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Carrier relationships are more helpful than technology in all areas of service that agents deliver to customers, but carriers are least helpful in both relationships and technology when they’re taking care of claimants, according to the Deep Customer Connections /Insurance Journal Independent Agent survey.

Executive Summary

Although agents rate technology for claims servicing and for prospecting as the weakest areas of technology support they get from carriers, they’re not necessarily looking for better technology, according to results a survey conducted by Deep Customer Connections and Wells Media’s Insurance Journal for Carrier Management. Relationships investments matter more in these and other areas, the agents say.

For a full report on the DCC/IJ survey findings, see related articles:

When else can agents use more help?

When they’re looking for new customers, the survey reveals.

In assessing carriers’ performance in helping them with prospecting and lead-generation activities, agents gave carrier technology an average rating of 5.3 out of a possible high score of 7 points. Among four activities DCC/IJ asked about—prospecting, writing policies, servicing policies and supporting policyholders with claims—the 5.3 score for technology was the second lowest. Only the overall technology score for claims service was lower, at 5.0.

Agents generally said their relationships with carrier personnel are more helpful than carrier technology as they scope out new customers, with nearly 500 respondents giving carrier relationships an average score of 5.7 for this activity. Better scores for relationships than technology scores in the prospecting area were a consistent theme for all respondent categories—young and old, CSR and principal, and across lines of business and agency sizes. Agency principals find carrier technology in this area especially disappointing, giving it an average score of 5.1.

One noteworthy trend in helpfulness scores for prospecting activities relates to agency size: As agencies get larger, the gap between technology and relationship helpfulness scores widens. The 65 respondents from agencies with 200 or more employees scored technology helpfulness for prospecting a 5.2 out of 7, while the helpfulness of carrier relationships for this presale activity category scored 6.2—a 1.0 point difference.

The gap between technology and relationship helpfulness scores widens for prospecting activities as agency size grows.

Looking ahead, the largest agencies by a wide margin said carriers should focus more on relationships if they want to help with prospecting and lead generation going forward. Sixty-five percent of agencies with more than 200 employees selected relationships over technology. Notably, the smallest agencies also favored relationships, but the split here was narrower—55 percent to 45 percent in favor of relationship investments.

Referring to an overall split across all size groups, which has 54 percent favoring carrier relationship investments and 46 percent choosing technology, Nort Salz, CEO of Deep Customer Connections, expressed surprise that agents felt they needed help from carrier personnel to generate leads.

“A lot of agents think of prospecting as their thing. It’s not the carrier’s thing,” he said.

More consistent with Salz’s expectation, midsize agencies were actually more likely to choose technology over relationships, with 55 percent of agencies in the 76-200 employee-size category giving the nod to technology investments. Similarly, slightly more than half of the youngest respondents (52 percent of those ages 40 and younger) selected the technology alternative over relationship-building.

Analyzing the average group responses across different agency roles, DCC found that principals, producers, CSRs and other professionals all said that carriers should pay more attention to relationship-building than technology lead-generation support going forward. Interestingly, CSRs generally voiced the most support for relationships, with 59 percent choosing relationship-building from the two alternatives. The comparable figure for producers was 52 percent. (See also, “Analysis by Role” below)

Writing and Servicing Policies

Among the four agency activities asked about, writing policies was the one for which agencies said they were currently most satisfied with the assistance they get from their relationships with carriers. Here, carrier relationships scored 6.0 out of 7, on average.

And no matter how DCC cut the data—by agency size, age, role or line of business—respondents consistently gave their highest carrier relationship scores for policy writing. Particularly high scores came from respondents in midsize agencies (6.5 for agencies with 76-200 employees) and the youngest respondents (6.3 for those less than 30 years of age).

Carriers’ marks for helpful technology in both writing and servicing policies averaged 5.6—rising above the technology grades for claims service and lead-generation activities but falling below the relationship helpfulness scores for any of the four activities.

“Even in something as transactional as servicing the policy—adding an endorsement, making a change, billing, for example—still relationship overall is rated as more helpful than technology,” said DCC’s Salz, noting only one small exception to this trend: a group of 50 respondents between 30 and 40 years of age who gave a 5.8 score to technology and a 5.6 to relationships.

“It’s interesting that even in the under-30 group, they’re saying, ‘It’s the relationship that helps when I’m servicing a policy,'” Salz observed, referring to that group’s average scores of 4.9 for technology vs. 5.9 for relationships.

Servicing Policies Helpfulness Scores by Age

Salz expressed some surprise over the magnitude of difference between the technology and relationship helpfulness scores for the youngest respondents, speculating that the age group would be dominated by CSRs who are doing a lot of transactional work.

