Friday, January 2, 2009

For a Moment I Thought It Was 1999

Today I read an article in the January 2009 print issue of Insurance Networking News titled "Online Sales Aid Insurers". Whoa! Blast from the past.

Since about 1999 the insurance industry has been in a struggle with itself about selling directly online. The issue is always - always - about the insurance company saving money by cutting out the sales agent's commission. Those rascally agents are just all getting rich for doing nothing I suppose.

I tried to find this article on their site with no luck. So instead of linking to this I am going to quote it - sorry.

"Given the state of the U.S. economy, the competitive marketplace and ever-changing customer habits, U. S. insurers have begun to invest in online sales strategies."

" developing an online sales strategy, insurers are able to lower customer acquisition costs as well as gain control of the customer relationship." (Emphasis mine)

"..customer acquisition costs can be dramatically reduced, due in part to low or no commissions." (Emphasis mine)

"...insurers can conquer the policyholder relationship...". (Emphasis mine)

I thought this was a settled issue. How about you?

All I have read about in the past few years is how "Real Time" was going to save the independent insurance agency. I have never believed that myself, but that's just me remembering that I have been hearing this same line for the past 30 years and it has never, ever, ever made any real headway. For me, if something doesn't work after 29 years of the industry pushing it, I start to have reasonable doubts and look for alternatives. Call me crazy.

Both direct sales by most insurance companies and agency Real Time are beautiful dreams and emotionally satisfying myths. I hope you will spend your time and build your future on realities you can control and implement yourself.

The best part of these two myths is that they let you off the hook. After all they are completely dependent on almost everyone else agreeing to do the same thing. If I remember correctly there was a Tower in Babel about a similar issue a few years back.

Looking at my calendar I see that it is in fact 2009 - I also checked the atomic clock, CNN, Google, and for old times sake a paper copy of the Raleigh News and Observer.

The problems that these two issues address are real. Your customers do want to have better service and if possible lower cost. They do want you to be available in some form 24/7. They know it is all about their experience with you.

This year, instead of waiting, there is a tremendous amount you can do right now to address these problems. You can...

  • Create interactive communications on your website, with email, with texting, etc.
  • Create collaborative space for you customers to work privately and securely with you online.
  • Let your customers pay you online.
  • Learn how to follow and participate in online forums for industries you do business with.
  • Don't ever send you customer to the insurance company if you can provide that same information or service on your own site.
  • Host an online video competition for your customers for the best insurance commercial and give a great prize to the winner.

You will think of many more things.

Personally I can't wait for 2010 to come around because of all the great things that will have been accomplished in 2009. I hope you feel the same way for the same reasons.

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