Everywhere you look today it’s digital this and AI that. Everyone now consults with the all-seeing and all-knowing Google before making any buying decision. People will even ask Alexa about insurance before they buy (assuming it has that skill installed).
Recent studies show that 84% of consumers will do research via mobile devices during their buying journey, even right up to the point of sale. Consumers consult with Insurance aggregator and price comparison websites, that provide information and insights about the insurance products they list. In Asia, many insurers are forced by government regulations to provide on-line self -service sales portals for customer to buy insurance. They may even have a chatbot available to assist in the process should the customer get stuck along the way. In all of this, where is the insurance agent?
Nowhere it seems.
Aviva, Tencent and Hillhouse have just launched Hong Kong’s first digital only life insurance company. They cite the savings from the elimination of agent commissions as a key price differentiator. In Singapore, in 2017, FWD ran a series of advertisements “Awkward first dates” which urged people to buy insurance on-line, by highlighting the embarrassing personal questions agents need to ask customers. In the US, Legal & General has boiled the life sales process down to simply taking a selfie!
Agents fear Digital
So much have agents been left out of the digital revolution by their companies, that many agents themselves have bought into the “fake news” that digital technology will take away their rice bowl. It was only in July this year that over half of Prudential’s agency leaders in Singapore protested to their Hong Kong regional office and their London head office about Prudential’s on-line sales.
But as I said, this notion is misplaced.
Studies show, that given the chance, most people prefer to buy financial products, especially complex ones, from a person. In a recent Deloitte study, agent follow-up was rated as the key factor in making the decision to purchase insurance. In Asia, the vast majority of life insurance sales are still via some form of intermediary, with direct sales forming only a tiny percentage of the whole pie.
So where’s the disconnect?
The Digital Disconnect
The short answer is that insurers have heavily focused on the agent illustration, quote & buy part of the value-chain and largely ignored the agent prospecting part and the other value-adds agents provide by being connected to their customers. Insurers have invested a lot of time and energy over the last 15 years into point of sales (PoS) tablet (mobile) tool kits with the vast majority of agents now equipped with some kind of PoS tablet tool. Despite this, agent productivity remains low, as so much of their time still goes into finding and attracting customers.
The prospecting effort can only increase as agents are practically deaf, dumb, blind and invisible from a digital perspective. Most customer buying signals today are only visible on digital platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It is there that people will discuss, marriage, births, job changes, home purchases, etc which are the key moments when life insurance becomes a very relevant topic for discussion. Agents need the digital tools to be aware of and play an active role in such conversations – to be digitally connected to their current and potential customers. As mentioned earlier, customers’ carry out much of their purchasing research on-line, so the digital visibility of agents is key to being found, being useful and therefore becoming trusted by customers while they are in their moments.
It’s important to note that less than 35% of organizations have studied these new customer journeys and even less have adapted their processes to this new reality.
The Agent’s Digital Suit
The good news is that there are new platforms available which cater to the direct needs of insurance agents operating in a digital world. Better still, some have already been deployed so we can start to see how effective they can be.
Think of these platforms as a “digital suit” that agents can wear, which extend and amplify their natural selling talents into the virtual world. They enable any agent to leverage technologies such as AI, chatbots and digital marketing & communications in their day to day business dealings. Additionally, some of these platforms foster seamless collaboration between enterprise digital marketing teams and the agent field force, enabling agents to execute professional digital campaigns with very little effort.
Firstly, these platforms provide agents with their own personalized micro-website. This makes the agent visible on the internet – popping-up in on-line Google searches. Have you ever asked Google where the nearest insurance agent is? Well I did. Here in Melbourne, it was truly a desert – no agents appeared. But I asked my daughter in Italy to try. She found four agents from the same insurer (who I know has implemented one of these platforms) within 10km of her location in Prato. That’s digital visibility.
With a web presence established, then tools like “click to chat”, “schedule an appointment”, “send an email” or “view location” on a map, all become available – multiple ways for customers to reach out virtually to the agent. A chatbot makes the website work for the agent 24×7 and can deliver warm leads to the agent, even while they sleep.
Some of these platforms provide the agent with a companion App, which is linked to the website. This immediately alerts the agent of any customer activity on the website allowing the agent to directly reach out in real-time to customers. Catching customers while they in their “moment” is critical to adding value and winning customer trust.
The Agent as a Digital Marketer
As mentioned earlier, some of these platforms enable the agent to execute highly targeted and personalised digital campaigns to their customers and prospects. These campaigns can be email based, SMS or even internet based via Google, Facebook or other social networks. The key to make these tools useful for agents is that they are simplified to be point & click affairs for the agent, with the ability to add small personal touches. At the same time, they leverage the smarts of the enterprise digital marketing team in terms of professional creative content, customer target selection attributes, etc. to help elicit moments in their targeted customers and prospects.
Insurers that have provided such “digital suits” for their agents, have discovered several interesting effects. One found that customer engagement increased by over 250% after implementation. Another found they reduced agent attrition by 30% over 18 months. Most importantly, they have all seen huge increases in business opportunities for their agents (including rookie agents) by using such platforms.
Is it practical – a website for every agent?
“So what’s the catch?”, I hear you say. In the past, giving every agent their own website would have been a huge logistical and administrative nightmare. Everyone knows that large swaths of the agency force are inactive. Worse still, agent attrition is a continuous problem in all markets. It would have taken an army to keep up. Fortunately, these platforms can set up a new agent’s website in just a few clicks and take it down again in the same rapid manner. Using standardised templates enables the agent’s personalisation to be injected when the website is created.
These platforms are also able to monitor the entire swarm of agent websites and ensure all agent to customer communications are on brand and in line with regulations. They also provide a clear picture of the entire pipeline of opportunity across the agent force – at least where they are “suited-up” that is.
Given that content and campaigns are centrally created, but locally adjusted and executed, it provides the opportunity for the identification of digital best practices that can be shared across the network. Overall aggregation of campaign results and engagement statistics helps everyone become more productive.
The bottom line.
It’s clear that more and more customers are “digital first” – spending much of their time focused on their mobile phone screens connected to a digital world. To be relevant, insurance agents need to be where their customers are – on the Internet. Insurers need to provide tools which give each of their agents a personal digital presence and digital reach. Today there is no excuse. New platforms provide these agent-friendly tools that can be managed centrally, at scale, and pay for themselves through increased business opportunities.
For the first time, agents can play a part in the insurer’s digital marketing strategy and the insurer’s digital agenda can be seen as helping the agent. Rather than marching against the digital destiny of the industry, agents can be engaged and become a key element of making insurance truly digital in the 21st century. We hope we can inspire enterprises, agencies and agents to take the long overdue digital leap and reconnect with customers on the digital sphere as they face their critical moments in their lives.
If you are inspired on this topic, just as we at The Digital Insurer are, please get in touch. This is an area where we are absolutely primed to collaborate and work together to accelerate the digital transformation of insurance.