“Some of this could be because this [youngest] group is the one that’s still on the learning curve about insurance,” which puts carrier personnel in teaching mode—a relationship builder, Salz suggested.

Andrew Simpson, vice president of Content for Wells Media, has a related observation. It could be that younger people understand technology well. So any problems with carrier technology are more obvious to them, he reasoned. “These people came in with technology as a given. It’s probably more intuitive and natural,” he said.

DCC VP John Zurich agreed. The youngest group “can envision what ought to be happening with technology. There’s a lot more potential for technology to be much, much better than it is” for the service aspect of insurance transactions, he said.

As noted in an accompanying article (“Where Should Carriers Invest More: Technology or Agency Relationships?”), policy servicing is in fact the only one of the four agency functions for which survey respondents convincingly said carriers should work to improve technology rather than relationships in the future.

When it comes to writing policies, it’s a closer contest—with 52 percent picking relationship investments over technology investments for the carriers they work with.

Digging deeper into the data, there are some groups of respondents who think very differently on this last point—that investments in relationships should win out when it comes to policy writing. For example, 71 percent of a small group of respondents in agencies with 76-200 employees said that insurers should focus on technology to help them in writing policies, with only 29 percent of this group agreeing with the broader pool of respondents.

The youngest respondents also favored technology over relationships here. “To help me write policies, carriers should focus more on improving technology,” said 62 percent of respondents aged 40 and younger. For the oldest respondents, the choice was harder, with 49 percent of those over age 60 selecting technology over relationships and 51 percent selecting carrier relationship-building efforts to help their agencies with policy writing.

Analysis by Line of Business

Personal lines agencies generally want carriers to pay more attention to technology than agencies focused on commercial lines or mixed agencies.

While all three groups said that carriers should focus more on technology than relationships in servicing policies going forward, 70 percent of respondents from personal lines agencies picked technology over relationships (compared to 63 percent overall). For commercial lines agencies, 57 percent picked technology over relationships for servicing policies.

Personal lines was the only line-of-business group in which respondents picked technology over relationships for policy-writing and claims-servicing activities as well.

Write Policies and Claims by LOB

“Relationship helps agents deal with the complexity associated with commercial lines policies,” observed Salz.

As for activities in advance of a sale—prospecting and lead generation—the choice between technology and relationship for future carrier investments was almost a toss-up for personal lines agencies. Forty-nine percent picked technology and 51 percent chose relationships. For those mostly involved in commercial lines, relationship investments were favored by 60 percent.

When delivering their viewpoints on carrier helpfulness currently, respondents displayed no real difference by line of business, although commercial lines agencies tended to give higher helpfulness on relationships and lower scores on technology.

Analysis by Role

Customer Service Representatives (CSRs are the most interested in relationship-building for all activities, and they are also the most satisfied group of agency professionals.

Asked where carriers should focus their efforts in helping agents with prospecting and generating sales leads, 59 percent chose relationships over technology, with the remaining 41 percent selecting technology—a spread of 18 percentage points. Producers and principals also chose relationships over technology but by much smaller margins. For example, 52 percent of producers selected relationships, while the remaining 48 percent said technology improvements should be in carrier plans for helping agents make new sales—a difference of just 4 percentage points.

Prospecting by ROLELike other groups, CSRs who addressed the question of what carriers should focus on to help with policy servicing in the future picked technology. But only 53 percent selected technology over relationships, while nearly two-thirds of principals and producers showed a preference for technology investments.

Servicing by ROLEPrincipals are least satisfied with the help they get from carriers in almost every aspect of their businesses. Like the other groups, principals give the lowest scores to carrier claims technology and the highest to the help they get from carriers in writing policies. But even here, principals rated carriers a 5.8 out of 7. Contrast that to CSRs, who gave carrier relationships a 6.3 out of 7 for their help in writing policies.


The Highs and Lows

Looking across different slices of the data from the surveys, a few numbers stood out from a range of scores that generally fell between 5 and 6.
•The lowest score for any activity/agency group combination came in for agents under 40 rating carriers on claims technology—4.5 for those under 40 and 4.3 for those under age 30.
• Personal lines agencies, agency principals and small agencies (1-20 employees) also gave marks under 5.0 for claims technology. Each of these groups scored carrier claims technology at 4.9 on average.
• The highest score for any activity/agency group combination was a 6.5—the average assigned by midsize agencies (76-200 employees) for the help they get from carrier relationships in writing policies.