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Study Shows Personalized Communications is Key to Retention

Insurance companies and their customers seem to be perceiving each other from the opposite ends of a telescope. An insurance company call center may get hundreds or thousands of calls from customers per day – dealing with issues from claims to billing questions to address changes to coverage questions and requests for additional coverage. Any individual call is just one of thousands of routine interactions and the insurer simply goes about its business. After all, the call center is not a core operation. Insurance executives like to hobnob with actuaries and sales people, and talk investment, risk and new business. Too often, the call center – and the customer experience – is an afterthought.

And that’s how they treat customers.

On the other end of the telescope, the customer perceives the interaction very differently. When a customer calls with a problem or claim, the interaction is anything but routine – for them! This call may be the only direct contact with a live body from the insurance company in years and it can make or break the lifetime value of the customer for the insurance company.

As a result, companies that neglect their customer interactions after the sale have a hard time hanging on to new business. Over time, customers get fed up with their bad experience and move to new insurers. If they find one that excels at customer service, they will stick.

A recent study from Watermark quantified the benefits of a superior customer service effort in the insurance industry and found that the customer service advantage isn’t just theoretical. A quality customer experience has an immense ROI and provides enduring value to shareholders.

The study compared the stock performance of publicly-traded insurance companies with good and sub-par customer experience ratings, as defined by the results of the annual J.D. Power and Associates annual Insurance Customer Satisfaction Study. The result:  Companies with excellent customer service and customer experience routinely outperformed those who scored poorly on customer service skills.

For example, in the auto insurance category, customer experience leaders outperformed the broader S&P Property & Casualty Index by 129 points over seven years.

Watermark found a similar trend in home insurance, with customer experience leaders beating the Property & Casualty Index by 42 points.

Meanwhile, those companies with poor customer experience scores according to Watermark’s metrics tended to underperform the Index.

Over the seven year period Watermark studied, auto insurance companies that excelled in the customer service area generated nearly triple the average annual return of the laggards.

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Insurance businesses in the homeowners’ segment with good customer service scores also outperformed laggards by huge margins:

 

AgencyEquity Exclusive - Customer Relations is Key to Retention 6Images: Watermark Consulting

The Watermark study isn’t an outlier. Another recent survey from McKinsey & Company likewise found that the most profitable auto insurance companies and the ones generating the most shareholder value are consistently the very same ones that are offering the best customer engagement experiences.

It’s not even close. The McKinsey study found that those companies that consistently delivered best-in-class customer experiences generated 100 to 300 percent more new business growth, and about 30 percent higher profitability than firms that had an inconsistent customer experience.[1]

Why? In part, because customers with high satisfaction ratings are 80 percent more likely to renew their insurance policies than those that were not happy with their experiences interacting with the company.

McKinsey found, unsurprisingly, that companies with high customer satisfaction ratings posted higher revenues, had better customer retention, less price sensitivity, greater wallet share and positive word of mouth. They experienced better success rates for cross-selling activity, so not only did customers stay with the company longer – they generated more premium.

They also experienced lower expenses, thanks to lower costs of customer acquisition, fewer complaints, and the simple fact that happy customers are actually much less time-consuming than unhappy ones – and naturally more willing to recommend your company to their friends and families.

“Today the consequences of subpar service are amplified by the speed and reach of social media,” warned McKinsey’s analysts.

What to do 

Looking to make some improvements? Here are some of the best practices from around the industry:

