How Can AI and Automation Help Independent Agents Right Now?

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    There are concerns that today’s artificial intelligence technology could replace tomorrow’s independent agents.

    As AI development continues, it’s possible that some parts of an insurance agent’s job could be automated and done more efficiently by machine. Russ Alan Prince writes at Forbes that tasks such as facilitating underwriting and monitoring policies could be done by an artificially intelligent agent, for example.  

    However, these developments don’t necessarily paint a dystopian future. AI is designed to facilitate work, not replace the worker.

    By leveraging AI, independent agents can automate their workflows to save time and money — which frees them up to spend more time working with their customers. And even right now, that’s happening in independent agent offices across the country.


    It Can Provide Better Insights Into Your Customers — And Your Own Business

    The key to useful artificially intelligent automation is data.

    For example, a tool could read information from a scanned document or a photo, pick out the necessary details and fill them into the right fields. This prevents human errors born of carelessness or boredom and helps ensure that the digital records are clean. Then, a predictive analytic function could comb that data for sales history to forecast your company’s growth.

    As independent agents gain access to more of this kind of data, they gain deeper business intelligence, Brian Kalish writes at Employee Benefit Advisor. That translates to, among other things, a more robust understanding of customer needs.

    With this kind of customer understanding, you can differentiate your independent agency more clearly. As Kris Hackney, executive vice president of Applied Systems, puts it: “What makes you different from the guy across town?”

    With the right data-driven intelligence, you’ll be able to answer that question with confidence.

    This kind of data can also illuminate your own team’s performance. It will show you the strengths and weaknesses of each team member as well as of the business as a whole. For example, a predictive analytics tool could examine customer acquisition time — i.e. how much time elapses between first contact and a sale — and then forecast sales figures based on your current marketing and outreach efforts.

    This helps you make informed decisions about operational investments that can take your agency to the next level.  

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    It Can Improve Customer Acquisition and Retention

    Sales and marketing automation tools have the potential to help independent agents attract more customers and keep them longer.

    Regarding customer acquisition, independent agents can benefit from AI’s ability to power “chatbots, more effective customer classification and targeting, and personalized contents and policies,” Francesco Corea writes at Insurance Thought Leadership magazine.

    A key concept here is mass customization, or delivering targeted, customized messages to individual people but on a large scale. Before AI, small agencies didn’t have the resources to do things like customized marketing campaigns.

    Now, however, affordable automation tools give independent agents the ability to identify and target the right clients for specific types of policies and coverages. For example, you could use MailChimp, for free, to segment an email marketing campaign into more targeted groups.

    At the major carrier level, AI is finding applications right inside of people’s homes. Here is an example from the IDC Community: Grange Insurance, Nationwide and Safeco have all partnered with Amazon, whose virtual assistant platform can provide curious buyers information on insurance products.  

    That means if someone asks, “Alexa, how much would car insurance cost me?” the numbers she would deliver would reflect Grange’s, Nationwide’s and Safeco’s policies.


    It Can Bring Customer Service to Another Level

    Automating customer service doesn’t always work so well. Anyone who has ever pressed 0 on a touchtone phone to speak to a live customer service agent know that well enough.

    That’s why Jason Walker, Managing Partner of Smart Harbor, writes at IA Magazine recommends that independent agents let automation free up space so they can be that live person on the other end of the line. “Routine, predictable tasks such as accessing insurance documents, providing initial quotes and collecting customer information can be accomplished with automated tools.” Then, the agents themselves can handle complex questions and coverage advice.  

    Echoing the advice, Anand Rao of PricewaterhouseCooper argues that AI offers a solution to the data analysis dilemma. “You give your customers what they want — speedy, accurate data-driven decisions — while creating more time to focus on the aspects of your job that a computer cannot duplicate.”

    Besides, AI technology enables independent agents to provide instant and continuous customer support — which is what customer appreciate most and are increasingly coming to expect. Chatbots, for example, can offer 24-hour support, real-time feedback and insurance consulting. When an issue needs to get escalated, the chatbot can hand the customer off to an agent during normal business hours.

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    It Can Also Reduce Your Operating Costs

    Perry Myers and Jerry Fox argue at IA Magazine that automation also eases the data-entry demands many independent agents still have to deal with.

    “[Automation] will reduce the resources required to do business, particularly in the areas of policy checking, data entry and monitoring for supplies,” they write. “The claims process will become quicker and more efficient as human oversight of the process will only be necessary for correcting inconsistencies and issues.”


    A Few Words of Caution

    AI brings many opportunities to independent agents, but not without challenges. Primarily, each generation of technology comes with a new and steeper learning curve. Proactive agents have to devote time, energy and resources to simply keeping pace.

    Something like predictive analytics requires continuous investment, evaluation and adjustment to reap its full benefits, says Chet Gladkowski, co-founder and CMO/CIO at GAPro.

    That said, embracing technology doesn’t mean doing so blindly at the expense of your business’ core competencies. Avoid becoming over-dependent on technology and foregoing the human side of your business.

    “Customer behavior is moving toward genuine relationships and away from faceless automation,” writes Carl Maerz, co-founder of Rocket Referrals. “The agent of the future will embrace technology, and implement tools that improve their capacity to establish and maintain meaningful relationships.”

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