend the pharmaceutical industry by correlating the effectiveness and side effects of the medications we take.

As well, Google, Facebook, SpaceX and Oneweb are in a race to provide Wi-Fi internet access everywhere through drones, microsatellites and balloons. At first, they will use the telecom companies to provide their services; then they will turn the telecom companies into toast. The motivation of the technology industry is, after all, to have everyone online all the time. The industry’s business models are to monetize data rather than to charge cell, data or access fees. They will also end up disrupting electronic entertainment—and every other industry that deals with information.

The disruptions don’t happen within an industry, as business executives have been taught by gurus such as Clayton Christensen, author of management bible “The Innovator’s Dilemma”; rather, the disruptions come from where you would least expect them to. Christensen postulated that companies tend to ignore the markets most susceptible to disruptive innovations because these markets usually have very tight profit margins or are too small, leading competitors to start by providing lower-end products and then scale them up, or to go for niches in a market that the incumbent is ignoring. But the competition no longer comes from the lower end of a market; it comes from other, completely different industries.

The problem for incumbents, the market leaders, is that they aren’t ready for this disruption and are often in denial.

Because they have succeeded in the past, companies believe that they can succeed in the future, that old business models can support new products. Large companies are usually organized into divisions and functional silos, each with its own product development, sales, marketing, customer support and finance functions. Each division acts from self-interest and focuses on its own success; within a fortress that protects its ideas, it has its own leadership and culture. And employees focus on the problems of their own divisions or departments—not on those of the company. Too often, the divisions of a company consider their competitors to be the company’s other divisions; they can’t envisage new industries or see the threat from other industries.

This is why the majority of today’s leading companies are likely to go the way of Blockbuster, Motorola, Sears and Kodak, which were at the top of their game until their markets were disrupted, sending them toward oblivion.

See also: How to Respond to Industry Disruption  

Companies now have to be on a war footing. They need to learn about technology advances and see themselves as a technology startup in Silicon Valley would: as a juicy target for disruption. They have to realize that the threat may arise in any industry, with any new technology. Companies need all hands on board — with all divisions working together employing bold new thinking to find ways to reinvent themselves and defend themselves from the onslaught of new competition.

The choice that leaders face is to disrupt themselves—or to be disrupted.