Earlier this week, the virtual Agency Nation Elevate 2020 conference platform was a fitting backdrop as Liberty Mutual and Safeco’s Tyler Asher, president of independent agent distribution, and Sam Affolter, head of agent research and innovation, outlined key ways for independent agents to optimize their digital presence.
With the coronavirus pandemic catalyzing an already digital environment, “digital is no longer a ‘nice to have’,” Asher pointed out, as he and Affolter unpacked the question on many agents’ and industry experts’ minds: “How do we continue to evolve and adapt to ensure that the independent agency channel continues to thrive into the future?”
It’s clear to Asher that the future includes independent agents. “We fundamentally believe that independent agents will continue to win in the marketplace,” he said. “The unique combination of ease of doing business, choice in terms of breadth of offering and custom-tailored advice is a winning combination.”
Asher highlighted independent agents’ ongoing involvement in their communities during the coronavirus pandemic. “Now more than ever, those values, those enduring qualities, are amplified in the time of crisis: independent agents putting their people first, putting their customers first and finding ways to have a real impact.”
As independent agents continue to offer the customization and relationship emphasis that sets them apart, digital acceleration means those characteristics will continue to evolve. Much of that evolution is driven by a “seismic shift in customer digital expectation,” Affolter said. Citing a 2019 Salesforce report, he explained that “75% of customers expect companies to use new technology to create better experiences for them in the future.”
Moreover, as independent agents strive to serve their clients, “84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as the products and services that those companies offer,” Affolter said. “This number is actually four points higher than it was only a year before.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, the digital experience has become an integral part of business. “The share of people buying online nearly doubled in less than half a year as a result of COVID-19,” Affolter said, referencing data from Bank of America, U.S. Department of Commerce and ShawSpring Research. And as independent agencies have adapted to remote work and communications, “this experience will undoubtedly force an acceleration of the digital learning curve and you need to move with it.”
When building a digital presence, Affolter highlighted three key areas, all focusing on the customer experience:
1) Consumer Awareness. “How do I get people to even know about my agency and the value we provide to our customers?” Affolter asked. He recommends three main areas to explore: a robust web presence, search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing. “Nearly 50% of agents we surveyed update their websites less than once a year,” he says. “Well over half don’t use SEO on their web presence.”
2) Lead Conversion. “How do I get the people that are now for the first time potentially aware that my business exists to become my customer?” Affolter said. “It is critical to show your value and then compel those prospects that are on your site to connect with a relevant and timely call to action. This call to action should be embedded in the digital experience.” He recommended agencies “look to incorporate tools in your website that enable consumers to generate a quote or even purchase directly there.”
3) Customer Relationships. “How do I maintain that relationship with my new customers to ensure that they continue to see the value that my agency is to them?” Affolter said, who recommends incorporating a digital welcome pack for customers, having an online chat service, and even preparing quotes for customers over video and walking them through the website.
Especially for agencies looking to catch up with the rapid rate of digitalization, implementing these recommendations can be daunting. Affolter recommended starting with small steps and making highly focused, simple tweaks to determine a change’s effect on success or failure. He also recommended avoiding reinventing the wheel by utilizing a vendor or another company as an inexpensive and efficient way to maintain progress.
On Monday, Liberty Mutual and Safeco on Monday released their new guide Digital, Accelerated: The Essential Guide for Independent Agents to provide insights and resources on implementing digital change, including a tool to benchmark an agency’s digital transformation process.
AnneMarie McPherson is IA news editor.