  • Make customer service a quality part of your brand. Yes, it costs money to invest in good technology and excellent customer service personnel. But being forced to compete on price alone because your customer retention is bad and you don’t get word-of-mouth referrals from happy customers costs much, much more.
  • Elevate quality customer service responsibility to the CEO and Board level. Managers must place leadership emphasis on the importance of a quality customer engagement on every call.
  • Embrace the phone. Yes, the tendency in recent years has been to attempt to automate everything. But according to research from Frost & Sullivan, customers still overwhelmingly try to reach a live agent, and are much more satisfied with their experiences after engaging with a real live human being than they are after entirely automated engagements.
  • Remain open to feedback. Regular phone contact is an important part of your information feedback loop. Without it, you are flying blind. Customers will tell a live agent how they feel about your company over the phone. They cannot tell you using a fully automated process. At best you’ll rely on emailed comments the vast majority of them will never send.
  • Find ways to exceed expectations with every customer contact. Because actual contact with customers in the insurance business is so rare, each contact that does occur is extremely important. In many cases, it will be the customer’s only direct interaction with the company.
  • Settle claims fast.
  • Make communication possible across a variety of platforms. Think phone, SMS, smartphone, apps, your website, email, snail mail, and even Twitter and other social media sites.
  • Invest in training. Customer service knowledge and professionalism was a key component of customer satisfaction.
  • Talk with customers. Find out ‘pain points’ and ‘wow moments’, and deploy resources and energy to minimizing the first and maximizing the latter.
  • Wait times are important, but they aren’t everything. One large auto carrier found that customers were much more interested in having a consistent point of contact for everything related to their claim or issue than in having a short hold time on the phone.

If it’s bad, he or she will likely go elsewhere. Indeed, you may have created a brand ambassador – for somebody else!

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How-To: Automatically Post Your Insurance Agency Newsletter on Social Media

Get an extra boost when you post your Insurance Agency Newsletter on Social Media*.

The set up can be confusing so let us offer you this step-by-step tutorial.

Login to your eNewsletter account the same way you would do to make changes or view your eNewsletter Proof. To the left of the screen, you will see a button that says “Social Media.” This is where you will enter and authorize your accounts.

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Tip: make sure you have your social media account names and passwords handy before you start!

 

Adding a Twitter Account:

Select “Add Twitter Account.” Enter your twitter username and password, and click “Authorize app.”

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You will be redirected to the “Social Profiles” page.

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Adding your LinkedIn Account:

Select “Add LinkedIn Account.” Enter your LinkedIn Username and Password and click “Allow Access.”

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You will be redirected to the “Social Profiles” page.

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From the Social Profiles page, click the link that says “Select Newsletters.”

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Select which newsletter you want for each social media account. This step is necessary even if you have only one newsletter.

You will know you have successfully added your social media profiles when the box behind your newsletter name displays as green, or blue.

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When your eNewsletter goes out, a notification and link will be sent to the social media profiles you’ve selected.

*At this time only LinkedIn and Twitter are included in this feature. There is an additional fee of $10.00 per month for this service. If you require more robust Social Media services including Facebook posting, please contact Katrina Wang for a custom social media quote.

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Marketing Tip: Email Only The People You Know

Contrary to popular belief, people do like to receive promotional emails. In fact, 96% of US adults earning $75,000 – $99,900 would like to receive promotional emails from companies they do business with.

Email marketing is one of the most effective digital marketing campaigns and if done right, this will make you a marketing superstar and can dramatically increase both brand awareness and sales.

Here are some useful tips on how to implement your Email Marketing campaigns effectively:

  1. Email only the people you know.
    Start with people who you already do business with. People you have already interacted with before, even only once, are less likely to delete, ignore, or mark your email as spam. You can start contacting people from your account on:
  • Linkedin. Linkedin is a B2B platform and contacts from here are probably the most valuable of all. Easily get your contacts’ email addresses by following these steps:
  1. Click on “Connections” under My Network tab.
  2. Click on the settings button (cogwheel) on the right
  3. On the right panel, you’ll see an option to export your contacts.
  • Facebook. Export email addresses of your Facebook contacts. No app will let you do this but we discovered a trick and it’s totally legal.
  1. Visit address.yahoo.com.
  2. Click the Facebook icon and sign in with your Facebook login details.
  3. The email addresses of your Facebook friends will automatically be added onto your Yahoo Address Book and you can export them and add to your company’s email database.
  4. Here’s a video how-to.

 

  1. Know the right frequency.

One of the most common mistakes insurance agents or agencies do is sending emails too often or too infrequently. Instead of bombarding your clients once or twice a week, why don’t you pick the most important information and deliver it to them in one or two emails per month? Sending out relevant information with acceptable frequency will make your clients think and feel you are credible and a person of authority. However, sending out too many emails may be viewed as junk while you will be missing the boat if you are not sending at the minimum acceptable frequency.

