The other day I listened as my wife grew increasingly frustrated trying to accomplish a simple change to an airline reservation; even though hardly anyone is currently flying and airlines have never had a higher employee-to-customer ratio in history. She was frustrated, upset, and vowed never to do business with that carrier again. Her experience was one roadblock after another. I had a similar recent experience, trying to drive somewhere in our hometown. When the street that I normally take was blocked I was forced into a neighborhood that was seemingly made up of nothing but cul-de-sacs. My trip, which should not have taken more than five minutes, took nearly half an hour with the result that I was late, mad, and stressed. These are two examples of the kinds of experiences that none of us want to repeat. Yet, so called “service businesses” create similar roadblocks, often without being aware of them and for their best clients and prospects.
Let's look at some things that a well-run insurance agency can do to make certain that their clients don't experience wasted time, frustration, anger, or a sense that the agency does not care for them. The first question to ask is does your agency offer any forms of customer self-service? Self-service is the norm in almost all businesses today and consumers like it because they find that they can get what they need done faster than waiting on a person to do it for them. With that in mind, can your clients get a security verification card or simple Certificate of Insurance on your website? Can clients get a home or auto quote on your website? In the alternative, can they receive a home or auto quote during off hours through submission of a quote request? Can clients file a claim on your website? Can clients make other service requests on your website? What capabilities do you provide your clients when you are not open? What kind of afterhours support do you provide? Can clients do any transactions with you after normal business hours? Can any agency staff be reached after normal business hours?
Today, consumer expectations are for fast service and immediate attention. Are all emails to your agency answered on the same business day? Even better, are they answered within one hour? Does your agency provide home, auto, or specialty personal lines quotes on the same day as requested? Does your agency provide business owner policy, commercial auto, or workers compensation quotes within 72 hours of request? Does your agency provide certificates, security verifications, or other requested documents within one hour of request?
While a lot of business today is conducted via email or through a web system, the telephone is still an incredibly important part of agency operations. With that in mind, is your agency telephone answered by a person or by an automated attendant? If by an automated attendant, how many presses of a button does it take for a call to reach a live human being? If it's more than three, you may have a problem. When someone dials an extension and that extension does not pick up, is the call forwarded until it's answered or does it go into a general-purpose mailbox? The latter is definitely a roadblock. What is your agency's voicemail callback policy? Do you require all voice messages to be returned within one hour of receipt?
What is your agency policy regarding texting? Do you regularly receive texts from clients and respond to their service requests via text or do you force clients to use a different communications modality?
Thinking about your communications with clients and prospects, do you have a formal communications plan where you are regularly reaching out to all clients multiple times during the year via calls, visits, emails, newsletters, and other means? Do you have a policy of contacting all existing clients at least 90 days before renewals? Do you provide all renewal quotes at least one to two weeks prior to the renewal date? Do you follow up with clients during and after every claim event to ensure that they have been properly taken care of?
One of the independent insurance agency’s primary value propositions is that they offer clients a choice among competing insurance companies. The promise to an independent agency’s client is that they only need one agent because that agent will make sure that their insurance needs are broadly exposed to the insurance marketplace. With that in mind, does your agency offer at least three quotes to all new and renewal clients for each coverage requested? Does your agency requote or remarket all accounts every year? Does your agency offer an attempt to write every line of business that each client buys?
What about access? How easy is it for clients to communicate with the person they need? Do all clients know who their service person is? Do all clients have access to senior leadership and have they been told how to communicate with those people?
Consumers don't often return to businesses who they do not feel appreciate them. With that in mind, does your agency have a formal “Thank You” policy where every client is expressed gratitude for doing business with the agency on a regular basis? Does your agency do anything special to say thank you for referrals? Does anyone, besides the producer, reach out to new and renewal clients to say thank you for their business?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, when I got rerouted endlessly while trying to find my way somewhere I'd been a hundred times before, part of the frustration was that very quickly I did not know where I was or where I was going. That lack of understanding creates massive frustration. Does your agency have a written or electronic onboarding process for new and renewal clients to reduce that kind of confusion? Does this onboarding program tell clients how to easily get the things they need from your agency? Or are clients left to figure it out every time they need help?
Finally, as you think about all of these questions and score yourself mentally on how well you're doing, the last question is perhaps the most important because we live in a rapidly changing world in which customer expectations are rapidly evolving and the capability to meet them is changing just as fast. That question is: does your agency have a consistent, regular, formal process for asking itself how you can improve in each of the areas of service mentioned in this article? My experience is that most independent agency owners want to offer a smooth and easy process for doing business with them. They've designed their businesses to accommodate clients to make them happy. We do this because wanting to be in the service business means that we want to serve people. It's hard to believe that anyone wants to serve them badly. But our desire is not enough. We need to constantly ask whether we have created roadblocks on purpose, or even inadvertently, that make it difficult to do business with us. Consumers have increasingly easy choices to go elsewhere and they will if we create frustration for them. I hope you'll find this article to be a good checklist for asking whether doing business with your agency represents smooth sailing or snarled up traffic messes and roadblocks.