The Role of the Independent Agent Throughout the Customer Life Cycle

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  • Insurance customers have natural life cycles. For instance, someone who gets car insurance at 16 might need rental insurance at 20, then perhaps homeowner’s insurance in their late 20s, after which they’ll start thinking about life insurance.

    The best insurance agents find ways to match insurance products to the insured’s changing needs over time. This is key to customer satisfaction and for keeping long-term customers.

    As the customer experience experts at Ameyo explain, “Satisfied customers can become your strength. Not only will they be loyal to you and your company, they will also refer your products and services to many of their friends, colleagues and family members.” So it’s critical that you’re able to stay relevant and helpful throughout the customer life cycle.

    Here are some ways to keep customer relationships strong over the years.

     

    Stay Connected

    Independent agents will always have some form of contact with customers — that’s inevitable. But you want to go beyond the more mundane interactions of collecting premiums and updating policy information.

    Customer loyalty is good for business, and that higher loyalty means lower churn, Henrik Naujoks and his team at the management consulting firm Bain & Company in Germany write. And that loyalty is earned, to a large extent, simply by staying in touch with customers.

    “It’s hard to build loyalty when you connect with your customers once a year or less,” Naujoks writes. “The correlations are clear: More interactions, provided they are high-quality interactions, lead to more loyalty.”

    So you need to do everything you can to stay in touch with customers, ideally forming a legitimate connection with them. There are several ways to accomplish this that don’t require a huge time investment, which include:

    • Email newsletters. These keep customers in the loop and allow you to touch base with your customers on a regular basis. Inbound marketing expert Kristen Buerman recommends keeping customers informed of new services, products and company updates, and sending them helpful tips that tie into how your company can assist.
    • Be active on social media. Your presence on social media does more than just keep customers updated. Marketing consultant Dan Baum at IMPACT Branding says social media marketing it can help increase targeted traffic for your site and raise brand exposure and awareness.
    • Celebrate birthdays, ask for feedback. Karen Asprey at digital marketing provider ThriveHive says you should acknowledge your customers’ birthdays (CRM software is an easy way to remember) and also ask for feedback once they’ve purchased a policy from you. The latter not only allows you to maintain contact but can provide you with valuable insight into how you’re performing overall.

    Be Available

    You need to be readily available when customers need you. People value dependability, and are loyal to those companies they know they can rely on.

    “Highly effective agents are available,” Ryan Hanley at Agency Nation writes. In his article,  Chicago-based independent insurance broker Sharon Robles illustrates the importance of availability, saying:

    “I will always make time to return an email or a phone call. Why? Because when someone reaches out to me, it’s because they couldn’t find an answer by themselves. It gives me an opportunity to add value and my personal touch to that person in an otherwise transactional business. You want to impress a customer? Return their phone call!”

    This is especially vital for smaller companies because it’s often what distinguishes them from their larger competitors. Providing one-on-one attention used to be the norm, and as it becomes less common, it becomes more valuable.

    Being the agent that customers know they can get hold of whenever they need puts you in a great position for strengthening relationships. And in many cases it can pave the way for customers turning to you when they need to buy additional insurance.
     

    Be Aware of Changing Needs

    As mentioned earlier, the needs of your customers naturally change over time. One of your main goals as an independent agent is to retain customers by providing them with the coverage they need as they transition throughout the different stages of their lives.

    For example, take your customer who’s been getting their home and auto insurance from you for a few years. If you’ve built a solid relationship where there’s fairly consistent communication, you might know that he’s interested in buying a boat. You might be able to approach him with an offer to provide this coverage as well.

    It’s simply a matter of knowing what’s going on in your customers’ lives and any significant changes that can impact their insurance needs.

    A big part of this is going beyond surface level-conversations and really getting to know your customers. While you certainly don’t want to ask for detailed information to the point of it being inappropriate, you want to be aware of key changes that are going on in their lives.
     

    Recommend Relevant Coverage

    Whenever you’re able to offer new coverage on a different type of insurance, you should. Digital marketer Rustin Nethercott says repeat customers aren’t just easier to sell to; they also spend more money and are more likely promote your business.

    In fact, repeat customers can be your ultimate promoters, Emily Zak at digital communication provider SaleMove writes. “Once a customer-business relationship is established, customers can do your marketing for you—from giving referrals to their friends and family to introducing you to new clients.”

    Listen to what your customers tell you.

    For example, say you’ve got a customer who’s been buying P&C insurance from you for several years. During a conversation, you end up discussing what they do for a living and find out that they recently started their own business. In this case, you could recommend relevant business insurance and offer advice on the type of coverage that best suits their needs.

    Or if they’ve recently started a family, they may be open to buying life insurance. Since you already have some level of trust and rapport, your customers may be receptive to your offer.

    From the customer’s standpoint, buying different types of insurance creates an added level of convenience — something that’s very appealing for those with busy lives. The Wetzel Insurance Agency explains that this type of one-stop shopping means that customers can get all of the coverage they want in one place, which helps keep them organized.

    One 2015 UK study reported in Cover showed that over a quarter of consumers would prefer single insurance policies with one provider covering all their needs to having several plans. And as InsuranceSplash CEO John F. Carroll says, independent agents have a lot of opportunities to cross sell. The more you talk about cross-sales with your customers, the more you’ll make.

    Be an Advisor, Not a Salesperson

    Availability and personal attention are not the only reasons people choose smaller agencies over large ones. Another is that customers enjoy the guidance and expertise they receive from independent agents, the team at Affordable American Insurance writes.

    “Part of the beauty of independent agents is that they take the time to listen to your needs, so they can provide you with the best options that closest fit your budget while making sure you’re properly covered,” they explain.

    And that’s a great way to approach your relationship with insureds — as an advisor rather than a salesperson. If you develop this type of relationship where customers naturally turn to you for insurance advice, you’ll increase loyalty, see repeat sales and referrals.
     

    Use Technology to Enhance and Personalize the Customer Life Cycle

    Marketing executive Lianne Schneider-Trantz recognizes the importance of making your customers feel special, and the selling point of that one-on-one relationship with independent agents.

    She acknowledges that this is often easier said than done. Even though you’re not handling the same volume of accounts as a larger insurance provider, it can still be difficult to maintain a personal relationship with every single customer.

    Fortunately, technology in the insurance world has come a long way. Schneider-Trantz, who is VP of marketing at business platform Novidea, explains that implementing the right systems and using data-driven insights allow you to achieve a much higher level of personalization. She cites identifying predicted purchasing patterns and preferred contact time as just two examples.

    The Pitney Bowes team also talks about the impact that analytics tools can have. “By analyzing group data, insurers can identify patterns and trends that can support product development, segmentation and campaigns,” they write, adding: “By analyzing individuals customers, insurers can create a more personal relationship by identifying new opportunities, finding policyholders who are at risk of churning and personalizing communications.”

    And this can have a profound effect on your company’s growth and sustainability. Katie Sweet at Evergage cites a report that shows three out of four consumers are more likely to buy from a brand that recognizes them by name or recommends options based on past purchases.
     

    Images by: stockbroker/©123RF Stock Photo, Free-Photos, lisafx/©123RF Stock Photo

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