  1. Personalize your e-newsletter according to their needs.
    Make sure your contact list if properly segmented so you don’t end up sending irrelevant email to your prospective clients. Categorize them according to your products (e.g. Personal lines, Commercial Lines, etc). How can someone say no to a product they need? All you have to do is to send the right information to the right person.
  2. Timing is everything.
    A lot has been written about the perfect time to send e-newsletters and to be frank, you will have to figure out what works best for you. It varies from industry to industry. Our team has tried sending them at different hours, on different days, and we suggest that you try sending yours anytime during the work week except on Fridays when everyone is busy finishing off important tasks. Sending an e-newsletter on a busy day will leave your email unopened, worse it will go straight to trash or spam box.

Like any other business, start with people you know and if you do great service, your reputation will grow and you will get more referrals in time.

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Vital Content Marketing with LinkedIn

In today’s competitive marketplace, content marketing becomes ever-more-important, and should definitely be a piece in your agency’s marketing puzzle.  Content marketing helps you accomplish more, while using less of your valuable financial resources.  And LinkedIn provides a perfect avenue for getting your targeted content out there, especially if you are marketing Commercial Lines or Group Benefits. LinkedIn is the 14th most visited site in the world according to Alexa.com, a leading analytics company that is owned by Amazon. Continue reading

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ACA Update: America Needs Its Agents After All

The Affordable Care Act has been law for five years now and all signs indicate that the government is not doing a very good job selling insurance. Both online portals as well as salaried government workers are not cutting it. Executives at these exchanges are starting to realize that what worked in the past was not broken, and many of these exchanges are turning to the insurance agency system in hopes of saving the viability of these government exchanges.  That, in turn, has led to tremendous opportunities for agents who have been able to weather the changes and the recent years of uncertainty, say industry veterans. Continue reading

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A Quality Book of Business returns a Higher Revenue per Hour and a Higher Agency Valuation

Insurance Agencies that have a quality book of business deliver a much higher revenue per hour of staff time and are able to sell the agency at a premium when that time comes. What are the characteristics of a high quality book and how can your agency achieve such results? Let’s look at some data and strategies.

Characteristics

A high quality book of business has three characteristics:

  1. The policies per account average 2.5 or more.
  2. The retention rate is 94% or better.
  3. The loss ratio is 50% or less.

These three items are related; accomplishing the first item helps contribute to accomplishing the second and third items. A higher number of policies per account wins you more loyalty from your client, and this in turn helps policy retention. Those who have more assets need more policies, and tend to be stable individuals with a history of having a lower frequency of claims. Continue reading

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Facebook Cracks Down on “Overly-Promotional” Posts

For years, financial professionals have been leveraging social media platforms like Facebook to reach their natural and extended markets. It’s been a lucrative practice for them. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before executives at Facebook took notice.

Starting in January, the Facebook gravy train is coming to an end for small business owners – an event that is going to have an impact on the way financial professionals, including insurance agents and agency owners – do business on social media.

Facebook has announced that it will crack down on unpaid commercial messages from small businesses in personal and business Facebook feeds.

Background

Facebook naturally monitors how users feel about their Facebook experience, and had found that many of their customers were complaining about “overly promotional” content. This included content from pages that users had “liked.”  Facebook specifically cited these kinds of posts:

  • Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app.
  • Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context.
  • Posts that reuse content from advertisements.

 

“It is unclear if Facebook is penalizing all brand posts or just the posts created to sell something. Helpful and interesting content will likely prevail, regardless of the source. So it’s best to take a ‘wait and see’ approach“ advises Carol Fowler, CEO of KloboMedia, a Chicago-based consulting and marketing firm that specializes in social media strategy. “For all the cries about unfairness, Facebook remains the best social platform to engage with a company’s current and potential audience. It is also an excellent way to drive website traffic, now rivaling Google’s organic search.”
While Facebook is a powerful force for any referral-heavy client services industry like insurance, the new rules are going to have a substantial effect on many small advisors and agencies that rely on social and affinity marketing to spread their message – as many as 80 percent of small businesses, according to a survey by a marketing research firm called Webs.

