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Simply Tech

Building your agency's must-have mobile app

Six tips for creating smartphone applications for insurance-related functions

By Angelyn Treutel

I am not a tech geek, but I do love technology. I continually look for ways to explore and learn how technology can help me—personally and professionally. Smartphone application markets are allowing me and many others to do just that.

Creating a mobile application gives insurance professionals another tool for their marketing toolbox. Your mobile app can be a valuable part of your brand and your marketing strategy. It's a way of connecting with your customers so they come to know you better and appreciate the service options you offer. And the "wow" factor is amazing.

My experience in building an app for my agency resulted in six simple tips that can soon allow you to respond to your own customer inquiries with "there's an app for that!"

1. Decide which devices you want to accommodate with your agency app. It would be wise to consider building apps for the Apple®, Android®, and Blackberry® platforms. Each app typically has a monthly hosting charge, particularly if you opt for "push" capability, which allows you to easily update your app. You can certainly choose to build for all three smartphones. The question is whether you want to pay for all three.

There are plenty of services that will do the actual programming for you, so you don't have to have a degree in programming to get this done. But before you contact an application building service, you should have in mind how you want your application to look and what you want it to do.

If you would like to build your own app, there are plenty of available services on the Web that will get you started. Whichever service you choose, be sure it provides a few templates. If you don't have experience navigating applications, a template will give you a good starting point on how your app can look and what it can do.

2. Keep the design simple. Though they've gotten bigger, smartphones still have a relatively small screen. So you might want to avoid complex scroll-down screens and a lot of text. Put yourself in your client's place: What would you want to know "on the go"?

Your application is a mini Web site. You want it to look clean and load quickly. You want it to have a decent amount of information, such as a map with your location, links to important phone numbers and a link to your agency's Web site.

Think about functionality for customers. At the very least you want to have a clean design and brand it with logos just like your Web site.

For my application I included: Submit a Claim, where a client can actually report a claim and e-mail a picture from the scene; Policy Service, which links to the agency's phone number and chat capability; and Request Quotes, which has forms to capture information that can be sent securely to our agency. I also included access to my client portal with a link to my agency Web page, an RSS feed for insurance news, and pictures of our staff to add a personal connection for our agency.

Certainly if you have different needs or requests from customers, you can set up the app any way you want. There are ways to change the appearance, backgrounds and fonts.

3. Make it interactive. Just because you want to keep your application relatively simple and free from a lot of text doesn't mean you can't make it interactive. Set up links to your Web page. Maybe you want to provide a list of emergency phone numbers. You can add links to your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages. Include a calendar with key dates on it. Making your application as interactive as possible increases your chances of having it published by the platform you apply to, be it Apple, Android or Blackberry. It's getting tougher to get applications published, so having as much functionality as possible will increase your chances.

4. Apply for publication. Once you've finished your design and added the features you want, it's time to apply for publication with the platform(s) you've chosen. When you apply, provide a thorough description of your app and what it does. Be sure to use important key words to ensure that your app is easy to find.

Don't be surprised if your application for publishing is rejected the first time around. Make sure whatever images you use are original, not stock photos. That includes artwork, too. Using as much original content as possible will help your chances of getting the app published. And again, making it as interactive as possible will help, too. What won't help is mentioning the name of the platform (Apple, Android, Blackberry) in your description. You are almost certain to be rejected in that case.

5. Choose to charge—or not. When your application is published, you'll have to decide whether you want to charge customers to download the app. Be careful with this decision. If you decide you want to charge for downloading, don't make it too much. If you make it too expensive, you run the risk that no one will download it. If you can afford it, make it a free download.

6. Shout about it. Now, publicize your app. Don't just let it sit. Get the word out on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Post links throughout your Web site. Have fun with it. Even write a press release and forward it to local media. There is no use in going through the work of developing an application if people won't know about it.

Having your own mobile application may not be the primary way your customers interact with you and your agency. But it is an option—and a fun one at that. It gives your customers yet another way of connecting with you when they need to, and it lets them know you're willing to explore cutting-edge options to enhance your service. n

The author

Angelyn Treutel is president of SouthGroup Insurance Services and AST Solutions, both in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi. She is an active member of the Applied Systems Client Network (ASCnet), where she chairs the Industry Solutions Committee. She is also chair of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America's Agents Council for Technology.

Know the lingo: Mobile Web site, mobile Web app or mobile app?

To take advantage of smartphones and the mobility they offer, it helps to know the differences among the three key mobile technology options. The terms aren't interchangeable although their functions are similar. Knowing the difference will help you decide whether building a mobile app is right for your business.

A mobile Web site is a version of a Web site that has been formatted for mobile devices. It's a bit stripped down, but a significant amount of the content is the same. It's accessible from a typical Web browser on your phone.

A mobile Web application is a Web site that is accessible from a mobile device and designed to perform a specific set of functions rather than just provide content. With a mobile Web app, you can get e-mail, access social media sites and interact. Some even have device recognition capabilities, so they provide Web site content in an optimal manner with the smart device accessing it.

With a mobile Web site and a mobile Web app, users need not download anything to their phones. The sites are accessible through typical Web browsers.

To incorporate use of a mobile app (see how-to tips for building one in accompanying column), you locate the program from an app store like the Android® Marketplace, the iOS Apple® Store or Blackberry® App World, and download it directly to a smartphone. A browser isn't needed to operate the app. The app does all the work. And, depending on how the application is designed, it may have some features and functions available even without an Internet connection.


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