Blog Industry Insights

Small Business Doesn’t Mean Small Expectations

5 MIN

Five ways to improve customer satisfaction

The stakes have been raised. Small-business customers are demanding not only faster, better responses, but they want a digital insurance experience, too. Some agencies are falling short. According to a survey by JD Power, small-business customers’ satisfaction with insurance agents declined for the second year in a row. In fact, the number of customers who say they had to exert a great deal of effort to interact with their agents increased to 32% -- up from 10% a year ago – according to the survey.

Customer service is critical to every agency. It’s a big reason that customers turn to agents instead of buying insurance from companies directly. Consumers want the advice and guidance agents offer to make sure their risks are covered at the best possible price. However, agents who don’t upgrade services to meet evolving customer demands risk getting left behind.

The perfect storm

There are several reasons for service declines – however, it’s not because agents are putting in less effort or they are not trying to provide service to their customers. Instead, a confluence of events is making what used to be adequate service less acceptable to small-business owners.

The introduction of customer-facing InsurTech companies that deliver a fully digital and fast insurance experience has helped to shift expectations. While on-demand service used to be focused on personal lines, it’s now spilling into commercial lines as well. Agents compete with companies that provide immediate responses, including real-time quotes.

That means independent agents need to shift from phone calls and paper transactions to digital communications. However, meeting clients’ customer-service expectations is easier said than done. High-touch service requires more time. And, workloads can be large—especially in small-commercial lines of business. Risks are more complex, and it can take hours for an agent to handle a single client request.

Customers want more

Today, small-business owners want insurance from their agents, but they also want trusted advisors who share relevant information and advice. Consumers are looking for guidance coupled with the on-demand and seamless customer experience that they get in other industries. These requirements are becoming more important as tech-native generations like millennials and Gen Zers enter the insurance market. According to a recent study, more than three quarters of millennial and Gen Z small-business owners want to speak with their agent multiple times a year, and over 80% want their agents to shop coverage before it renews.

However, there’s good news for agents. There are solutions that not only help you provide a digital customer experience, but they also can make workloads more efficient—which gives you more time to advise clients.

1,2,3…

Here are five ways independent insurance agents can increase their small-business customer satisfaction:

No.1: Meet your customers where they are. Great customer services is about making the insurance process easy and convenient. Look for ways to adapt to consumers’ schedules and preferences – rather than asking them to conform to strict 9-to-5 schedules. Consider a client who’s the owner of a take-out restaurant who is on the phone taking customer orders for a good portion of the day. When the owner finally gets around to talking to the agent, it is after 5 p.m., and the agent has left the office. In the past, this game of phone tag could delay service. However, if the agent adjusts communications to include email or text, the issue can be solved more quickly.

To find out how your customers want to work with you, just ask them. Clients will be more than happy to share their preferred modes of communication. And once you find out, follow through in the ways that work for you. Make sure your agency management system or customer relationship management system has a field in which you can input your clients’ preferred communication methods, and keep records of texts and emails.

No. 2: Automate routine tasks: There isn’t enough time in the day for agents to do everything that they would like to do. But automating routine tasks can give you more time to work on complex insurance needs and provide advice to clients.

It can help for agents to think about the processes that are taking the most time. Perhaps you are still sending out paper policies for signature, going to carriers for claims information, or quoting new risks by entering information into carrier portals. Implementing tools such as e-signature, download, or using a quoting platform can save you hours that can be spent providing service to customers.

Consider tools that will enable you to take your service to the next level. For example, using automated email platforms can enable you to communicate regularly with clients without having to reach out individually. These systems also can segment clients, so they receive the information that is most relevant to them. This could mean sending retail shop owners a list of their most common risks, or construction businesses most frequently-asked-questions about workers’ compensation coverage for carpenters. These platforms also enable you to personalize communications so they are targeted and not generic.

No. 3: Team up with carriers. Agents are one piece of the puzzle. Carriers also need to improve inefficiencies and enhance the customer experience. Agents should have good communication channels with each of their carriers. Small commercial insurance can be complex and unique. And, carriers have different criteria when covering certain risks and businesses. It’s important to have responsive contacts when client questions arise. Small delays can quickly turn into long delays when no one’s around to answer a question.

Adapting workflows speeds up response times. For example, some carriers have implemented a chat feature to address agents’ questions. Carriers can make even more changes to better serve agents, so they can provide better service to their customers. If an agent currently is using a solution that’s embraced by only a few carriers—but not all of them—this can create significant extra workload. It’s important for agents to evangelize the benefits of solutions with all carriers, whether it’s download or quoting platforms.

Agents should partner with their carriers, talk to them about why they are using specific tools, how they are helping them provide better service to customers, and why it would be beneficial for the carriers to be on it. Most agent-facing technologies want to work with as many carriers as possible and are eager to partner with insurers.

No. 4: Be proactive. Consumers don’t want to hear from their insurance agents only at renewal and payment time. Today, they’re looking for reassurance that their agents are continually making sure that they are getting the best deal.

It’s important to take advantage of tools that make it fast and easy to compare policies. Some solutions will pull policy information directly from your agency management system and remarket that to different carriers. Consider this example of a small salon owner. You could set a reminder in your agency management system to alert you when it’s three months before renewal. When the alert comes through, use a quoting solution to not only requote with the current insurer, but consider other carriers that might have the appetite for that risk. Then, you can send the client a reminder about the renewal with the latest market and coverage information, and then offer to walk the client through the options.

This shows a value-add service. You are continuing to work for your client, without being asked, and it offers a wow-factor that should increase retention. It shows your clients you care and are actively making sure they are getting the best option possible.

No. 5: Prioritize training. Having technology is just the first step. It’s important for agency staff to use the tools. Convincing team members to adjust workflows can be a challenge. It’s important to be upfront with them, but also give them a voice in the process. Let them know why you want them to use the tool and how it might impact the way they work. Make sure there is adequate training with any new tool to enable employees the time to get familiar and feel comfortable with it.

Select solutions that have a customer-success team dedicated to making sure their clients get the most out of the technology. The success team should be willing to conduct training with each agency member and provide refresher courses as needed. Often, they will alert you to new features that are added. The customer-success team also will help your employees utilize the technology’s full functionality and help integrate it into workflows.

A smart use of technology

There’s an important thing happening among today’s small-business customers. They want and expect more service—when they’re making the decision to buy, to when they file a claim. It’s harder than ever for agents to process the type of volume they need in this market. So, what’s the solution? A smart use of technology.

Technology is making it easier for agents to elevate their customer experience, while at the same time making the additional workload more manageable. By taking advantage of digital solutions, agents can spend less time on routine tasks and more time on advising customers, which ultimately will increase customer satisfaction.

Reprinted with permission from PIA Management Services Inc.