Influencing agent behaviors – the once in a lifetime automation opportunity
By Jim Ferrell
Agent adoption of automation technology requires a delicate balance measured by individual channels and types of business, as there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. the following are some of the most relevant ways to influence agent behavior.
In the life and annuity distribution space, agents are relationship builders that provide a value above and beyond simply what the policy they are selling from the insurance carrier delivers to their client. Their purpose is to develop a relationship built on trust and to build and communicate a “life strategy” to meet a specific client’s end goal, whatever that may be. Their roles expand, depending on their clients’ life events. For instance, a good agent has attended empathy training and understands how to console and support their client in the event of a tragic life event. The successful agents are much more than just salesmen; they build life-long relationships that bridge generations within families and within their own firms.
I lead by painting this picture because the agent’s focus needs to be on the client’s needs, which is their primary focus. It is this that separates the good agents from the great, long-standing agents, and ultimately, why we are all in the insurance business.
The core values of insurance sales have been based on client relationships since the beginning. Anytime that an automation process gets in the way or an insurance carrier’s view on how to make things easier for the agent causes a long learning curve forcing behavioral change, it can negatively impact this agent/client relationship. Or, if the process becomes overly burdensome, it can adversely impact the insurance carrier’s sales, as the agent elects to do business elsewhere.
Take in-good-order for example. By decreasing not-in-good-order application submissions, insurance carriers see a dramatic improvement in their bottom line. It allows the carrier to automate processing and re-focus support teams to add value to the client relationship rather than focusing on in-good-order data collection. Adversely, the more details a carrier has on in-good-order rules, the more difficult it becomes for the agent to effectively initiate the business, process business and move on to assisting additional clients. While 100 percent in-good-order is definitely possible, placing that level of complexity on the agent will unfavorably impact agent/client relationships.
Agent adoption of automation technology requires a delicate balance measured by individual channels and types of business, as there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. There are many factors specifically omitted here, but the following are some of the most relevant ways to influence agent behavior.
Bringing added value
The first point is encouraging modification of agent behavior to adopt automated business workflows must bring added value to the agent/client relationship and not only added processes for the sake of carrier-focused automation. If the automation solution provided requires a learning curve to get accustomed to a new way of processing business, the value provided must be focused on the agent/client relationship to encourage the end users to trudge through the learning curve.
If, ultimately, this value isn’t present in the solution you provide and the agent has a choice, then you can expect agents will continue to default back to writing business the way they have for many years — via ink, paper and check — and simply mailing it in.
There is also an underlying issue for the insurance carrier when implementing a new, unproven automation channel and when gaining minimal adoption; they’re faced with a negative return on investment and an ongoing overhead to maintain support for this solution for a small user base.
Current carrier implementation attempts have led to limited adoption success stories from the wider agent field force and have created an environment in which the insurance carriers’ desire for automation exists with no real defined and proven adoption strategies for the wider field force. Insurance carriers are realizing that impacting agents’ behaviors requires more than a “build it, and they will come” approach.
Buy-in from both sides
This brings us to the next point: End user adoption strategies of automation technology must have buy-in and complementary strategic roll out plans from both the insurance carrier and the end user firms. This may sound elementary, but too often, automation solutions have been launched with an email notification from the insurance carrier to the field force or a presentation with a marketing campaign mentioned during a conference. These communication approaches alone will not drive widespread end user behavior or adoption.
An automation strategy that brings value to the end users, with an effective marketing campaign and an agreed upon dual strategic adoption strategy, are the minimum requirements for end user adoption and true ROI on technology investments. You have to answer and clearly communicate the “what’s in it for me?” message to the end users.
Mobility – a unique opportunity
The third and most important point is, mobility is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the insurance industry to shape and have a wide impact on the end user's automation adoption.
It is the mix of widespread adoption of tablet devices with the expectations of younger and younger agents and the flexibility provided to the agent force that presents the insurance industry this unique opportunity. Through technology support of these devices, you add meaning to the “what’s in it for me?” question, and the value required for an elected behavior change. By supporting a tablet e-signature method that enables the agent to close a deal within a single client meeting, you’re making it easier for the agent to conduct their business and create more time to establish and cultivate that client relationship. And, in the end, the insurance company receives the automation return on investment. This sounds like a bold statement, but look back at how technology has shaped the way business is done. It has been the widespread success and adoption of tools that create these unique business opportunities. Mobility, along with easy-to-use business processing applications, changes everything! And it’s the fast moving firms who capitalize on this trend that will lead and positively impact their rankings among peers. Mobility and the support of tablet based computers are the new changing forces in how we do business.
Generating end user adoption
By implementing automation solutions that force agents to change their behavior to something unfamiliar that conflicts with existing business processes, carriers will continue to have limited technology adoption, resulting in negative return on investment. The success stories of end user adoption will continue to be with carriers that have selected solutions that influence agent behavior by providing the necessary workflows to simplify business processing and offer mobility support in today’s multi-device environment. By keeping these key points in mind when implementing automation processes, carriers will be taking the first step to heading into the next generation of how we do business.