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Have a better conversation

Travelers' personal insurance online tools help agents sell value, not price

By Nancy Doucette

The Lone Ranger had Tonto. Batman had Robin. Woody had Buzz Lightyear. And independent agents have Travelers. According to Linda Dodson, second vice president—Agent and Field Sales Solutions and Operations at Travelers—her team is responsible for helping to enhance and improve upon agents' experience with the carrier. In other words, to be stronger partners. In an effort to help their partner agents be more successful, Travelers provides them with tools to help them forge stronger bonds with customers, she says.

Dodson notes that Travelers has had a long-standing commitment to helping independent agents maintain regular contact with customers. One of its oldest initiatives is One2One which was launched in 1995 and updated in 2002. One2One is a co-branded direct marketing program which provides targeted messages to specific customer segments through a variety of communication strategies.

Consumer behavior and communication preferences are changing. Smartphone sales are outpacing laptop sales. As a result, growing numbers of consumers are able to get information anytime, anywhere. They will seek information when they're ready for it and they'll do their research via the Internet. What does that mean for agents? Better have tools at the agency Web site that underscore the agency's expertise, Dodson asserts.

"Consumers are looking for more educational tools to help them better understand their coverage options," she says. "That's one of the industry trends we're seeing. We feel it's critical that agents understand their value proposition—the fact that they're local and have the expertise to explain to consumers what coverages they need—and how technology helps them deliver on it. Additionally, the tools we're offering help agents deliver a customer service experience that consumers are expecting."

The Guide to Better Coverage (GTBC) is the latest of three online tools that can be linked to a Travelers' agency's Web site. It joins the Travelers Auto Coverage GuideSM and Auto Insurance Basics. (See the sidebar on page 72 for links to these tools.) Dodson says the GTBC lays the groundwork for a "better conversation" with customers. "It prompts the consumer to think about what they might want to talk about with their independent agent," she explains. "It makes the conversation more about coverage and less about price.

"The GTBC isn't intended to replace the conversation," Dodson emphasizes. "Rather, it's intended to prompt the conversation." The sixteen-item questionnaire includes brief explanations of why particular questions are posed.

The GTBC can also enhance the annual review process if the agent recommends that the customer complete the questionnaire ahead of the meeting. "Consumers appreciate when their agent takes the time to discuss their coverages and their needs. That's what they expect from an independent agent," she says. Among the other tools that Travelers provides its agents are scripts that CSRs can use should they be handling account reviews.

Sticky Web site

Claudia McClain's agency is located 25 miles north of Seattle, Washington, "about 25 miles north of Microsoft and in Boeing's backyard," she says with a smile. "Our area is extremely tech savvy. Prospects and clients evaluate us and other agents based on our Web sites. They have an expectation that we'll provide interactive tools. That's what is so wonderful about the Travelers tools—they're interactive.

"We are always on the lookout for anything we can provide at our Web site to increase its 'stickiness'—to provide clients and prospects a reason to spend time at our site and return regularly," she says.

McClain Insurance Services, which is 100% personal lines, has links to all three of Travelers' online tools—Guide to Better Coverage, Auto Coverage Guide, and Auto Insurance Basics—at its Web site. McClain says these tools are complementary to the consultative role that the five-and-a-half person staff takes with clients. (The "half person" is the agency's communication director who works mostly from her home, according to McClain.)

"I like the GTBC because it focuses on everything but price," she points out. "If we could get every client or prospect to complete the GTBC survey before we talk to them, the tool would convince them that there are other considerations beyond price. We can then enter into the protection conversation and offer the best value for the money that prospect or client has to spend for insurance."

The agency tracks the source of its sales and finds that referrals are still the #1 source of new business. However, McClain says as she and her staff talk more with referrals, they find that they spent time at the Web site before calling. "Based on the expertise we demonstrate at our Web site, prospects decide we're somebody who can answer their questions; somebody they can come see if there's a problem."

McClain also uses the e-cards that Travelers offers through its Personal Insurance Sales and Marketing Toolkit. "The cards are nicely designed to acknowledge various life events—weddings, and such. There are also e-cards available that I can send to a new client. The e-cards are a lot nicer than just sending an e-mail," she says.

Get your house in order

"The industry needs to work together because the marketplace is changing so rapidly," Dodson observes. "Customer-centricity is no longer an option; it's required. Sales isn't really about selling; it's about being customer focused and proactive. You can't serve today's consumer reactively. Consumers can get information 24/7 from anywhere. They expect to be contacted in the way they prefer. Agencies need to find out from their clients how they want to be contacted—land line, cell phone, text, or e-mail."

Dodson notes that changing consumer attitudes as well as improvements in technology make now an ideal time for agents to get back to selling personal lines. Social media play an important role in the process. How an agency embraces social media is similar to how it embraces technology in general, she explains. "There has to be a strategy behind the agency's social media efforts," she says. "How does it tie into your value proposition? What value does it provide to the consumer?"

She says she's spoken with some agents who mention the GTBC on their Facebook page or in blogs. "Just linking to the GTBC from the agency Web site won't generate traffic," she cautions. "Agents have to promote it to consumers." That said, a side benefit to having these tools at the agency Web site can be an improved search ranking, she notes. And on the subject of Facebook and blogs, she emphasizes the importance of frequent updates. "If an agency has a Facebook page or blog, it needs to be relevant to what consumers are looking for. Additionally, they need to be updated regularly; otherwise they lose value and impact."

Getting up to speed with new media is an important first step for agencies that are developing an e-commerce strategy, Dodson continues. She acknowledges with tongue in cheek that agents get so busy running their business that they forget to run their business. "Agents really can't embrace new media technology tools until they get their house in order. Travelers has detailed playbooks—self-study guides—on e-commerce and social media that can help get our agents moving in that direction.

"For starters," she adds, "agency owners and principals need to reassess job descriptions and compensation planning. Before an agency launches a marketing campaign, it should first make sure it's making the most of the accounts it already has by doing a better job of account rounding and asking for referrals. Is the agency collecting e-mail addresses, cell phone numbers, and taking customer preferences on how they want to be contacted?"

Dodson notes that videos are another way to draw consumers into that "better conversation." "Travelers has videos that agents can put on their Web site that promote the value of the independent agent. Our agents can also co-brand our Travelers Dog ad campaign. The 'Puppy Love' video is especially popular . . . it drives home the point that life changes so it's important to get an account review."

McClain Insurance has two of Travelers' videos available at its Web site: "The Value of an Independent Agent" and "The Cat Burglar" from the popular Travelers Dog campaign.

"We're getting more business, but I can't say it's the result of any one thing," McClain observes. "No one element of this effort is a silver bullet. We have lots of tools in our toolbox. My advice to agent friends is to start with just one idea. It doesn't matter where you start . . . just start. Tell yourself: 'This is going to be the year where I implement a new idea each month.' It's amazing what you'll have by the end of the year."

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McClain Insurance Services

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