Filed Under:Agent Broker, Sales & Marketing

App Attack

Smartphone users are growing in number every day. More than 10 billion apps have been downloaded from the Apple Store and 125 apps are downloaded each second from Android Market. Learn how to develop your own app and interact more closely with your clients and prospects.

Susie Smith is a normal teenager. She plays on her high school soccer team, has a part-time job at a toy store and loves going to the movies with friends. She’s thinking about college and is preparing for her SATs with a prep class. This past week has been a busy one for Susie; besides her normal commitments, she has been attending rehearsals for her role in the school musical.

Susie’s parents both work full time. They love that their daughter has interests outside of school, but they often had to re-arrange their schedules so they could drive Susie to and from her extracurriculars. Susie has had her driver’s license for a few months, so that eases her parents’ schedules.

Related: Read "App-ortunity is Knocking."

Like 70 million others in the U.S., Susie has a smartphone. Besides apps for Facebook, email and Angry Birds, she also has an app for her auto insurance agent. Her parents have prepared Susie as best as they know how, but should an accident happen—they want her to know how to contact her insurance agent.

This story isn’t farfetched. The numbers of smartphone users are growing every day, and more insurance agents are developing smartphone applications. Duke Williams, founder of SehMobile, a developer of smartphone apps specifically for the insurance industry, recalled a story: "The first agent we developed this for has a daughter in high school. The very next day, his daughter’s friends wanted his app. The parents wanted their kids to know their agent."

Insurance apps aren’t new. Many carriers have published apps—State Farm, Progressive, Farmers, Geico and Nationwide, to name a few. But independent agencies and agents as individuals also are publishing apps. "It gives the agent a presence above the level of being in a phone’s contact list," Williams said. "It’s nice to be in a contact list, but you are hidden and out of sight. With an app, it’s much more interactive."

Angelyn Treutel, president at Southgroup Insurance Gulf Coast, and who developed an iPhone app while at Treutel Insurance Agency, agrees. "We want our clients to be able to contact us wherever they are. To make a claim, request a service, email us or chat, whatever they choose to do," she said. "As independent agents we offer choice in product and choice of how our clients and prospects want to interact with us, and having a smartphone application is critical."

Developing your app

Before claims start pouring into your Droid, you first must develop your app (see sidebar, "Build an agency app"). There are many companies that will build your app, or you can insert your information into an online template.

Think of your budget: Working with a designer to develop an app from scratch may cost several thousand dollars. However, other design firms (such as SehMobile or Seattle Clouds) offer templates for only a few hundred dollars. Depending on your publishing platform, you also may have publishing fees, and both Apple and Android take a percentage of your sales revenues.

Andy Dillow, producer at Torian, Hofmann & Dillow Insurance, Evansville, Ind., and self-proclaimed tech geek, published a personal app called "Insurance Dude." Dillow developed his app through an online template, paid a $99 setup fee for the Apple Store and $9.99 a month to keep it published in the Apple Store. Dillow doesn’t charge a download fee for his app; "I wanted to get it into the hands of as many customers as possible," he said.

Agents also may choose to look at SehMobile when developing their app. The app generator charges a one-time $499 set-up fee and a monthly $29.95 hosting fee. If you choose to work with SehMobile, the company builds an app and publishes it. SehMobile also enables ACORD forms to use from a mobile device. After receiving feedback from your app, you may need to update it. The company enables a content manager dashboard so you can change your app in real time, with changes taking effect next time someone opens the app. Williams said that his property-casualty agents have had 25 to 40 downloads each week. In fact, the agent referenced above who has his app on his daughter’s friends’ phones, has had 438 downloads in 8 weeks.

What’s your function?

When designing your app, think of ease of use for your customers (see sidebar, "Get ahead with apps" to learn what apps a young agent uses). Treutel said the most commonly used features on her app are locate and contact. "A client was at an auto dealership and contacted me via the app to inform me about their new vehicle. I was able to take the information and upload the info and send him back an auto ID card for the new vehicle. And this was on a Saturday afternoon," she said.

Williams said the app acts as a customer service tool and functions as a customer contact point. Consider what features are on your agency website. Your app can include similar links or forms.

Dillow developed and published his app after researching the smartphone trends of the younger generations. "I started with Facebook and Twitter, and this is the next step. When Gen Y is ready to buy from me, I am on their radar," he said.

Dillow details the four options on the homescreen of his app:

  • Report a claim: Includes a 24-hour claims reporting feature, steps to take after an auto accident and submit a photo.
  • Get service: Users can request a change or an update to a policy, request billing information or request a policy review.
  • Get a quote: Contact Andy or request a quote form. This form includes basic info—name, phone, email, birthdate, type of quote.
  • Contact: Email, direct phone, Facebook and Twitter.

If you develop your app through SehMobile, you can include access to driver proof of insurance ID cards, access to and tracking of self-service certificates of insurance using ACORD forms, report claims and get quotes (see sidebar on different app examples). Also, the app integrates with billing systems to enable credit card or debit card payments.

Apps created with SehMobile provide access to ACORD forms. Each time a published form is submitted your phone app, you receive a confirmation email. The email has a link to your ACORD account and the name of the submitted form so it will be easy for you to find and retrieve.

Working with carriers

At the ACT meeting last February, an educational seminar detailed the different insurance industry apps and what some agencies are doing. Donna Barr, ACT member, details that the discussion included billing and policy inquiries, and also the issue of carrier apps.

Instead of customers going to an agent’s app or an agent’s website to get to the carrier, customers are going directly to the carrier’s app or website for inquiries. "For branding purposes, we want clients to know we are their agents," Barr said. "Regardless of what insurance company they are with, we are their agents and give them the best product and price."

Barr recalls an incident where the construction type on a client’s house was incorrect. Instead of calling the agent, the client was confused and called the company, which ended up increasing the client’s insurance. "Yes, it was valid," Barr said, "but had he worked with us directly I could have softened the blow. I could have educated the client and made the changes more appropriate."

ACT promotes the development of an agency system where clients can log on to an agency’s website or app with a single ID and password and receive carrier information. Some carriers offer a link on an agency’s website, but it is a separate login—and a separate process, removing the client from the agency’s website or app.

"The customer applications need to go through the agency, and the carriers need to interface with the agency app," Treutel said. "For example, if a client comes to my app and has a Safeco policy, my app should be able to talk with the Safeco app for a good customer experience."

Williams offers a temporary solution: "Work with external links on your app. Give your customers your app and launch them to their carrier site through your app."

Through State Farm’s Pocket Agent app, users can pay premiums, submit claims with photos and mobile check deposit. Pocket Agent has been downloaded more than 650,000 times. The Pocket Agent app includes a feature that ties back to the agents directly. The customer can find an agent at any point in the applications or send information or inquiry to an agent. "In all cases, agents are notified of a customer inquiry through the CRM solutions," said Eli Winn, manager of State Farm Enterprise Internet Solutions.

"Let’s not work against one another," Treutel said. And collaboration applies throughout the app process. Work with your customers to find what features are needed in your app. Work with developers to publish an easy-to-use app, and work with your carriers to ensure that your customers know you’re their agent. 



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