Distribution channel portal best practices for insurance companies: Where do you stand?
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Distribution channel portal best practices for insurance companies: Where do you stand?

Author: Kamiya Duseja | Categories: Customer Engagement, Digital Marketing, Insurance, Personalization

The demographic of a typical insurance producer is changing. The new producer is younger, focused on efficiency and is more technology savvy. Running against time, he wants his work done promptly and the last thing he wants is a cumbersome system coming in his way. He is focused on relationships — not just with his customers, but his carriers as well. Primarily a salesman, he single-mindedly works towards closing. You might often hear him saying: “It’s a lonely world – have to deliver results to get paid!”

What the carrier has to deliver to the producer

  • Ease of doing business: The producer wants the task done in the simplest possible way.
  • Ease of connectivity: The producer is often frustrated while getting information so stay away from multiple logins that most carriers provide. Make it easy!
  • Tools that improve productivity and sales: Help the producer sell faster and more—efficiently.
  • Improved engagement and better customer service: The producer is focused on relationships and needs to feel he has been serviced well.

What the producer thinks of the carrier’s website

This is very important. Producers often feel that carriers’ websites need to be simplified and made easier to navigate. Roughly four in five producers in 2012 agreed that they are more willing to place business with carriers that offer useful websites. This is very real in terms of transactions and revenues. Also, almost eighty percent producers agree that their primary carriers’ websites help them provide better service and enable them to sell more.

Producer’s interest in online tools: Emerging trends

Producers desire more online functions with online applications, e-signatures and marketing tools. Quite often, they work with several carriers simultaneously. This ease-of-use stands out as a critical need and is driving a trend towards digital engagement.

Digital maturity curve of distribution portals

This curve allows carriers to understand where they can map their path to engagement with the producers. In the early 2000s, it was all about informational portals that were more brochure-ware and disseminated simple information. In the mid to late 2000s, there was a wave of transactional portals. These offered improved content, productivity tools, e-applications, a line of business integration, albeit with limited personalization.

Currently, we are witnessing a shift towards digital engagement between the carrier and the producer. These portals are personalized and collaborative, ensuring a two-way dialogue. They seamlessly integrate with the producer’s environment and offer more mobile and cross-channel features — these are especially important for the producer who is constantly on the field.
So, where do you stand?

Five keys to digital maturity

1. Ease of doing business

A majority of producers, as we all understand, are more willing to place business with carriers that offer useful websites. Let me share this with you:
“Carriers provide a way, way too much information. They need to keep it simple and easy. They forget that as independent agents we have 10 companies, 10 usernames, 10 passwords, 10 different web pages, and a thousand different products…. We’re busy; we sell. We do not sit and play with computers.”
— Male independent, age 62, mail/web-based survey

KISS (Keep It Simple S$#*%D)

This is exactly why ease of use is important. When you are thinking about the experience of your portal, keep it simple. Remember, ease of use = ease of doing business. Navigation should always be guided. Page structure and page layouts should be improved. Help should be contextual. Remember, a portal without help will not be very well accepted. The site has to be search enabled. Last but not the least; be very careful with the terminology. The terminology that is relevant to you might not be very useful to the producer out there in the field.

Look and feel

Keep it engaging and make it easy for the user to find information. We also recommend you ask for feedback from users through surveys and insight from analytics.

Solve the multiple log-in problems

Fifty percent of the carriers we work with have a problem of multiple log in. A lack of a unified single access policy makes it cumbersome for producers to use the portal. It is important to have a single unified access to tools and ensure integrated access to external producer’s environment.

Personalization

Carriers should personalize experience based on the channel, tenure and experience of the user.

Self-managed

Ability to manage quick links and personalize are some of the out-of- the-box capabilities of leading portals today.

Subscription

One size does not fit all so it is critical to allow users to subscribe to content, information, training etc. A subscription strategy is really important as it allows producers to pick and choose what is important to them.

Integrated experience

It's important to offer seamless access across carrier’s capabilities, including access to a line of business capabilities..

Mobile access

Mobile has become very important with the younger demographic. Accessibility is the key today and it is essential to provide mobile access to capabilities to improve accessibility in the field. This will in turn improve the productivity of the users.

Personal insurance capabilities include:

- E-signature
- Illustrations
- Application Status
- Customer Information
- Calculators
- Application Submission
- Policy Issuance
- Training

The question to ask here is what information will your user need on the field? Simply rolling out everything on your portal to the mobile is not the answer. Provide information that is really relevant.

2. Partner in success

How do you partner with your producers to be successful? What should be your engagement strategy? Remember, it is not about you working with the producer, it is the other way around. It is about getting the producer to work with you. Co-branding is one crucial strategy. It enables external producers to sell better and positions the carrier as a better partner. Co-branded assets could include websites, brochure-ware etc.

  • Many carriers offer websites for producers with a wide variety of functions including contact information, pending business status, marketing materials, and product information on producer sites
  • 56% of carriers offer customizable marketing materials to producers
  • 21% of carriers allow the producers to submit claims via website for producers
  • 83% carriers offer production reports to producers

(Source: LIMRA)

Training enables producers to be effective

Ongoing training delivered through portals is a key asset to enable the sales force to sell. Our interactions with our clients tell us how highly they are valued. Yes, training is important but more importantly, training has to be when the producers need it and of the type they need.

Any training should include:

- Ready to go videos
- Webcasts
- Personalized online training

Marketing material

How do you convey your value proposition to your audience? Through an engaging and dynamic website that offers content including information about products and success stories. The producer should be able to download engaging marketing collateral such as brochures to further position it effectively to his prospects. The result? Improved partner acquisition and increased market share.

