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From the Front Lines: Personal Auto

In the personal auto market, independent agent Kriss Petti Roller faces competition “everywhere I turn,” she says. “I go to Costco and they want to sell me insurance. Amazon wants to sell me insurance.”
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FTFLKriss Petti Roller

A&A Action Auto Insurance
Cleveland, Ohio

How did you get started at your agency?

Honestly, I just kind of fell into it. I was young and I needed a career. I had a relative who was part-owner of an agency at the time who said, “I have just the thing for you!” I started in customer service and worked my way up.

Why personal auto insurance?

I just fell into property-casualty, and I stuck with the agency. I really believe in what we do and our niche market. Consumers are cost-conscious and I take pride in the fact that we we’re able to help a clientele who may not be able to find what they need at another agency. I have enough years of experience in this field that I can usually find a policy that is both affordable and fits the client’s individual needs. It’s not all about selling the most expensive policy we can. Our agency doesn’t work that way.

Biggest personal auto industry changes?

The competition. It’s everywhere I turn. I go to Costco and they want to sell me insurance. Amazon wants to sell me insurance. I bought a new car last year and the dealership had their own agency, which is becoming more common here in Cleveland.

Most large car dealerships either have their own agency or they’re allowing an agent to work within their location. We’ve lost a handful of customers because of it, but some have come back because of the poor service they’re receiving. Those outlets seem to be more about sales and less about service.

Biggest challenges?

Most recently, it seems to be finding new clients. Having been doing this for a little while, we used to get a lot of clients through Yellow Pages, print advertising and direct mail. In the late 2000s, we started buying internet leads online. And for a while they were a great way to reach an entirely new customer base, but they stopped being effective when the lead brokers got greedy. They’d take the same lead and sell it to thirty agents. At the end of the day, the customer was getting 30 phone calls. Just like any business looking to find new clients and bring in new business, we continue to change and adapt our approach based on how consumers are connecting to the services they need.  

Future trends?

More technology. Customers are changing how they want to interact with us. They want fewer phone calls, more emails and the ability to chat online. Agencies now have virtual assistants and fewer people in the office. There’s more reliance on the internet and technology, and less emphasis on, or interest in, human contact. One carrier even has a new claim service in which clients simply send in a picture. More often than not, they don’t even need to send an adjuster out for inspection.

Advice for a fellow agent?

Honesty is your number one priority. The client has to know that they can depend on you because that’s what’s going to set you apart. Quick follow-up, rapid response times, and getting the client the correct answer are all critical priorities. But sometimes so is listening and holding their hand, if needed. Clients are coming to us for guidance and advice, not just to get the lowest price and the cheapest policy. Some people have complicated situations or don’t have a firm grasp on what they need or how to go about getting it.

Favorite success story?

My office emphasizes relationships. There are folks we see every month that I’ve had as clients for 10-15 years. One gentleman has always had a raspy voice. I noticed that over time it was getting worse and worse until eventually he was only speaking in a whisper. I gave him his receipt and said, “I will not take your payment next month until you go see a doctor.” He did, and it was throat cancer. He just finished his final treatment and his doctors are very optimistic about his chances of making a full recovery.  

I think we have a bigger impact than we realize. We have an image in the industry where people think, “Oh, you’re an insurance agent. You’re stuffy, boring and wear a pocket protector.” When I get to step out of that mold and make a difference in someone’s life, it’s a personal win for me.

AnneMarie McPherson is IA assistant editor.