Ease of doing business – meeting customers where they are – remains a critical factor in delivering a high-quality customer experience. As agents continue to adopt digital technologies to provide clients with options to communicate, many independent agencies are not equipped to handle client service needs at the levels expected by today’s consumers. The recent 2020 Agency Universe Study reports that handling personal lines clients’ calls and service requests is a top area of need for 23% of smaller independent agencies.
“I own the relationship and want to service my own accounts.”
“It’s too expensive, I don’t want to give up any of my commission.”
“I’ve tried service centers, but my clients still call the office so it’s not worth it.”
While most independent agents agree on the importance of putting client needs at the forefront of their approach to business, not all agree on the approach. Most major insurance companies now offer service centers in support of independent agencies’ customer care. While the use of these services has grown, many agents remain skeptical, and resistant to transferring some of their policy administration.
What Do Service Centers Do?
Service Centers may differ across carriers, but they generally perform similar service tasks such as processing certificates of insurance, policy inquiries or changes, handling billing questions, policy rewrites and cross-selling. It is important that agents understand what services each carrier will provide and understand the terms of agreement prior to entering into an agency/service center partnership.
Benefits of Service Centers
- Increase your available time to focus on your business, sales, and clients. By offloading routine tasks, you can focus on running your business, your producers are able to spend more time writing new accounts, and your CSRs can spend less time being reactive, and more time engaging proactively with clients.
- Client service centers are available after hours. Consumers’ service needs do not conform to your agency hours. In fact, many carriers report 25%-45% of service center calls occur at night, or on weekends and holidays.
- The staff are pros. This is all they do. If you are apprehensive about the level of care, take comfort in knowing that carriers have made great gains over the last 10-15 years in employee selection and retention. Calls are recorded, and every effort is made to achieve first call resolution.
- Reduced E&O exposure. Most service center arrangements contain indemnity provisions such that your agency will not be held responsible for errors made by a service center. This is huge.
- Catastrophes and major disruptions. While business continuity is a benefit we hope to never experience, local conditions could prevent insureds from reaching their local agent. The scale of carrier operations allows them to easily divert calls across their larger footprint.
Success with Service Centers
Integrating carrier service centers into your agency operations effectively does require some planning and consideration to process, staffing and procedures that may need to evolve. How will you transition your existing accounts? For new clients, your onboarding process should include instruction on how to best service their account. Many service centers offer marketing materials to help with this process.
Involve your staff with the process of transitioning and educating clients. CSRs will need to be cross-trained or re-trained to contribute to the agency in other meaningful ways. Recognize that CSRs may feel like they have the most to lose from a successful transition to service centers. Pay close attention to ensure that what moves to the service center stays in the service center and that the entire agency is on the same page.
Not all carriers offer service centers, and not all will service all lines of business. The need for the agency to service some accounts will always exist, especially those that have multiple lines with multiple companies. Make sure you and your staff have an understanding of where the service centers’ capabilities start and stop, you receive reporting on client activities in the service center, and have a plan to receive those clients who have been referred back to your agency for further attention.
Regardless of whether you choose to utilize service centers as a means of upping your client experience game, it is imperative that every independent agency strive to meet their clients when, where and how they wish to be serviced.