From the November 2011 issue of Tech Decisions •Subscribe!

Making It Easy

About a dozen years ago, the consulting firm Deep Customer Connections was doing consulting work with a P&C carrier and learned firsthand how important ease of business was for agents writing business with carriers.

Nort Salz, co-founder and president of Deep Customer Connections, also saw there wasn’t any common language or metrics around measuring ease of business.

“We thought it would be good to survey some agents to get a sense of what ease of business is and how carriers perform,” says Salz. “We wanted it to be comprehensive because there are all kinds of issues that affect how easy it is for an agent to work with a carrier. We developed a model to cover all the interactions.”

Deep Customer Connections just released its ninth annual survey and it included over 360,000 responses from 8,000 agents discussing 200 P&C carriers.

“The point is really simple: to help carriers see where they are strong and where they have opportunities for improvement,” says Salz. “The idea is if carriers can make it easier for agents to write business with them, they’ll get that business. This is a way for carriers to write more business and to strengthen the agency distribution system.”

Some of the key areas discussed in the survey include what Salz calls the fundamentals of insurance—underwriting and claims.

“Is the carrier responsive about underwriting and what is the flexibility of the carrier around underwriting?” asks Salz. “With claims we ask about promptness and fairness and also to what extent does the carrier understand and act on the needs of people in the agency.”

One thing that puzzles Salz is how agents rate the technology made available to them from insurance carriers.

“Technology touches everything,” he says. “It’s ubiquitous. You have to have technology to handle claims, deal with underwriting, and communicate with people. There are all kinds of tools carriers and agents need to make things work well.”

Surprisingly, though, the agents surveyed by Deep Customer Connections don’t rate technology that high in importance, although Salz points out that in terms of their written comments, technology is the most frequent issue they discuss—not in terms of the technology itself, but in terms of its application—how it affects their business and how it makes things easier for the agents.

The most frequent point agents discuss about technology is rating systems, explains Salz.

“[Agents] want to get a quote,” he says. “They know if [a consumer] come into their office and wants auto insurance, if they can get the quote immediately they aren’t going to lose the customer. If they have to wait a couple of days for a quote they are going to lose the sale.”

In this year’s survey, most of the companies ranked high in technology, but added that carriers have different profiles.

“You don’t have to get high technology ratings to be a top-rated carrier,” says John Zurich, vice president of Deep Customer Connections.

Agents certainly want to have all the technology tools at their disposal, but Salz believes that selling property/casualty insurance is also about relationships.

“I can’t begin to tell you how many times we’ve seen a comment such as: ‘Show up at our office. If you do, you’ll leave with business,’” says Salz. “Insurance is a relationship business for agents with their customers and they have the same kind of sense about their relationship with carriers. Agents frequently emphasize that carriers who visit agencies frequently and have a constructive agenda with them to write the risks and find good risks are the ones that get the business.”

Frankenmuth Insurance was atop this year’s list and Salz points out the Michigan-based carrier was a top-10 placer last year. In 2010 there was a three-way tie for first place among West Bend, Acuity, and MEMIC. Acuity and West Bend finished third and fourth, respectively this year. MEMIC dropped out of the top 10.

“There are companies that clearly have this mindset about working hard and continuing to focus on this issue,” says Salz. “It’s in their DNA. Those carriers show up frequently on the list.”

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