Lead generation

We find a lot of carriers struggling with this. How do you make it fair? Should you as carriers be giving leads? Well, we are starting to see that carriers are experimenting with this idea and have capabilities to ensure that lead allocation is monitored and done in a fair manner.

Providing leads to partners enables them to sell. Here are some ways in you can help the producer:

- CRM capability to get, track and act on leads
- Provide leads to producers from pre-login website
- Lead tracking and nurturing tools
- Systemic capability to manage allocation and monitor pre-sale leads/targets
- Tools to be productive and efficient

Carriers can offer many functions online such as:

- Pending business status
- e-applications
- e-signatures
- Sales and marketing tools
- Marketing campaigns
- Customer level tools for agent (e.g., target customer profiles, customized leads)
- Reporting and analytics on sales rep activities and process effectiveness (Where is the dropout from lead to closure)

We at the edynamic track several hundreds of these functions. Reach out to us for a list of tools that portals should offer.

Recognition and awards to drive engagement and motivate producers

It is critical to socialize with producers and periodically honour then with top producer badges on the portal or placing them on the leader board of top producers. We are all social beings after all who thrive in appreciation.

3. Drive Engagement

Wondering how to engage your producers? Roughly, one in four producers would like to see their carriers add discussion forums, social networking, instant messaging, texts, and blogs. Traditionally, carriers have been resistant and there are a lot of restrictions within the industry; but there are ways of getting around. Here are a few ways to engage with your producers:

Better collaboration

Carriers today are applying collaborative technologies to both internal (employees and agents) and external (customers and prospects) networks. They are using tools such as real-time chat, discussion forums, institution / cross-partner based community, quick search and remote easy-to-access reference materials / illustrations, training and other content for marketing and sales.
Here, a few more tools that enable better collaboration and lead to more business.

- Access to application and status outside work environment for agents
- Access to customer information, policy updates, product updates and rate updates in the field
- Customized marketing materials
- Complete view of all customer interactions through CRM integration
- Document management services
- Ability to make/submit policy changes/to submit claims

Information sharing

Carriers should consider driving deeper engagement with producers to seek greater collaboration. They could create a platform for producers to connect with carriers in real time, share effective practice and discuss strategies to overcome business challenges. Social collaboration, content and communication tools can help balance openness with acceptable risk.

Social media

In my opinion, there is no better tool than an ongoing dialogue with the producers. And social media provides that mechanism. Social is not just about facebook or twitter. It is about managed communities and there is a variety of things within the sphere. Ultimately, it is about a two-way communication carried out in a consistent and easy manner. This is a huge area of opportunity that most carriers are struggling with.

  • Facebook is used and configured to allow agents to publish preapproved content that can be localized to their specific areas
  • Twitter to connect with clients, use as marketing tools and build client product awareness
  • Social data to be filtered, tagged, integrated, archived, and aggregated

Pull them

Don’t wait for producers to come to your portal. Bring them to you as it is all about pro-active engagement. Here are a few tools you might want to consider:

- Email alerts
- Newsletters
- Offering visitors the chance to sign up for Twitter updates while on the site, and linking them to blogs or discussion forums
- Webcasts
- Podcasts
- Chats and instant messaging
- RSS feeds
- Microblogs

Mobile access for producers

Mobile is changing the landscape of the industry and you need to tap into its potential. Here are a few mobile applications that you can offer to your producers:

- Calendar
- Email
- Pending business status
- Client account information
- Ability to submit applications
- Ability to submit service requests
- Ability to submit claims
- Commissions
- Agent can submit claims using an application designed for customers

Information sharing

In our industry, it is all about turning the management of information into a business advantage. It is important to extract information from silos and make it more widely available. You have to have tools for enabling people to share information widely, yet in a secure and controlled fashion. Let your producer search entire repositories quickly and efficiently. And be careful to achieve all this in a way that remains relevant to each producer and carrier.

4. Manage the product lifecycle

We see a variety of portals being created but what happens to them thereafter? They become stale very quickly. This is when product management comes into the picture. The portal should be considered as a product and should be consistently improved. You need to have a product road map before you go ahead and create a portal. The big bang approach doesn’t necessarily work. So, lay it out; have different phases offering capabilities that are frequently rolled out. Consider marketing and product management to manage the portal’s marketing assets, rather than IT. Enable marketing to manage the experience in real time. When content starts to roll out, carry out tests and surveys to see what works and what doesn’t.

5. Best of breed technology

The right technology is the key to success. Technology has to be an enabler and not a constraint. Use technology that is flexible and offers ease of integration. Your portal must have capabilities that can be personalized and targeted more specifically. The technology should allow marketing and product management to easily manage the experience. This should be a key requirement. Quite often, the marketing team is sidelined while IT builds the portal. But ultimately, it is the marketing guys who have to manage the user experience.

A few considerations:

Consider portal and CMS technology
Focus on an eco-system rather than one tool.

Approach to an engaging distribution portal experience

How and where do you get started?

Understand your audience

To create an effective experience, understanding the audience and creating a flexible user experience is the key. Often, we see carriers defining producer requirements in silos. They think they know the producer. But do they? It is important to conduct primary and secondary research to understand the needs of your users. Don’t simply rely on statistics and second-hand information about what other carriers are doing. Do research and speak to producers who have worked with different carriers.
After understanding the audience, segment the producer base. As I mentioned earlier, consider tenure, channel, and a few other factors so that you can offer a differentiated experience to each segment. Most importantly, engage them in the process.

Analyze

I recommend benchmarking insurance and non-insurance portals. Look at other spaces like the credit card industry that are very advanced. As you identify, prioritize your capabilities.

Road map

Define a digital road map and don’t forget, big bang rarely works. Link your portal with strategic priorities.

Design

In terms of design, focus on an engaging design, user experience and information architecture.