Enhancing an Agents Tools Through Digital Engagement:
How new engagement tools are improving both the agent and customer experience

By Bryan Padgette | September 3, 2020

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the customer gets out of it.” ~ Peter Drucker, management consultant and author

How many life insurance companies encourage their agent sales force to embrace this philosophy?   An EY survey found that 56% of life insurance customers had at least one interaction with their insurer in the 18 months prior to the study. That sounds pretty good, especially since we’re talking about a life insurance policy, which usually doesn’t require a great deal in terms of servicing. 

Today, though, customers expect that even the most infrequent purchases will be backed by more than an annual check-in.  As an example, many auto manufacturers, who exist primarily to make sales and offer service, have bought into the model of providing added value.  With email drips and texts that remind drivers to change the oil, provide tire pressure warnings, and even assign ratings and reports for customer driving behaviors like hard braking and acceleration, car makers are constantly letting customers know that they are “on the radar”, and that their safety is important.

Which service model resonates?  The one that makes customers feel valued and important.

LIMRA’s “Pinpointing Preferences 2017” study found that, “Most life insurance policyowners want periodic reviews, especially younger policyowners who may have more frequent life events that increase the value of reviews. Policyowners who are never contacted post sale often feel that the companies and their representatives cared only about making a sale.” 

Even prior to becoming a policyholder, people want to have open lines of communication with their agents and their insurers.  Despite the simplification of products and application processes, life insurance is still seen as complex. Even when (maybe especially when) easy access is provided via commonly-used vehicles like apps, websites and social media, many find that questions arise during the process of researching products and completing applications.  This can be because of confusing industry jargon or legal terms, or it may be because it deals with an emotional subject (providing protection for loved ones) that can redirect or cloud an applicant’s comprehension. Whatever the case, applicants for a new policy often look to an agent for help.

But after the sale has been made, what role do agents play in building life-long customer relationships, and what role should they play? These are the questions that insurers need to contemplate today.   

Life insurance agent activities are generally focused on prospecting for new clients, writing new business and servicing existing clients.  But there are many events in a policyholder’s life when regular contact from the agent, the company or both can ensure loyalty and new sales.  New job, marriage, new baby, even friends’ fortunes and misfortunes – all of these can trigger thoughts that it’s time to buy life insurance.  And, as UX Matters states, “Policyholders’ definition of security inevitably evolves, so all of these life milestones are potential touchpoints for reassessing a policyholder’s needs and determining potential upsell and cross-sell opportunities.”  

Engagement is also important when the account needs to be serviced (change of address or beneficiary, form of payment, etc.). Insurance companies should have self-service portals that allow customers to make these changes for themselves, perhaps with online help from the agent. When contacted by the client, the agent should be able to digitally guide the client and enable self-servicing of his or her account.

But we all know the truth: in the busy world of insurance sales, few agents today have the tools, time or resources to create an ongoing engagement plan beyond the initial sale and an occasional check-in. 

Fortunately, an agent’s responsibility to engage can be greatly enhanced by the kind of digital enablement that extends the life insurance value proposition.  Data- and AI-driven activities and platforms can be enabled to keep in touch throughout the lifetime of a policyholder.  This kind of one-on-one, proactive engagement can include topical content, a congratulatory message, a thoughtful product promotion, even a proactive outreach. All of this can be done through the home office on behalf of, and in collaboration with, the agent.  Effective digital enablement gives agents the ability to reach more customers, more often, with a more personalized experience – the kind of reach that used to be the hallmark of the best agents in the business.  And it happens with little or no effort from the agent!

That’s more important than ever.  In this digital information age, prospects and clients are likely to go beyond word-of-mouth, and consider others’ thoughts about — and experiences with — a particular agent or insurer.  That kind of subjective rating, now accessible in the public square via Yelp! or the highly-regarded NPS score, can make or break an agent.  The backing that a digitally-enabled home office can provide shifts the odds strongly toward favorable agent ratings!

Even when business is sold via unique environments like sales contact centers, direct-to-consumer carriers, and even outreach to “orphaned” policyholders, the ability for the company to engage and build long-term relationships with customers is critical.  In our opinion, digital engagement is not a “nice to have”; it is a must.   

Here are a few engagement ideas that can help build the kind of relationship that will last a lifetime:

While a shopper is still a prospect

Find ways to reach prospective customers that do not involve life insurance.  Services that ultimately compliment financial protection – like a will builder or a basic financial planning platform – can open a door smoothly and seamlessly.  It doesn’t hurt to utilize gamification to draw potential policyholders in.  Non-traditional portals like these let insurers and their agents build the relationship while capturing contact information like email addresses and phone numbers.  From there, it is not a stretch to ask the prospect to begin the application process.

During the application process

From the time the customer begins to apply through the underwriting process and the issuance of the policy, there are lots of ways to digitally keep the ball rolling. Gentle email reminders for people who have paused, invitations to download an app to track the application process, sending periodic updates on case status, and even sharing good news about a coverage decision directly to an applicant’s phone through a text or push notification are all good ways to stay engaged during the process.  Insurers/agents can even digitally collect any outstanding requirements/amendments and the first premium payment digitally.

After the policy is issued

An in-force policy is just the beginning of engagement.  LIMRA’s study, “Extending the Life Insurance Value Proposition” notes the value of digital engagement tools, not just to stay top-of-mind, but to encourage policyholders to put effort into health behaviors, manage stress and stay informed, especially in this post-pandemic period.  According to the findings, “There is … increased interest in the steps we all can take to safeguard our physical health. Post-crisis, protecting our physical health is likely to become even more of a focus in America.”

Data-driven digital enablement, fueled by the application process, can help agents to periodically share content, invite clients to link wearable devices to an app, or offer self-service of the policy. These are all good ways to extend the life insurance value proposition  – and that almost always leads to better NPS scores and other ratings.  

For orphan policyholders

An orphan policy is, in many cases, a wasted opportunity.  By turning to digital engagement platforms to help address the needs that these policyholders may have (servicing options, questions that can be answered via a chatbot, introductions to new products via social media, texts, emails and push notifications) many of these orphan policyholders may find themselves engaged with their life insurer in new and unexpected ways – and that, again, can lead to higher levels of satisfaction, and higher ratings.  Additionally, these policyholder relationships can be nurtured through call center support, ultimately building the same personal connection while saving money.  

Digital enablement represents a huge opportunity for insurers.  By bringing together the worlds of traditional communication, data retrieved from a truly omnichannel experience and the best of technology to supplement agent efforts, the potential for building loyalty and standing out among the competition is beyond what many agents ever dreamed of!

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