Webs also found that Facebook – no surprise – is the 800-pound gorilla of the social media world, with 88 percent of social media-aware businesses using Facebook for marketing purposes. LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus follow, in that order.

As an option, Facebook will allow users to “promote” their posts, by paying a fee of $5 and up in order to boost the number of user feeds in which their promotional content will appear.

What this means is that Facebook will join most other media platforms as a “pay to play” arena. But that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to observers. If successful, other social media platforms will no doubt follow suit in tightening up promotional content on their feeds as well.

Best Practices

Agents and agencies can still post – and their posts will still get read! But posts should focus on practical content of genuine interest and value to readers, and not purely promotional in nature. Indeed, judging from the examples Facebook cites as “overly promotional content,” merely introducing a call to action or offering a product could throw the flag and cause Facebook’s algorithms to suppress your posts.

For best results, make sure you target any posts. For example, by going to the top of your Page, clicking “settings, then “post targeting and privacy,” you can add targeting to your post to focus your reach on specific genders, interests, age groups, locations and the like. Which helps you communicate like a rifle, not a grenade.

You can also get a handle on your Facebook metrics by using Page Insights. This analytics feature gives you specific data on total and new “likes,” number of unique viewers, visits, referral pages, and similar or competing pages to watch.

For more best posting practices from the Facebook team, click here.

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Re-think Agency Communications

Insurance agents need to re-think the way they communicate with customers and prospects on-line. E-mail marketing is cost efficient and can deliver great results.  But there are many things you can do to turn your marketing campaign from basic and boring to wow!

Here are a few ideas to consider:

Who are your customers and prospects really? What insurance related issues are they facing, and how can you help?
By keeping these questions in mind as you work on your eNewsletter campaign, your message is sure to be relevant to your audience.  If you ask and answer the hard questions your audience faces, they will look forward to each successive newsletter you send.

How do your customers’ interests correlate with your business objectives? As you think about the needs and interests of your customers, it’s valuable to take a minute to see how these needs match your agency’s goals.  Focus on the interests of your audience, and their minds will be open to your sales and customer support messages. This presents account rounding and cross-selling opportunities, and can also generate referrals and renewals.

Have you personalized your content? At Strategic Agencies, we know that Content is King, and our library reflects this idea.  One of our articles becomes even more valuable if you take the time to personalize it to make it even more relevant.  Consider adding state-specific information, or add a short “spotlight” section on how your agency solved a customer issue.

Have you done something to show that you are willing to go the extra mile? Consider a custom greeting for your newsletter that explains an upcoming open enrollment, or how new legislation will affect a customer’s insurance planning.  Encourage two-way communications about how you will meet and exceed your customer’s expectation.  Plan an agency seminar and invite your customers and warm prospects to attend.

By taking just a little bit of time to truly personalize your newsletter, you will find the rewards are worth the effort!

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New Gmail Tabs Feature May Be More Beneficial Than Marketers Originally Predicted

A recent study by Return Path closely analyzed the new Gmail Tabs feature. In the study, Return Path said that the program was a success during its first week. Tabs was made to categorize inbound messages. While some marketers predicted a decline in marketing performance due to messages being filtered out of recipients’ inboxes, people who had opened marketing emails prior to the release of Tabs were actually reading more marketing mail. However, those who did not previously read marketing mail often read it less after Tabs’ release. Overall, Return Path’s study showed that the new Gmail feature proved to be beneficial for marketers.
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Content Marketing Strategies And Their Growing Importance

Recent research about content marketing showed that it was either a high or medium priority for 90 percent of study participants. While more than 65 percent used newsletters, almost 80 percent curated content but faced attribution and permission issues. Nearly 45 percent stated that lead generation was their highest goal. About half of the respondents said they had a strategy in place, and 30 percent of those individuals had strategies in place for more than one year. Nearly 20 percent had just introduced a strategy within the past year. Continue reading

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