There is still room for growth in digital adoption, and COVID-19 shone an even brighter light on the need for independent agents to have a digital presence.
The shift to digital ways of doing business has been building over at least the last decade. With easy, instant, online buying experiences now the norm, consumers have come to expect the same from every company they do business with.
Many studies and surveys bear this out. A 2019 Salesforce report—The State of the Connected Consumer—found that 73% of customers feel that if they have an extraordinary experience with one company, that experience raises the bar for all other companies.
The impact of COVID-19 has only accelerated the shift toward digital. In the decade from 2009 to 2019, the share of online retail shopping increased by 10%, from 5% of retail shopping in 2009 to 15% in 2019, according to Bank of America.
By the end of April 2020, online buying had increased by another 10 points as a result of COVID-19. This means that in less than six months, the share of people buying online grew as much as it had in the previous 10 years.
With this increase in online activity, you have to imagine that many online shoppers have had an extraordinary experience that raised their expectations of other businesses—including insurance agencies.
There has been a big push for digital adoption in the independent insurance channel over the last several years, but there is still room for growth, and COVID-19 shone an even brighter light on the need for agents to have a digital presence.
The State of the Connected Consumer report also found that 54% of customers said companies need to transform how they engage with them. Two-thirds are willing to pay more for a great experience, and 67% say the way a company uses technology indicates how it operates in general.
How can independent insurance agents transform their digital capabilities and better use technology to meet these changing customer expectations?
Before you can start using digital tools, it's important to have some foundational tools in place internally. This is an important first step in creating a consistent and excellent experience for every customer, whether they walk into your office, call a staff member on the phone or interact with your agency online. It's also critical for business continuity, ensuring your staff can serve clients even if your office is closed.
This is yet another area where COVID-19 had a great impact. In March, Liberty Mutual and Safeco surveyed more than 1,200 agents and found that 50% of their agencies had closed completely. Of that, 30% had agency employees working from home. Agencies that already had digital tools in place were able to more easily make the transition to remote work.
Every agency has different processes and priorities for digital adoption, so agencies need to assess what tools are most impactful for their agency. But there are a few key components that lay a strong digital foundation for your agency to build upon. A good first step is to protect your agency online by setting up a virtual private network (VPN). This ensures that the staff connect to a secure network even when they are working remotely.
Next, investing in a cloud-based agency management system (AMS) allows staff members to access and update customer files anywhere, any time. A good AMS will integrate with other digital tools, enabling you to do things like automating and tracking customer communications.
A Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system lets your staff make and receive calls from your office number even when they are working remotely. Along with allowing customers to sign documents virtually, eSignature solutions can help you move paperwork out of filing cabinets and into secure, remote digital storage.
No matter where your agency is in your digital journey, you should build a strategy for further incorporating the digital experience into your workplace. Gather your leadership team to create a plan to go from where you are today to where you want to be in the future.
For tips on building your digital strategy, including developing your online presence, connecting with customers, and tracking data, continue reading in the latest edition of Independent Agent magazine.
Sam Affolter is head of agent research and innovation for Liberty Mutual and Safeco.
Visit AgentForTheFuture.com to download Liberty Mutual and Safeco's new e-book, “Digital, Accelerated: The Essential Guide for Independent Agents," which provides insights and resources on implementing digital change, including a tool to benchmark an agency's digital transformation process.