These days, there’s an app for everything. And independent insurance agents are beginning to take advantage of that.
While using apps has become increasingly more common among independent agencies, developing custom apps at the agency level is a fairly new frontier—especially apps designed to enhance the client experience. “A lot of the companies have apps they’re coming out with now, but we still don’t think any other agency in our area has an agency app,” says Marc Petersen, personal lines manager at Petersen & Associates in New Berlin, Wisc.
Why have so few independent agents ventured into the world of app development? Concerns about financial investment and time commitment aside, many still view the app world as an enigma. “I think there was some confusion—and there still is—in the industry about how to get started,” explains Ron Berg, executive director of the Big “I” Agents Council for Technology (ACT).
Focusing on a solid goal can help provide clear direction. A good place to start? Striving to optimize apps for the consumer experience. Berg encourages agents to ask themselves: “What are the expectations for having service and opportunities delivered to customers through the insurance discovery, the insurance research, the insurance buying and the insurance servicing journeys?”
A few independent agents have already explored this question.
Eric and Marc Petersen of Petersen & Associates contracted with a general app developer to create a product that would streamline common processing requests through fillable forms, help create a home inventory utilizing a smartphone’s camera, provide the Web links and phone numbers of their companies for billing purposes, and assist customers with reporting a claim.
“It was a good way to differentiate ourselves in our local market, as well as make our customer service more seamless,” explains Eric Petersen, commercial lines manager at Petersen & Associates.
While general app developers welcome any design request, third-party developer Blue I caters specifically to the insurance industry. Those concentrated efforts allow the Charlotte, N.C.-based company to constantly push the line of technology forward.
Claudia McClain, president of McClain Insurance Services in Everett, Wash., says the Blue I app is one her clients can “really use as a tool, not just a glorified rolodex.” In addition to an agent dashboard, features include tying the geo-locator to claim reporting, allowing the home inventory to access the cloud and increasing communication through push notifications—all of which provide greater flexibility to client and agent alike.
Chris Paradiso, president of Paradiso Insurance in Stafford, Conn., also uses the Blue I app. “Apps are great—the problem is agencies are buying the wrong apps that do nothing for them or their clients,” he explains. To rectify that, Paradiso is currently working with Matt Aaron, Blue I president, to develop an app feature specifically for the commercial trucking industry, which will help streamline documentation procedures during inspections.
Still, it’s not enough. Bridging the app with the agency’s management system, QQ Solutions, is Paradiso’s next step—doing so would allow information from the agency management system to upload directly into the app. It’s still in the development stage, but Blue I and QQ Solutions are working hard to make bridging a reality.
“You cannot ask your customers to take photos of their insurance cards and think that that’s the future—it isn’t,” says Paradiso. “Every year or every six months, they’re going to have to update it. The future is the bridge.”
Want more on app development? The Big “I” has created a tablet app for IA magazine, and ACT has created multiple work groups to help agents expand their understanding of the app world. For more information, contact Ron Berg or visit the ACT website.
Sydney Roe is Big “I” public relations intern.