While reopening plans have been rolled back in many states, most insurance agencies should be considering how to move their operations forward once shutdowns are lifted. The first thing that agency leaders need to be thinking about is what their clients want in terms of service.
“They need to understand their customers,” said Laird Rixford (pictured), CEO of Insurance Technologies Corporation (ITC). “I’ve spoken to a lot of agencies that were surprised at how they were able to transition a traditional customer that liked to come into the office, into a customer that was willing to interact with the agency remotely.”
Agents have the ability to service their clients over the phone, online and in-person, which sets them apart from direct writers and aggregators. They should take advantage of the fact that they can offer all of these modes of doing business, especially in an uncertain environment where a second or third wave of the pandemic could happen down the road. Rixford recommends that agencies survey their clients at this time and figure out what their preferences are for doing business into the future.
“Creating an environment that allows agents and brokers to work with their clients when and where their clients want to is an ongoing experience,” he added, noting that agencies should also continuously improve their technology and keep their websites updated. After all, thanks to the pandemic and the broader shift in consumer behaviors, “Consumers have gotten used to working with businesses remotely without that face-to-face interaction,” he said.
As a result, agencies need to invest in their technology stack with voiceover IP phones, online consumer rating services, portals, and web-based management systems to keep their service options broad for clients.
With the social distancing measures that will now be required for many businesses, agencies also need to update their physical spaces to account for the new risk in the workplace. This is easier said than done since agencies might have had a lot of foot traffic before the pandemic hit.
“As agencies are looking to reopen, they have to understand that it’s not just the safety of their clients, but it’s the safety of their employees [that’s critical],” said Rixford. “If you create an unsafe work environment because you have everybody stacked on top of each other, it’s going to be a problem.”
Once again, agencies need to understand their clients’ needs and what they’re expecting out of the agency, and then respond accordingly. For example, based on the demand for in-person servicing, leaders can determine how much of their staff should work in the office, and keep the rest working remotely. This in turn will help agencies remain flexible, should the dreaded second wave of COVID-19 occur.
Rixford says he believes in the ability of agencies to adopt to this new normal and prove their competitive advantage in the insurance marketplace.
“The old ways of how they used to transact business made them successful, [but] they continue to be successful when they work remotely,” said Rixford, though he cautioned, “I’m scared that people are going to [decide to] work remotely and close all offices. Well, then you’re no better than one of these direct call center writers. We need to make sure that this industry maintains that competitive advantage that they have as independent agents and brokers by offering not only choice in carriers, but also in how they work and interact with their clients.”