With summer sun and vaccine shots, we are heading for the great reawakening. Our customers have learned to work remotely, save money, avoid travel and find entertainment in those things closest to their homes and families. We were forced to avoid buying and interacting in person. It is unlikely that customers will walk away from their virtual habits—even as physical doors open.
For some agents, this may present an existential crisis. If everything is done online … maybe even out of sync where there is no live, real-time (not bot-driven) interaction. Large, impersonal direct writers always have offered that sort of consumer experience. So, how does a local agent differentiate?
Don’t be alarmed! Accenture has been carefully tracking changes in consumer behavior since the beginning of the pandemic. More than half of consumers report that they are buying more from neighborhood stores and have a higher preference for locally sourced products. They do not want the pandemic’s damage to hurt their community. The average auto and home insurance buyer is rooting for the agent located at the corner.
So, do you need to adapt? Yes! Consumers now embrace self-serve on digital platforms and virtual advice from purchase to claims handling. If you are doing business with the right carriers, they will give you every tool that your largest competitors use from customer-facing quoting to online endorsements to handling claims with cell phone-based appraisals all the way to integrated video and chat functions. Not all carriers offer these tools, and your customers are willing to pay you (and their carrier) more for them. You should favor those carriers with better digital tools because, post-pandemic, policyholders are more loyal to and demand more ways to interact with their agent and carrier.
Most important: One thing the big carriers don’t have is a brand as strong as your local agency’s brand. Awareness does not equal affection—and the small business down the street always will be the favorite. The sum of personal live interactions, purchases, website visits and insurance advice given by the largest direct writers falls well-short of the volume of the website traffic and interactions done with the national network of local agencies. Companies depend on local agents to Be the Brand and offer every way of buying, interaction and servicing that large direct carriers offer—but with the added value of the personalized service of a local agent.
Think about the backyard barbeque or weddings that will become more crowded as pandemic restrictions ease. Who would you go to for advice on whether they present liability or other risks not currently covered by your auto or home or umbrella policy? Would you rather call the national call center and talk to someone you may never interact with again? Or would you opt for the person whose child attends the same school as yours or who shops in the same grocery store? You can give every option and efficiency the national carrier does—and maybe recommend a few tricks of the trade that keep the homeowner safe for the on-property events to come.
Post pandemic preferences
The existential crisis of the local agent’s office is not the post-pandemic preference for digital tools, but continuing to do business with carriers that don’t offer them.
Use your proximity advantage and the digital tools carriers offer to make the pandemic an existential crisis for carriers that don’t use independent agents.
Bill Martin is the president and CEO of Plymouth Rock’s Home Insurance Group at which he oversees the business’s operations and reinsurance program. Bill has 35 years of experience in the property/casualty insurance industry. He has held senior positions at Farmers, Great American, Progressive and Travelers. Prior to joining Plymouth Rock in 2016, Bill was president of Bankers Insurance in St. Petersburg, Fla. He has a B.A. in political science from Stanford University. He is an avid sailor, skier, trombone player and sports fanatic.