With the rise of smartphones, mobile Internet use is on the rise, and is quickly becoming the channel of choice for today’s consumers. In fact, for the first time ever, mobile use exceeded PC use earlier this year. Many insurance agency owners are proactively investing in their presence on the mobile web, making their websites mobile friendly and offering their customers a mobile app. Successful agencies recognize their customers want access no matter where they are, and they understand that ignoring the mobile channel could cause them to lose and/or miss business.

So what is the difference between a mobile site, a mobile-friendly site, and a mobile app? Mobile sites and mobile-friendly sites are similar in that they are accessed through a browser and should display across all types of smartphones and tablets. Mobile sites are designed and developed specifically for a mobile phone, while mobile-friendly sites are designed to adjust to work both on a desktop and across devices. Mobile apps, on the other hand, function as stand-alone programs and generally work faster and are usually more interactive than a website. If your agency already has a mobile-optimized website, you may consider taking the plunge into an agency app. According to Flurry Analytics, mobile app usage increased 115% in 2013, a trend that is sure to continue in the next year.

What does a mobile app do that my website doesn’t?With an app, your customer could manage their policies, submit a claim, pay their bill, and see their documents all within less than 5 taps on their screen. That’s just the beginning; some states are now allowing digital insurance IDs which could be integrated in an app. In the case of an accident, customers are able to submit an insurance claim instantly, complete with photos. A well designed app could save your customer the hassle of digging through files or needing to request proof of insurance – all of their documents could be right at their fingertips. Also, through an app, your agency could push out important notices or updates, such as severe weather advisories with instructions on how to prepare. You can’t do that with a website!

Thinking about a mobile app but don’t know where to start? The key to an affordable, easy to use app is to keep it simple. Try a company that has already developed an app for insurance companies or agencies; it will keep costs low and they will already have an idea of what you might need. For SIAA Member Agencies, the marketing team reviewed several offerings, and then went through the process of building an app with the selected vendor to ensure that it was a seamless procedure and the final product provided key features. Don’t overstimulate the user with extra features that they might never need; stick with 4-5 key features like bill pay, submit a claim, manage policies, ID card holder, etc. Once your app is developed, most companies will host your app for a small ongoing fee and will update it as system upgrades become available.

How do you get customers to adopt your new mobile app? Start promoting your app in the development stages through social media, and most importantly, as part of every touch point with every customer from every staff member via phone, e-mail, in person visits and even in your e-mail signatures. When the app launches, consider an e-mail or mail campaign to directly reach every customer, in addition to the above marketing tactics.

To keep your customers using your app, use push notifications to keep them in the loop of new programs, policy updates, renewals and any news within your agency. Most app development companies provide a back office where you can analyze how your customers are using your app so you can tell what’s working and what’s not. Stay abreast of the latest mobile app features with your competitors and don’t be afraid to let your mobile app evolve with your customer’s on-going needs and demands.