The Path to 24/7 Service for Independent Agents: Getting Started and Overcoming Challenges to Make it Work in Your Agency

Part one of a three part series. Part two takes a closer look at client portals, and part three explores mobile apps.

From shopping on Amazon, to hailing a ride on Uber, to handling banking transactions, customers want to complete their errands on their own schedules - and they expect handling insurance issues to be no different. But many independent agents do not currently provide the ability for customers to get service at any time. According to the Insurance Digital Transformation Survey, 54% of respondents do not operate 24/7 today.

What Does 24/7 Mean?

Operating 24/7 – does this really mean fielding a customer’s 3AM request to purchase a policy? Actually, no. For most independent agencies, 24/7 service can be interpreted as assisting your customers when and how they want to be helped. It is the ability for the customer to have access to vital insurance information whenever they need it and have the means to contact the agency. If you decide that in order to meet customer demands, your agency will field those 3AM inquiries that’s great -- but that doesn’t have to be the only approach. In fact, most likely, customers are not looking to buy insurance in the wee hours of the morning. Finding ways to extend your hours if only for an hour or two past closing or enabling customers to access important documents themselves without an agent can be a great asset to customers and can get you started on the right path to on-demand service.

Overcoming Challenges of 24/7 Service

For independent agencies, providing on-demand service can seem like an insurmountable task. They might not have the manpower to field after hours calls, do not have the technical capabilities to enable quoting from the website or develop a mobile app, or lack the resources to hire outside vendors to help. But offering 24/7 service is vital for agencies to maintain current customer relationships and attract and win the business of prospect clients.

There are many ways to expand your service – and it doesn’t always have to involve purchasing the services of third party vendors. Here are just a few ways to start providing your clients with 24/7 support:

Offer extended phone and email hours: Insurance issues can arise at any time. Think about the client that has billing questions at the end of his day, and wants answers.  Or the small business owner that needs a certificate of insurance for a trade show the next day.  One option may be to rotate team members being on-call to respond to nighttime and weekend phone and email inquiries from customers.  To start, it may not be a large workload, as customer interest may build slowly.

Agencies can go a step further and implement live chat on their websites. Live chat can also be monitored after hours. Many customers prefer to use chat versus voice-to-voice calls, especially if they have a question that can be answered quickly in a sentence or two. Live chat services can be relatively inexpensive to implement. There are several companies that offer free plugins for different website developing platforms. Or your agency could even create its own free Gmail account and use that platform’s messaging service. Though this technology will still require a knowledgeable team member to monitor and respond to requests, it is a great first step in becoming a digitally accessible 24/7 agency.

When promoting extended hours services with your customers, remember to set expectations. Be clear about what types of services and things you can realistically get done after hours. For example, you may plan to provide your clients with policy documents, billing information, and even start the claims process. But because your carrier partners might not be offering the same on-demand service, it might not be possible for you to quote, issue, and bind a policy for your customer outside normal business hours.

Hire insurance professionals on opposite coasts: Partnering with agents on opposite coasts is an easy way to expand office hours. East Coast agencies can stay open later and West Coast operations can provide added support for early riser clients. There are a variety of insurance talent agencies that can connect you with freelance professionals in locations across the United States for part-time support.

Utilize the full capabilities of your agency management system: You might already have the capability for your clients to access policy information, and just aren’t using it. Many agency management systems enable agents to give their clients user ID codes and passwords that allow them to login into the system and access important documents such as policy information as well as submit claims information. Ask you system provider if they currently offer this capability.

Enlist the help of an outside vendor: You may also consider hiring a third party provider to transform you agency into a 24/7 operation quickly and easily. These providers not only give your clients the online capability to view policy information and documents, request changes, submit and review claims, make payments, and issue insurance forms but they also offer a round clock call center, so your clients will not have to wait until you open in the morning if they need to discuss an important insurance issue.

For Additional Information:

Agency Innovation in 2017: Five high tech challenges and solutions for today's independent agent