Digital was once a long-term ambition for many independent agents. But as the pandemic continues to leave us all with more questions than answers, one thing is becoming clearer: Digital will play a large role in how we move forward.
Seemingly overnight, digital has moved from a nice-to-have to a must. Our new reality is much more digital. While growth and retaining clients is a top priority, rapid digital transformation will be critical for agents to keep pace with changing customer expectations.
It’s best to look for inspiration from the agents who have already tackled transformation. Here’s three pieces of advice on how agents can go digital from three agencies that have embraced the process.
1) Rip the Band-Aid off. “You can’t wait for it to be perfect—it never will be,” says James Castell, owner of Castell Insurance, who believes that today is the best day for independent agents to embrace new tools and technologies.
Castell Insurance first embarked on its digital transformation journey just a few short years ago. Building on the agency’s legacy as a small-town, family-owned business, Castell saw an opportunity to reach a new audience of insurance customers that prefer digital.
“I still believe in the value of in-person relationships, but I felt we were missing out on opportunities by making it hard for people to do business with us,” Castell says.
Like many agencies that are currently facing the prospect of going digital, Castell first realized how critical digital is during an emergency as a snowstorm shut down the Northwest last year. The traditionally brick-and-mortar business was not prepared to keep operations running for the 10 days that the snowstorm required his staff to work from home.
Moving to digital quickly became a pet passion: He updated to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system, integrated texting and e-signature solutions, and started using more video.
The experience taught Castell that going digital, like ripping off a Band-Aid, needs to be quick and will likely come with some discomfort.
“There is going to be trial and error, and there may be some casualties along the way, but digital tools will ultimately help your agency grow,” he says.
2) Condition clients. Getting digital tools in place is one thing, but it’s another to start functioning as a digital agency. Erin Nutting is the owner of the digital agency, Integrity Insurance Services. Like Castell, she believes the most important thing agents can do is to just start.
“It will take time to unravel what works for your agency in the digital space and what doesn’t work,” she says. “You don’t have to do everything perfectly when you’re making the transition.”
Once agents start the transition, it’s critical to stay committed to the process. “You will need to set the expectations and condition your customers to your new ways of doing business,” Nutting says. “I’ve found that customers will do business with you how you ask them to do business if you set the expectation and communicate the change.”
3) Maintain authenticity. Many agents worry about how digital impacts the relationship and connections they have with clients. But adding digital channels doesn’t mean losing the personal touch. In fact, agents should work to infuse their unique personality and values even more than they would in person.
Ashley Abrams, marketing director at McClain Insurance Services, has been helping her team embrace video as an avenue to connect with clients. This has become an even greater focus for the firm since agency staff started working from home due to COVID-19.
The way Abrams sees it, “people like to do business with people they know, like and trust, and video gives clients a sense of an agent far beyond what they can get from a still photograph or written words.”
“As long as you’re being authentic, people will connect with that in one way or another,” she adds. “In the coming months and years, agencies are going to operate differently than they have in the past. They’re going to have to be a lot more comfortable with remote workers and digital communications.”
These are just three pieces of advice from independent agencies that have already made notable strides in digital transformation. Each agency will have different needs and will be at different stages in their digital journey, so plotting a path forward will look different for everyone.
If there is one thing that is certain for all agents, it’s this: We are in a new, Digital, Accelerated reality. How you respond today will define your agency for years to come. What steps are you taking to evolve?
Kathy Straub, agency marketing coach, Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance.
Recently, Liberty Mutual and Safeco 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.