It's not easy to operate a brick-and-mortar operation in a digital world, but that’s what insurance agents do. Yet even when they try to embrace technology tools that will help their business, often they find those tools inadequate, Forrester analyst Ellen Carney told me in an interview today.
"When the agent's standing there and trying to give you quotes, if the portal is slow to load or slow to return a price, that's frustrating," she said. "One commercial agent told me that sometimes the site locks up and they don't have a way to save their progress — so they have to start over."
That's not good for anyone: the agent and carrier lose a customer, who may never come back to either. It's also causing some friction between agents and carriers, Carney says.
"Allstate agents are trying to unionize — that's an interesting statement about the carrier they're writing business for," she notes. "Agents say they go with what's easier for them."
And they're not scared to make changes to survive, according to Deloitte's recently released Voice of the Producer: Life and Annuity Producer Survey. Most agents are looking to add and/or drop carriers in the next year. Insurers must understand: Even if an agent doesn't drop you to add another carrier, it's another potential competitor for your business.
"Forty percent of producers are not satisfied with the support they currently receive," Rebecca Amoroso, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and insurance leader says in a statement. "However, with more than 80 percent of their total compensation coming from two favored carriers, there is room for improved producer loyalty and sales through better support.”
I wasn't expecting to speak with Carney on this subject today — I was interviewing her for a feature on customer experience that will appear in our next issue. However, the agent experience goes hand-in-hand with the customer one, she asserts, if insurers lack on that end as well.
"There's this constant debate in the industry: who is the customer of the carrier, is it the policyholder or the agent? It depends on the carrier, but the answer should be both," she says. "I did some research and the number of people who couldn't name their carrier was crazy. They know the name of the agent, though. As far as some customers are concerned, they've got a relationship with that agent that they see around town, and the only reason they interact with the insurer is to pay a bill or make a claim. Agents are stepping in to make sure customers have a fabulous experience."
However, the agent experience isn't the top priority for many insurers, according to recent I&T research. In polls before and after our Executive Summit, distribution was the least and second-least likely to be reported as the top area of IT investment at an organization.
That doesn't mean that insurers aren't spending in this area, of course — core systems revamps are high-budget, high-priority projects. But where there's smoke, there's fire, and agent dissatisfaction crawling upward could indicate that this needs to be taken more seriously down the road.