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"There’s certainly no lack of insurance providers these days. The Statista team explains that there were roughly 1.1 million insurance agents, brokers and service employees in the US as of 2016 — a number that’s likely to continue to grow. And it’s never been easier to buy coverage. With just a few clicks, someone can find virtually any type of insurance they want, buy it and be on their way. This means that independent agents need to have a rock solid value proposition. With so many brands vying for customers’ attention, it’s critical to deliver value that people can’t find through larger companies. This is what provides you with continuous leverage and allows you to flourish regardless of how much the industry grows.   Here are some reasons why a customer would want to choose an independent agent when buying insurance instead of a one-stop online platform.  

Anticipate the Customer’s Needs

An independent agent acts as a personal advisor and ensures that the customer is properly covered at all times the Mutual Benefit Group writes. One of the key selling points is that you work with your customers on a one-on-one basis and get to know them as individuals. There’s a personal connection there that’s difficult to replicate. Not only does this help you understand a customer’s needs, it puts you in a position to anticipate whenever those needs may change. And because your customer’s life is always changing, the Agent Support Network of America says, the best independent agents stay updated on those changes. It’s all about delivering great service that’s ongoing. The ASNOA gives the example of a longtime customer whose teenager is about to start driving and will need coverage. That would provide you with an excellent opportunity to cross-sell, while at the same time simplifying things for the customer. The team at financial services company Santam adds that the key to effectively anticipating a customer’s needs is staying in touch so that you’re aware of life events that may affect their coverage needs. This is invaluable from a customer’s standpoint and a big reason why they’ll choose your company over much larger competitors. When it comes to specific methods for staying in touch, the PMC Insurance Group recommends using email and social media as well as simply asking your customers for feedback. This not only shows that you care about providing great service; it gives you insight into ways that you can improve.

Build a Trusting Relationship

The personal relationship that a customer has with an independent agent is another a major selling point. Although technology has advanced dramatically and made the insurance buying process more streamlined, you could argue that it lacks the personal touch. A good example is customer service automation. “More and more companies have switched to automated systems, often making it more difficult and time consuming to reach the right person,” Sarah Pluck at Acadia Insurance writes. “However, at many independent insurance agencies, an actual person will still greet and assist you.” Small business and entrepreneurship thought leader Rieva Lesonsky elaborates saying that 32 percent of millennials get frustrated with customer service automation, while nearly half of baby boomers feel the same way. So it’s easy to see why partnering with an independent agent is often preferable. Relationships are more valuable than ever, and many people will opt for the smaller brand that offers the personal touch and face-to-face interaction. With a trusted advisor they can turn to, they don’t have to hunt down answers to their questions or wonder whether a particular type of coverage is right for them. Getting answers is as easy as making a phone call or visit, insurance expert at West Bend Mutual Insurance Company Scott Steuber explains. And because independent agents work for the client and not for the carrier, they are able to offer coverage and price options. And it goes much deeper than a one-time transaction. The Affordable American Insurance team mentions how agents act as lifetime consultants who help guide people as they move through the various stages of their lives. Besides keeping your customers happy and reducing churn, the ASNOA adds that this is often the catalyst for referrals — something that can make your customer base grow exponentially. Marketing expert Visakan Veerasamy at ReferralCandy points out that four out of five purchases involve some level of word-of-mouth recommendation.  

Empathize When They’re in Need

Empathy is huge in the insurance business. People may find themselves in some difficult situations. When this happens, they want to know that they’re in good hands and that an insurance agent is legitimately concerned and will do everything they can to help. Any sign of disingenuousness or a lack of sincerity will usually be sniffed out and lead to an understandable skepticism. Empathizing with people is something that’s accomplished by not treating people like assets, the Amerilife team writes. It’s done by really getting to know them and providing ultra-personalized service. Most customers quickly find there’s an inherent level of empathy involved when partnering with an independent agent that they simply won’t find anywhere else. There’s a personal nature to their interactions, which goes far beyond being “strictly business.” Maybe a customer has recently been the victim of flooding and needs help filing a claim. Or maybe they’re struggling to pay for a current policy and could benefit by exploring more affordable alternatives. Whatever the case, there’s a connection where an agent truly understands what they’re going through, and they’re compassionate about it. And this is very appealing to many people.

Industry Knowledge

What’s more, an agent is actively learning the industry. Independent agents usually represent multiple companies and are frequently updated on information from each company, Connect Insurance writes. As a result, they’re highly knowledgeable about the companies they represent and with current insurance trends in general. The team at Grange Insurance adds that it’s easier for customers to find exactly what they need at an affordable cost because an independent agent is doing the research for them, which is what ultimately paves the way for highly personalized coverage and a great value. “This creates a wide choice of options for customers when it comes to both coverage and premium,” assistant vice president at Professional Solutions Insurance Services James West writes. “Not only can independent insurance agencies provide a variety of choices, but agents can also help put carrier coverages in context based upon their client’s insurance needs—breaking down the options and assisting customers in their decision-making process.” This extensive knowledge combined with access to a variety of insurance options enables an independent agent to reduce risks for their customers and provide the exact coverage they need, business writer James Ritchie adds.  

Expertise and Experience

Navigating the insurance realm can be quite tricky, and not everyone knows how to choose the right coverage, report a claim, and so on. The insurance industry can complicated with a lot of technical jargon that many people simply don’t understand, the Financial Web team writes. For this reason, customers may not always end up getting the right coverage at the best price. However, having an independent agent working for them usually means that they’ll get better coverage at a reasonable price. And whenever there’s a claim involved, you can help them with the process and eliminate much of the complexity. This makes it very alluring for a lot of people, especially when they have limited insurance knowledge. They know that they’re dealing with someone who has their best interests in mind and who they can trust to point them in the right direction. Affordable American Insurance also points out that this type of setup provides people with simple and accurate explanations so that they can move past the complexities of insurance and make better-informed decisions. Agents will obviously serve the carriers, but they’re always invested in their customers and ensuring that they’re properly protected, insurance journalist Mark E. Ruquet says. They’re continually using their skill set to ensure that customers find the optimal coverage.  

Providing the Human Element

When you break it all down, it’s about one main thing — the human element. That’s what customers are often seeking above all else when they choose to do business with an independent agent. Having a trusting relationship with an agent gives a customer access to expertise and experience that they simply wouldn’t have otherwise. More often than not, this is the number one motivating factor. The personal value-adds mentioned above really put things into perspective and let you see things through your client’s eyes. Understanding and capitalizing on them should not only help you acquire more customers but maintain positive relationships after the sale. images by: goodluz/©123RF Stock Photo, racorn/©123RF Stock Photo, michaeljung/©123RF Stock Photo"