Wheels of Progress: Nationwide’s Tech Collaboration with Amazon

Technology is fused to the average American’s life. It shapes how consumers access information, connect, relax—and what they expect from their insurance agent.

Today, independent agents need to stay current with consumers’ lives and needs. Technology creates new opportunities for agents to connect with clients, improve operations and add to their value. 

Blazing the trail for independent agents seeking to adapt to customers’ growing use of technology, Nationwide recently announced a national promotion to give away one million Amazon Echo Auto devices to new and existing Nationwide auto insurance policyholders.

When installed in customers’ cars, the Amazon Echo provides hands-free access to important information, acts as a scheduling assistant by setting reminders, and more. Other features also allow users to request roadside assistance or road condition updates, and even a new driver checklist to help beginning drivers learn safe driving habits—all via voice commands.

The promotion was prompted by Nationwide’s approach to improvement: customer-driven innovation.

“A year ago, we started to engage customers about what works and what doesn’t work,” says Scott Sanchez, Nationwide’s chief innovation officer. “As you know, distracted driving is a huge challenge for folks, and it’s something people are concerned with. So, we started to look at a potential partnership with Amazon, and more importantly the [Echo] in the car.”

Distracted driving is a concern—in fact, it’s the number one concern. Fifty-five percent of Americans believe it’s the biggest threat motorists face, ranking it higher than driving under the influence of alcohol, aggressive driving or speeding, according to a study by The Harris Poll.

Importantly, using hands-free technology while driving does not equal distraction-free driving. Voice-only technology distracts a driver’s brain even while freeing their eyes, according to a 2012 white paper by the National Safety Council.

However, hands-free technology is still safer than hands-on technology, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and, as Sanchez points out, technology is going to be used in the car either way. Ditching the phone and completely cutting off contact, navigation and information simply isn’t realistic for most drivers, he explains.

“Everybody says, ‘I’d love to turn my phone off’ and all of those things," says Sanchez. "That’s great and we hope people do that when they drive. But if you’re going to have the technology, make sure it’s as safe as it can be.”

The promotion was positively received by Nationwide’s independent insurance agents, who showed eagerness to help their customers and promote safe driving skills.

“Independent agents are constantly looking for ways to add value to the customer experience,” says Jeff Rommel, Nationwide’s senior vice president of property & casualty sales. “It’s led to some great proactive conversations with customers around some of [their] needs.”

“Anything they can do to help parents and youthful drivers have that conversation around the challenges of distracted driving, and in this case bring forward a solution that can help eliminate some of the distraction, has been a real positive,” he adds.

Technology is far from replacing agent interaction. In the eyes of both Sanchez and Rommel, the technological explosion has made independent agents more valuable than ever.

“As much as we’re excited about the digital side of things, the reality is so many people value relationships,” Sanchez says. “Our goal is to figure out when [customers] need what and deliver those experiences so we can protect their needs and delight them in ways they can’t imagine. Mobile’s part of that, providing them the right data is part of that, but also providing them the right touchpoints is another big part of that.”

Rommel agrees. “The needs of customers are evolving: They’re becoming far more reliant on self-service capabilities. But when the day is done, customers are still looking to independent agents for advice. They need somebody, that trusted advisor, who can help them make the right decisions,” he says. 

Small, family-run agencies may not have the scale to copy Nationwide’s collaboration with Amazon. However, that’s no excuse to be left behind the times. Every independent agent can tailor their services to the modern customer’s needs through the principles that Sanchez and Rommel have learned from this promotion and their years in the industry.

“If customers are looking for proactive advice, find a way to deliver it, whether it’s via texting or social media,” Rommel says. “Having interactive websites is now really important. It creates a two-way discussion rather than just simply a push out to the customer.”

“For agents, and a lot of people, they listen to solve or listen to sell,” Sanchez says. “But oftentimes it should start with listening to understand what really matters to their client.”

“They don’t just want somebody they buy from,” Rommel adds. “They want somebody they can have that relationship with, they can trust, engage, and truly dialog [with] so they can have their needs met.”

And if that’s what the modern customer wants, who else better to provide it than independent agents?

AnneMarie McPherson is IA assistant editor.