Why Your Agency Needs a Mobile App for Clients

Ever wonder why consumers believe GEICO provides a greater value than your independent agency? The reason could be in your pocket.

As many industries continue to move toward self-service, most direct and captive writers are keeping up with changing consumer demands by offering full-service mobile apps that enable insureds to check their information, pay bills and track claims at whatever time of day is most convenient for them.

Can your agency boast the same capability?

“People get these engagement models in all walks of their life,” says John Cammarata, vice president of development at PointSource, a digital transformation firm. “They have expectations to do things how they want, at the time they want—meaning it may not be traditional business hours—and on a medium of their own choosing. Insurance agencies are a service organization, and users will expect that same level of service from them.”

You probably already have a few social media accounts, a blog and maybe even a mobile-responsive website. Why do you need a mobile app as well?

“When you post a blog about motorcycle season, the customer reads that, and then it’s over,” says Kiki Johnson, co-founder of the Insurance Agent mobile app, which joins RedHead Mobile Apps as a leading mobile app option for independent insurance agencies. “If you pair that with a mobile app, now you’ve got something tangible to go with your intangible product.”

What Clients Want

Of course, just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come. Once you decide to implement a mobile app for your clients, how can you make sure it delivers the user experience they want?

Cammarata says that in an insurance mobile app, the 21st-century consumer expects things like self-service operations for paying their bills, understanding their policy limits and coverages, and quoting and binding their policy initially. Beyond that, “features should not just focus on some of those tangible things around insurance, but also add value that resonates with the target demographic,” he suggests.

If you develop your agency’s mobile app in partnership with Insurance Agent or RedHead, your clients can use it to contact you or their carrier; file a claim or make a payment, by interfacing with either carrier websites or a third-party payment system; request policy changes or certificates; create a home inventory complete with photos and descriptions; and keep track of details, photos, contacts, voice memos and diagrams at the time of an accident, among other things.

Beyond practical self-service features, RedHead also includes tools such as emergency contact information based on smartphone location data, as well as a Find My Car feature—“things that some may say aren’t really insurance-related, but we can justify them because they keep customers going back to the app,” explains Scott Pingel, owner of RedHead.

But currently, agents agree clients use their mobile apps for one purpose above all others: quickly accessing policy information, such as auto ID cards and proof of insurance.

“When you go out and you ask your staff about the 10 questions they get the most on a given day, week or month, I guarantee you half of those questions can be answered by the information your mobile app can provide,” says Jason Cass, CEO of The Insurance Alliance, an independent agency in Centralia, Illinois, which uses the Insurance Agent app. “For the 80-90% of agencies out there that are small, they’re trying to service their customers and the phone’s ringing off the hook because someone needs an ID card? We need to get past that.”

“I have several stories of people getting pulled over who couldn’t find their ID card,” agrees Kevin Bull, owner of Bull Insurance Agency in Lamar, Missouri, which uses RedHead. “Then they remembered it’s also on their phone in the mobile app, so they avoided getting that ticket and having to go to court to get it cleared up.”

Cass recounts the story of a client who was on her way to Alabama from St. Louis and wanted to book a rental car for her arrival, but didn’t have proof of insurance. She called Cass, who promised to send it within the next hour but encouraged her to download the mobile app for a quicker solution.

“I sent the proof of insurance to Hertz about 40 minutes later when I got home, then texted her to let her know,” Cass recalls. “She said, ‘I’m already getting ready to board my plane—I just downloaded the app and showed it to them. I’m going to use that from now on.’”

Behind the Scenes

According to Pingel, QQCatalyst is currently the only agency management system that has released an API—which means that so far, it’s also the only one that integrates directly with agency mobile app technology.

For agencies like Cass’s and Bull’s that use QQ, policy data flows directly from Catalyst into the mobile app for each individual policyholder based on their email address. If a client makes any changes through the app, “the app will send me an email to prompt me to take care of it,” Bull explains. “Once it’s processed on the carrier side and comes back through the management system, it’s automatically updated on their phone.”

Matt Aaron, Johnson’s co-founder, expects two additional management systems to get on board with Insurance Agent integration by year-end. But what if your management system doesn’t integrate with the mobile app technology? No problem for either app platform. “Probably 90% of our agency clients don’t have QQCatalyst, so in that case, we just integrate right with the carrier,” Pingel says. “It works very well.”

Doesn’t that add an extra burden on agency staff? No, because both apps are designed to automatically keep you in the loop about all client activity. As a result, Pingel says as far as RedHead’s workflow and manpower requirements go, “there really isn’t much.” Similarly, Johnson calls Insurance Agent “low maintenance.”

Even without management system integration, whenever a client completes any action using their mobile app, “the app automatically emails the information the client provided so we have it for our file,” explains Linda Rey, co-owner of Rey Insurance Agency in Sleepy Hollow, New York, which uses the Insurance Agent app. “It’s just one more medium for communication with our clients. It’s not cumbersome at all.”

“There is no difference in my workflow whatsoever, because it’s an automated system,” Cass agrees. “You don’t have to spend even five minutes a month managing it. There’s nothing to do. It’s automatic once you set it up, and setup is very little—it’s basically putting in your name and uploading your logo.”

Making the Case

What about dollars? RedHead charges a $500 setup fee and $45 a month from that point on. Insurance Agent offers various plan options depending on agency size, but charges the same prices for the base tier.

Both Cass and Bull include their mobile app spending in their broader tech budgets, while Rey houses it under marketing “with the constant touchpoints a client needs throughout the year for retention purposes,” she says. Thanks to discounts for referrals, “every year, it probably costs us about $600.”

