For those who don’t know me (probably most of you at this point), I started at OIA in June of this year. I am new to the association world, but not the insurance world. My last ten and a half years were spent working in an insurance brokerage where I was involved in nearly all areas of the P&C world. I have experience working with all forms of agencies – independent, captive and direct writers.
Most recently, I oversaw a commercial E&S MGA operation, E&O program division and a back-office service team – which translated to about 45 people across all three areas.
My team and I spent an unbelievable amount of time trying to improve both our customer service and customer experience. Until this time, I never understood how involved, how in-depth, and how much of a science there was to providing a GREAT customer experience.
Customer Experience vs. Customer Service
If you are like how I was before this experience, you probably thought customer service was a basic concept of answering the phone, being nice and helping customers with their problems. While those are all part of customer service, they don’t even scratch the surface on how to build a truly great experience.
Customer experience takes into account every interaction (or lack thereof) your clients and potential clients have with the agency. One misstep anywhere in that process can drive your client to a competitor.
We Were Failing
My team was failing our MGA carrier audits, on the brink of losing some contracts, could not get to submissions quick enough to win, and were struggling to answer the phones. When we did answer phones, we rushed the conversation to get back to everything else on our plates. And simple service requests took a backseat to say the least. All of this caused us to lose business to our competition.
My team and I were the lucky ones tasked with making all this right. We started by dividing team members into specialties and getting the right people in the right seats on the right bus. Everything was smooth sailing from there, right? Not quite. This was only the start of our journey into the mad science behind a great customer experience.
The great news is that we went from the scenario above to handling upwards of 3,500 incoming calls a month with a 98+ percent answer rate, generating more than 150 quotes a day, and binding between 60 and 80 accounts a day. This was accomplished by being honest about what was (and wasn’t) working, establishing the right processes, and not being afraid to try new things.
Before I jump into how you can fix your agency’s customer experience, let me ask you a question. Does my story sound familiar? Demands on agents are increasing, consumer expectations are at an all-time high, response times must be now or yesterday, and all this with the competition promising a quote or policy in five minutes or less.
But it’s not all bad. There’s still plenty of opportunity for independent agents to be successful.
To move forward in the IA channel, we need to pause and revisit the basics – get better at customer service, more purposeful about customer experiences, and more focused on relationships. These are what make the independent agent the best option for consumers and businesses.
What Makes Independent Agents So Special?
YOU spend more than “15 minutes or less” getting to know your clients
YOU have in-depth industry knowledge and experience with a range of coverages
YOU care about finding the right coverage and price for each account
YOU value relationships you have built with people
YOU will go out of your way for your clients
YOU are an integral part of your local community
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
These are all the reasons I came to OIA for the opportunity to work with such wonderful and amazing independent agents (I’m new, so let me suck up a little).
Let’s take all the things that make an independent agent great, take a long, hard look at our blocking and tackling, make sure our service levels match our customers’ expectations, put some processes/check points in place, and then continue to own the commercial market share and increase the personal lines market share in Ohio. Defense can sometimes be your best offense (think of the referral opportunity and retention opportunity from great customer service).
The Most Important Part – Where to Start
In this series, I’ll take you on my personal customer service journey and explore the more-involved-than-I-ever-anticipated science of providing a great experience.
Until my next article, I encourage you to ask yourself these important questions:
On a scale of “I have no idea” to “I got this in the bag,” how would you rate your current customer service? What benchmarks are you using to compare your service levels?
How often do you check in on your team and the customer service they provide? Do you have a structured process? How do teammates share best practices within the agency?
If you do check in, what kind of coaching and training do they receive when improvement is needed?
What kind of service expectations do you set in the agency?
What incentives are in place for awarding outstanding customer service (which leads to greater retention rates or more referrals, by the way)?
With a majority of consumers beginning their search online and then calling in, do you know:
– How often and how quickly phone calls are answered
– How many opportunities are lost to unanswered calls (your clients and potential clients hate voicemail)
– The time of day your agency receives the most calls and how fully staffed you are at that time
“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take” – Wayne Gretzky. Same goes with answering the phone. What’s your process for reviewing this data and making the necessary changes to avoid missing opportunities?
If You’re Not First, You’re Last
I can tell you from firsthand experience — your direct writer competitors have the training and structured approach to be able to answer these questions.
If your customer experience is already unstoppable, great. But if the selling point for your agency is “good customer service” and you have even a shred of doubt about your team’s ability to live up to today’s consumer expectations, stick with me.
In the next article, I will share in-depth problems, solutions, key performance indicators and everything else that took my previous team from failing to winning.
Want to learn more? Check out OIA's resources on customer experience.