The success of insurance business today lies in many factors but none more pervasive in the digital era than adopting new technologies to deliver exceptional customer experiences. While many assume that policyholders are the only customers insurers should focus on, agents, especially independent agents, are also critical customers in the insurance value chain. Agents not only provide the personal touch to consumers, but also provide the high-value guidance on products and services that many need. Additionally, as of 2018, independent agents wrote 35.5% of premiums while carriers with exclusive agency channels, which also go through independent agents, wrote 48.3%. Due to the pivotal role that agents play in the insurance sales and distribution cycle, providing a superior agent experience is not just a good to have, but a must have to drive digital growth.
The Experience that Insurance Agents
Upgrading the agent experience does not mean providing a platform with lots of bells and whistles, like seven different ways to process a claim. Catering to agents means implementing changes that are desired, useful, and functional. Instead of spending vital resources on upgrades that won’t be used, figure out where to improve to differentiate your agent experience. When it comes to building an optimal experience for agents, here are some of the things agents say they want most:
Ease of Doing Business
Most insurance agents operate independently, selling various plans offered by different carriers. They evaluate various factors and suggest a particular insurance policy to their customers. It is only natural that agents will favor a plan that’s easy to sell and will surely benefit them and their customers. It is no surprise then that insurance agents rate ease of doing business as the most important component of their experience, which refers to ease of finding the best policy for a customer and ease of communicating with a carrier and efficiently processing data.
Agents communicate with insurance companies through various channels such as email, phone, and web, but when it comes to agent experience, the focus falls on portals. According to Celent’s current research on agents, 86% of agents said that an easy-to-use agent portal is something they “have to have.” Meeting this need, 71% of insurers say they are replacing or enhancing their agent portal in 2021. However, not all agent portals offer the same features and functionality, or the capabilities that would bring the most value to agents. For insurers looking to build ease of use in their agent portal, the four areas to focus on are:
- User experience: clear layout, search bar, account tab, help tab
- Quote & issue: minimal data entry (consider bringing in third-party data to ensure accuracy and efficiency), broad range of transaction types, tools and calculators
- Service: policy/billing/claims inquiry
- Administration: marketing support, agent management system connectivity
In addition to building these capabilities into the portal, working with agents to test out the portal and receive feedback to improve it is the most important part of the process.
When agents have to juggle different plans from different carriers in order to provide the customer with the best options, it can become complicated and confusing for all parties. This process becomes even more arduous when an insurer is unclear about its policies. Also, the filing process will take longer and will be more susceptible to error, causing frustration for both client and agent and possibly endangering the partner relationship.
Transparency, or the lack thereof, can be a dealbreaker for some agents. By clearly mentioning the benefits of the insurance plans, insurers not only make it easier for agents to sell their products, they also build trust; when agents understand the value of each insurance plan and can then pass on that value to the policyholder, by making the right product recommendations, they build trust with their customers. Transparency, then, is a necessity—it will help incentivize agents to sell the insurer’s policies over those of their competitors.
An Approach to Agent Experience
Erie Insurance went through this process of considering the optimal experience for their agents in the development of their commercial lines agent portal. Selling mainly through independent agents, Erie knew the experience they provide to agents will make a significant impact to their bottom line. When they received feedback that their agents were not satisfied with the experience offered by their core system, they set out to build a best-in-class user experience that will make it easy for agents to quote, issue and service accounts. Focusing on their agents’ expressed needs, Erie zeroed in on areas that could really differentiate them and worked toward the goal of providing benefits like straight-through processing, pricing sophistication, and product consolidation, all while reducing operations costs.
To deliver on this goal, Erie broke their approach down into different phases, allowing them to tackle one important issue at a time. They worked closely with their agents to refine the portal requirements, and specifically took an outside-in perspective to cater to their users, as well as an inside-out view to consider their system environment. Leveraging the Mendix low-code application development platform and the help of their implementation partner, Erie was able to execute a full end-to-end implementation of an upgraded system and created a platform that not only filled the gap in agent experience, but provided exceptional agent satisfaction that led to double digit growth for their commercial lines products.
Erie’s success clearly shows how addressing agent experience, and doing it in partnership with the agents themselves, can be a critical driver for business growth.
To learn more about how to deliver an optimal insurance agent experience, check out our on-demand webinar, Delivering on Agent Experience: Key capabilities to enable success, featuring Denise Smith (IT Director of Erie Insurance), Karlyn Carnahan (Head of Americas, P&C, Celent) and Vinod Paidimarry (SVP, Head of Digital & Cloud, ValueMomentum).