“It’s really not that much when you look at how much you’re spending on other technology,” Bull says. “Just from the standpoint of not having to print ID cards, what we pay a month for it is worth its weight in gold. It boggles my mind why other agencies don’t have it.”

In fact, Rey and Cass agree that the only real challenge of having a mobile app is getting the word out that it exists. “It’s a constant, constant loop,” Rey says. “We have a page on our website dedicated to the app, and we always include a section about the app in every welcome email, newsletter and other communication so they can access it quickly and so we can make it easy for them to know it’s there.”

Bull’s agency advertises the app on a banner in the waiting area, and he also compiled a document to accompany every client communication that includes a description of the app’s features and a handful of simple, step-by-step setup instructions, plus a QR code they can scan to download so they don’t even have to search for it in the app store.

Cass suggests setting up a simple automated service where every time a client renews or binds a policy, they receive some sort of communication reminding them about the mobile app.

“It’s just like when people say, ‘No one ever goes to my Facebook page.’ Well, how many clients are you telling that you have a Facebook page, or asking for a like or review or for them to check in?” Cass points out. “If you set expectations, 90% of the time, people will meet, achieve or surpass them. But you have to give them those expectations in the first place.”

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.

Responsive Websites vs. Mobile Apps: Why You Need Both

If your agency has already invested in creating a mobile-responsive website, you might feel like offering a mobile app is redundant.

But a mobile-responsive website not only has an entirely different purpose than a mobile app—it also caters to a completely different audience.

Responsive Websites
“A mobile-optimized website is critical for multiple reasons these days, starting with Google recognizing you and ranking you,” explains Kiki Johnson, co-founder of the Insurance Agent mobile app. “The world has gone mobile, so Google has basically said if you can’t be present in a mobile format, then you’re not worth being found.”

Because of that, a mobile-responsive website is integral to your prospecting strategy in particular. “If you’re out there looking for clients and you want to be found, you have to mobile-optimize your website in this day and age,” Johnson says.

A mobile-responsive website is one that adjusts not only its size, appearance and functionality based on the device someone uses to view it, but also the information that’s available when they arrive. But beware taking the lazy route.

“A lot of agencies think, ‘OK, all I have to do is just make my desktop website squeeze down and fit on a mobile screen,’” Johnson points out. “The problem with that is if I’m a prospect and I go to your website and I’ve got to pinch and squeeze and slide and move to try to find anything, I’m going to get really frustrated and I’m going to say, ‘These guys aren’t the people I’m looking for.’”

That’s because for most people who are searching for an insurance solution, a clunky mobile website “tells them it’s going to be a lot of work to work with you,” Johnson says. “If I’m looking for you on mobile, that means I do a lot on mobile, and I expect you to deliver.”

Instead of trying to include everything your desktop website offers but in a smaller format, your mobile-optimized website should only contain “the key things a prospect is looking to do when they’re on their phone,” Johnson suggests.

Consider Delta Airlines: The company’s mobile-responsive website caters to the thought pattern that if someone is visiting Delta’s website on their phone, they’re likely in the middle of a trip and need to check in or check a flight schedule, notes Matt Aaron, Johnson’s co-founder.

How can you apply the same logic to your agency’s website? Johnson recommends narrowing your information down to the top four or five things someone might be looking to accomplish if they’re searching for insurance solutions on their smartphone, such as business focuses, quoting and location information.

“Use your mobile-responsive site to get their attention, because studies show they will then come back to you if they need to on their full desktop to get the rest of the information,” Johnson says. “That way you’re targeting what people are looking for in their mobile moment.”

Mobile Apps
If you have a mobile-responsive website, why can’t you just send your current customers to your website on their phone? “When you do that, you’re basically telling your clients, ‘We don’t care that much about you, because we want you to go out and search for us on a platform that is retargeted by every other agency and carrier and direct out there,’” Johnson says.

She’s referring to the fact that “insurance” is one of the No. 1 terms people search for on Google, Bing or Yahoo. “So when a client is trying to update their auto or find information because their child is about to start driving, they’re going to get retargeted” by your competitors based on their interest in insurance, Johnson explains. “Now, your own agency has to play catchup, and then you slide back into that price game.”

So while a mobile-responsive website is your secret weapon for attracting new prospects, a mobile app is key for retaining your current client base.

“This is where agencies have completely left the building in the sense that they’re not taking care of their existing customers,” Johnson says. “Over time, that attrition of just letting it slowly slide to the carriers who are sending the bill or their renewal notice—agents have just kind of let the engagement in customer experience slide by the wayside.”

A mobile app is a powerful retention tool because it provides a customized experience for each customer by connecting them to their personal insurance profile and solutions to their specific needs.

“It takes that customer and wraps them in a nice, contained environment,” Johnson explains. “You’re giving them this easy tool where if they have a question or need something, they can go right there. It’s meant to make your customer engagement and experience more personalized, more targeted and geared toward their specific needs.”

According to Aaron, very few business categories actually deserve real estate on a smartphone. But insurance is one of them. “You don’t necessarily know when you’re going to need it, but arguably when you do, something has transpired where you don’t want to be messing around with questions like, ‘Who’s my agent?’ ‘What’s the name of my agency?’” he points out.

It’s an engagement model the banking industry has mastered, Aaron says. Consider Bank of America: “They’ve done a phenomenal job of training me to not walk into a branch location,” he says. “There are four primary things you can do on the Bank of America app: deposit a check, check your balance, transfer money, pay a bill. Those are exactly the type of transactions that should be happening for the insurance vertical.” —J.C.