In a digital insurance world, apps — the kind you have to download — really are no longer required. (Shutterstock) In a digital insurance world, apps — the kind you have to download — really are no longer required. (Shutterstock)

“There’s an app for that.” This phrase has become the solution for many consumers as they complete more of their day-to-day tasks from mobile devices.

Need to reimburse a friend for dinner? Use Venmo to easily transfer money. Have to deposit a check? Just snap a picture and deposit it directly through a bank’s app.

While apps have become the go-to solution for so many things, an app for independent agents that represent many carriers isn’t the only — or even the easiest — plan for creating a smooth, seamless customer experience.

The case for going mobile is clear

Unfortunately, there’s a real disconnect between the consumer shift toward mobile and agents’ capabilities. There are approximately 200 million mobile phone users in the United States, and half of all organic search engine visits originate from a mobile device. In fact, data assembled by my company from the performance of more than 1,200 insurance agency web sites shows that the fastest rising device type for online search and content consumption is mobile.

But according to a recent survey from the Insurance Digital Revolution, only 19% of agents currently offer any type of mobile application.

A key reason more agents aren’t moving faster is that mobile strategies can be intimidating: most believe mobile requires downloadable apps. Apps can be expensive and complicated to develop. They must fit the parameters of a mobile operating system such as iOS and Android. And apps require insurance consumers to take an extra step by going to an app store on the phone and downloading the application, which can be cumbersome if a prospect is just looking for a quote.

Carriers have made much more progress with these technologies, and it is easier for agents to defer their customers to the carrier app for claims and account management activities associated with their policies instead of building their own program from scratch.

The rise of the mobile customer experience

App-less mobile is a concept that provides a seamless insurance experience and that scales to fit the specific needs of independent insurance agencies. Consider this example: An agency has a website. To be effective, the site has to be mobile responsive, meaning it automatically adapts to fit the screen of the consumer’s device that is accessing it such as a desktop, smartphone or tablet. There is no app required to achieve this responsive design, just proper website programming.

And an app-less experience goes beyond formatting. The goal is to create an experience that mimics the one-track, simple features of an app. Agencies can implement solutions that transform consumer lead and quote forms into app-like interfaces on the website, basically using smart, simple question-response techniques to engage the customer.

For example, a virtual agent can lead the customer through the quoting process, asking specific questions about insurance needs, with new questions populating based on prior answers. At the end, the form can be linked with a rater and provide the prospect with policy quotes on the spot.

Mobile is inherently a communications opportunity for agencies, and app-less mobile has many benefits. It provides universal accessibility across all browsers and operating systems. It’s less expensive than application development, requiring low-to-no maintenance costs beyond typical website fees. App-less mobile improves operations and the overall customer experience providing clean, simple workflows. They can also give an agency an advantage over competitors that have not embraced a responsive experience.

The future of mobile is app-less

With the advent of InsurTechs, mobile-first customer experiences have become the norm. While currently relegated to more commoditized home, auto, and small commercial policy transactions, in the future expect new breakthroughs. Companies in other industries have begun implementing app-less mobile experiences and are seeing more engagement. After Starbucks began offering an app-like experience on its website, the number of orders placed through the site doubled. Sixty percent of e-commerce retailer Flipkart’s customers who uninstalled the native app, returned to use the company’s website which offered an app-less mobile experience.

The insurance industry is primed to follow this trend. Leading agencies will offer more tailored, focused solutions that humanize the customer experience using the devices their digital audience members choose. Texting, email, prescribed workflows to capture consumer data, and accessibility to customer portals will be empowered through mobile technology. In this scenario, downloadable apps are too constricting, and app-less mobile experiences have no limits.

The best place for agencies to start

For agencies, going app-less starts with checking their websites. Navigate to the site using a desktop computer, tablet, AND smartphone. This will quickly demonstrate whether or not the webpages and forms are responsive to all devices. If they are not responsive, agents should contact the website developer to get it adjusted quickly.

Then, agencies need to look at all web forms and ask themselves: will the business benefit from a more app-like form that digitally engages with visitors? Often the worst experience for customers is a passive one where they have to do all of the work.

Finally, agencies should encourage their producers and CSRs to add texting to the customer engagement toolbox. Agency employees should be interacting with customers using the same devices they use for family and friends. After all, it is the human quality that makes agents the superior choice to drive the insurance value chain.

In a digital insurance world, apps — the kind you have to download — really are no longer required. App-like interfaces on websites and on-demand chat provide customers with a great experience without having to download. The future of mobile is app-less, and it’s a win-win for agencies and their customers.

As managing partner at Smart Harbor, Jason Walker (jwalker@smartharbor.com) oversees the strategy, development and delivery of the company’s digital marketing technology solutions and analytics platforms for the insurance market.

These opinions are the author’s own.

See also: Here are the top 9 mobile insurance apps