Commercial lines customers – particularly small business owners – still prefer working with independent insurance agents in the Internet age, new industry research has found.

At the same time, agents can’t rest on their laurels and must show their value online as well as person-to-person, according to the results. In other words, the person-to-person interaction still matters, but agents must also embrace doing business through the Internet to keep pace with their customers.

“Our results affirm that while small business owners continue to greatly value the professional advice and personal service of an independent agent, there is an expectation that their agent will be more capable of online interaction concerning their accounts and that the agency will have a fully credible online presence,” PIA National Executive Vice President and CEO Mike Becker said in prepared remarks.

The findings come from a survey conducted by the agency-company council of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) and other groups, as part of the PIA Partnership. Data comes, in part from a random national sampling of 1,000 small business owners whose companies employ 50 or fewer people.

Becker said the results are both an “affirmation” that insurance agents still matter and “wake-up call” for them to boost their efficiency through use of the Internet and other high-tech tools.

The PIA Partnership encompasses insurance companies that work with PIA’s national division to pursue research and develop tools that help independent agents do their job better. P/C members of the group include Progressive Insurance, State Auto Group, The Hanover Insurance Group, The Hartford and The Motorists Insurance Group.

Research findings determined that agents offered great value to small business clients, who sought relationships with those who understood their business, offered quick service responses, personal attention, and could reassure them that they were making the right insurance decisions.

Other results indicated that even when small business clients started their insurance process online, they wanted to interact with an agent to make sure of their decisions but also ask questions.

PIA Partnership Chairman John Petrucci said the results show that agents – even though their personal interaction is valued, should make use of the Internet part of their daily jobs.

“The Internet is here to stay,” Petrucci said in prepared remarks. “It is not the opponent of agents. But while it can be a source for competition, it can also provide an opportunity for agents when they use it to their own advantage … but the one thing that is not an option for independent agents is inaction.”

Source: National Association of Professional Insurance Agents