How Independent Insurance Agents Can Raise the Bar on Customer Service

How Independent Insurance Agents Can Raise the Bar on Customer Service Blog Image

If service is the true differentiator, here’s how to honor that promise to your clients.

The independent agent remains the single most important link in the insurance industry’s value chain. Throughout the U.S., thousands of these trusted professionals continue to prove their worth as trusted advisors to individuals, families, property owners, and businesses great and small.

Those independent agents will also tell you they’re busier than ever. According to the 2022 Insurance Agent Survey by PIA and National Underwriter Property & Casualty magazine, 1 in 5 respondents said their agency’s production increased year over year by more than 10%. Nearly 1 in 4 said their production was up between 6% and 10%. Their efforts have been rewarded: Comparing 2021 to 2020, the number of agencies reporting that their earnings increased rose by 19.2% (to 66.5%) and the number of agencies reporting that their earnings declined went down by nearly 16%.

Those agents also said that client relationships, service, and expertise were the three most critical elements in differentiating their agencies from the competition.

Independent agents are thriving. But if customer service is truly the biggest differentiator for their agencies, as they get busier it’s perhaps more important than ever that they deliver on that value proposition to their clients. Rededication to customer service requires a fresh mindset – one that can not only make their agencies more productive, but also reinforce independent agents’ core principles as trusted advisors.

The REAL Key to Fostering a Sales-Driven Culture

Agents are well acquainted with the various stages of the insured’s customer journey, from prospecting/signing to performing their risk analysis, marketing the client/securing coverage/producing certificates, claims handling, remarketing when necessary, and policy renewals. No one step can be considered less important than the others or approached as a “lesser” task.

However, busy agents can easily forget is that the insurance business by nature is highly transactional – and simply performing those transactions is not what will make you successful.

In decades past, the mere act of performing transactional tasks for insureds was valuable because the client had no other means to access the insurance product/service than through independent agents. That’s no longer the case for consumers, particularly when it comes to personal lines.

For agency staffers, performing those transactions can create a false sense of security since they represent a feeling of “accomplishment,” which is all too easy to fall back on.

Recognizing that this can become a bigger issue over time, agents would do well to pivot from a sales-driven culture to a service-driven culture. In reality, you build a sales culture not by focusing on sales, but rather on service.

The goal is to develop a service-centric culture that transcends order-taking and aspires to a level of consistent consultancy with your customers. Moving the needle to a true, relationship-based value proposition is far more lasting and rewarding.

The key is to take small steps that shift the perceptions of your team and elevate even the most minor transactions to a personal level. Here are some practical tips:

  • Reintroduce your team to the telephone. E-mail is a great tool to outline policy details or keep a record of a conversation; it’s not and should never be the only means of communication with your customers. Any interactions your agency has with clients should not begin with an e-mail. The goal is to foster deeper relationships with your customers. We are all drawn to people we like, and we want to work with those who show they care about our well-being. This emotional connection is more effectively cultivated by a personal call.’

 

  • Emphasize that every customer contact is a chance to build relationships. A billing inquiry, adding a vehicle, making a payment – all these moments are opportunities to shine. Every opportunity that you speak with customer is a chance to ask questions and ensure that they’re properly protected; be mindful to be consultative during every conversation. Once you’ve established regular communication with your clients, keeping them informed of developments in the market that will affect their rates will be a less painful process for both you and them. Prepare them for what might happen down the road when their rates rise.

 

  • Commit your agents to periodic check-in calls to your customers. These should be made with no upfront sales intent – just a check-in to see how they (and in the case of commercial clients, their businesses) are doing. Practice active listening; get to know the customer. Explore what their potential needs could be. The intel you glean on the customer’s life changes can reveal coverage opportunities in auto, home, or other assets, and can help you to identify commercial exposures for their business. Not every conversation you have with a client will lead to added coverage, but you should embed this practice in your agency’s culture and reinforce it. Take the opportunity to enter notes in your agency management system on the client and their recent developments, for future use.It’s a popular misconception that customers do not want to hear from their agent. After all, the personal touch and a sense of rapport are a big part of what they’re paying for. Consider devoting a certain time slot per day, even if it’s just one hour, to check-in calls.

 

  • Celebrate success among your agents. Proudly recognize those who add a line of business, bring in a new customer, or close a sale. Most of us are competitive at some level, and public recognition not only lifts a team member by celebrating their success but also motivates others to elevate their own performance. People love to see their hard work recognized.

 

  • Run contests focusing on the metrics you want to achieve. Offer incentives for reaching targets in account rounding, retention, or new business. It’s surprising how $10 coffee cards or other inexpensive rewards can drive positive behaviors and generate excitement.

 

  • Consider monetary incentives for your CSRs. Measuring and rewarding new business or adding additional protection to an insurance program is a proven way to drive a service culture and push team members outside of their transactional comfort zone. Engender a culture in which CSRs are encouraged to tee up opportunities to your agents – and are rewarded for it.

 

Agencies succeed or fail by the relationships you build and how deeply you foster those connections. Your clients count on you to protect their families, wealth, and businesses. The interactions they have with you should never amount to a drive-through experience.

Just like in any relationship in your life: when in doubt, reach out.

Let’s face it – every agent provides great customer service. Take away the human touch, and all agencies are very much the same. How you stand out is how you nurture them, support them, and anticipate their needs.

To those who would say, “You don’t understand – I’m too busy to do all this,” if you don’t have time to protect your customers, you need to take a hard look at your staffing levels and adjust accordingly. Simply performing transactional work is a guaranteed way to keep you running in place for years to come.

What will set you apart is having customers that like you, feel like they are cared for, and have the sense that you are truly serving their interest. Small changes have a big impact that will transform the culture of your agency.

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