Connecting the Dots: Insurance Agency Service and Technology

23rdSep. × ’08

I was doing some light research while drafting copy for target market website landing pages, and once again, allowed the internet to pull me into a digressive side alley. So of course I have to drag you in with me.

The cover article in a periodical widely read by agents and companies, Rough Notes, caught my eye. The September, 2008 issue features an agency that is able to provide high levels of service thanks to technology: Technology Backs High-Service Approach at 7-Person Agency.

What is instructive about the article is that all the ‘technology’ referenced in the piece is internally focused: insurance company-to-agency via download and real time rating, internal efficiencies gained going paperless (that can mean several different things, but that is a post for another day). There are a handful of platitudes about ‘service’ in article: ‘customer-focused’, ‘service “through the internet’; ‘Technology has allowed us to communicate with the younger generation…through email’; ‘We’re able to meet with clients more frequently, assist with claims, and provide them with quotes from other companies if that’s what they want’. These are the same kind of general, ‘service’ claims agents have been making since eight seconds before the advent of dust.

My point is not to cast doubt on the featured agency’s ability to deliver these service generalities better than other agencies. The point is that too often we assume internally focused technology and efficiencies result in better service. There is an old and well validated axiom: work expands to fill the time available. If we create time through efficiencies, but do not explicitly fill that time with measurable, customer focused activities, the void is often back filled with more internally oriented work.

What caught my eye about the article’s title was the juxtaposition of the words ‘technology’ and ‘high-service’. My mind leapt to the assumption that some kind of customer facing technology was at work in the featured agency. That I made the assumption is my problem, but it does raise another point. Technology for pushing data around the agency, or to and from the company, is not technology that consumers care about. Too often I still see agency websites touting a ‘state of the art computer system’ when all there is to brag about is an agency management system and some kind of comparative rater. That will engender a great big, consumer yawn every time. If a consumer is to care about technology, direct benefits need to be described – that is, here is how you will save time, or here is why your protection will be better. Indirect benefits – we’re more efficient so we might be able to spend more time with you – just don’t resonate.

There is nothing to suggest that the featured agency is using technology to systematically develop their customers and differentiate their agency. It’s all about saving time, and putting that time savings to work in an ad-hoc way will result in’higher-service’ that is inconsistent at best.

I don’t mean to suggest that efficiency is not important; it is a key to profitability and sanity. But having more time is not the same as providing value-added service (which the Rough Notes cover suggests the article is about). That is a point we felt was being missed too often when we conceived Confluency Solutions four years ago, and the point is still being missed, I’m afraid.

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