The customer experience is a complicated thing these days. Understanding customer preferences, relationships and requirements is difficult for any company. It is even more difficult to go a step further to identify the capabilities that really make a difference in the experience. Factor in the digital world, the trend toward omni-channel, and the dominance of mobile and it can seem like an overwhelming task to develop and execute successful strategies to improve the customer experience. Yet companies are forging ahead with plans to improve the customer experience. And it has become much more that a secondary pursuit – for many companies it is a strategic initiative driven from the C-suite. For example, insurance executives cite improving customer experience and engagement as the number one strategic initiative for 2015, according to recent SMA research. More than 80 percent of insurers in North America are making significant investments in this area. In the midst of all the options and strategies, a central issue will be determining the role of the human intermediary. Many industries, including travel and hospitality, retail, real estate, insurance, and others struggle with this issue. The agent, broker, or financial advisor selling insurance products is a perfect example.

Insurance: Who is the Customer?

To many, it might seem bizarre to ask who the customer is. The customer is the one that pays for and uses the product. Customers expect to use direct channels so they don’t have to rely on and pay extra for an agent, right? Well, yes and no. More direct, self-service options are being offered by insurers and used by customers, but many (including this author) believe there will be a role for agents for a long time to come. Think beyond the simple products like personal auto insurance or term life and consider the vast array of other insurance products for wealth accumulation and management, disability, and addressing business risks. Fast forward to 2025 – there will still be many segments of individuals and businesses that value the advice of professionals who understand how to plan for and manage complex risks and investments, and how to select the best products for each situation. By 2025, half the population may buy auto insurance, term life, or other simple products via the Internet. But high value whole life, annuities, workers’ comp, and mid-market/large commercial accounts will still be sold by intermediaries. Of course, the policyholder should always be considered the primary customer, but in many lines of business an independent agent or producer is and will continue to be an important customer to serve and influence.

The Role of the Intermediary

Fast forward to 2025 – there will still be many segments of individuals and businesses that value the advice of professionals who understand how to plan for and manage complex risks and investments, and how to select the best products for each situation.

Where expert advice and counsel for complex products is required, as is the case with many insurance products, the human intermediary will be involved in both the sales and servicing of the product. This doesn’t mean that intermediaries can sit back and conduct business as they did in the past. Insurance agents must understand and fully embrace the dramatic changes occurring in the ways the world communicates, entertains, learns, transacts business, and consumes services. The expectations are quite different than they were even a decade ago. This has two major implications for intermediaries. First, the company selling through intermediaries must provide modern technology capabilities to their agents for both company-to-agent interactions and agent-to-customer interactions. This includes mobile and digital tools for prospecting, selling, servicing, and managing their businesses.

Second, the intermediaries must recognize the power of new technologies and the expectations of customers. This goes way beyond just digitizing and automating the business. Successful intermediaries of the future will take maximum advantage of mobile, social, cloud, collaboration technologies, and analytics. They will track and understand the implications of emerging technologies like the Internet of Things, drones, wearables, and autonomous vehicles that will have a big impact on society and their customers.

There is still tremendous need for face to face interaction, expert advice, and personal service. But, the world is changing rapidly and human intermediaries must change with it. The increasing amounts of channels and devices operating based on digital content will provide new opportunities for intermediaries to take their craft to the next level.

This blog entry has been republished with permission.

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The opinions posted in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News or SourceMedia.

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