Agency Website Revitalization

An Agency Website with a polished, rich design and robust functionality OR  an Agency Website with a basic design and moderate functionality – which would your Agents choose?

I can state with certainty they would choose the robust, functional, polished agency website!  How do I know this? Experience.  Client’s I work with that have invested the time and dollars to re-architect, re-brand and add advanced functionality (aka, “Website Trilogy”) to their out-dated agency websites are reaping the benefits:

Satisfied agents that Sell their products.

 So, if your asking what I mean by the Website Trilogy and what is involved, I have two comments:

  • First, continue to read;
  •  Second, maybe it’s time to realign your agency website to support the growth in your business, get on track with the latest technology, and remain competitive. 

website trilogy

Website Trilogy is a term that I use with my client’s to design, develop, and revitalize their out-dated, agency website.  This process has three (3) components associated with it:

  1. Architecture
  2. Branding
  3. Functionality

Each component of this trilogy is explained below. 

Architecture
When Insurance carriers began developing agency websites, the technology available had limitations.  Technology and technology platforms have advanced considerably from those days.  Insurance carriers may not be utilizing today’s latest and greatest technology platforms as the foundation for their agency websites.  One reason may be the age old thinking – “if its not broken then don’t fix it”.  I disagree and pose this – “if its out-dated and doesn’t support your business, re-build”!

Technology platforms utilized today to develop and maintain websites offer many benefits over their older counterparts.  These more sophisticated platforms are the foundation for re-architecting your current agency website.  Advantages associated with these platforms include:  

  • Content Management Systems (“CMS”) – End-users can update content on the site without IT support.
  • Greater interface capabilities with back office systems – allows for information from back office systems to reside on the agency website.
  • Usability/GUI – Easier for the agent/agency to navigate through the site to obtain the information they need.
  • Security –more effective security allows only certain groups of users to see data on the agency website.
  • Rapid development – shorter development cycles for adding new functions and features.
  • Remote access support — Greater capability to support WAN and LAN communications.

Technology platforms are abundant in today’s market. Prior to selecting a platform, complete your in-house due diligence by determining: 

  • What the agency website needs to do,
  • How it will be accomplished,
  • What functionality is required,
  • Who will own the site content.

Having the answers to these important questions will guide the technology platform evaluation and selection.

Branding
As the platform is integrated into your environment, re-branding of the site should be undertaken.  Older sites tend to have a monochromatic (a single color schema) or a  “mainframe green screens” look and feel.

Bring your agency website into the 21st century by re-branding.  This means:

  • New graphic design: color, logo’s, images, etc,
  • New content design: pages designed for readability, functionality, and content relation,
  • more efficient navigation throughout the site,
  • menu options that are understandable and meaningful,
  • help sections

Don’t be afraid to audit your competitors’ websites and see how they’ve updated their design.

Don’t make the mistake of overlooking this critical step – The presentation of your new site is just as important as the functionality you will build into it. 

Functionality
Working with your internal staff and some key agents, you must strategically plan what functionality should be included on the new site.  Review your current functionality, but consider new services that will make your agents’ lives easier. Figure 1 below represents some of the key functions to consider.

agency-rebrand-wheel

Figure 1

It has been my experience that sites that have not been upgraded in the last 3-5 years lack some of the key functionality noted in Figure 1.  Today’s agents are technology savvy.  They want websites that give them the information and the tools that will make them successful in performing their jobs.  Give your agents the ability to login to your agency website and:

  • View Commissions –View their own commission statements online as frequently as they choose.
  • Access e-Enrollment –Process and submit applications electronically to the insurance carrier.
  • Inquire About Claims – View and track the status of all claims they have outstanding with their policyholders.
  • Pay Bills – Pay the bills or process the billing for your policyholders, give the agency the ability to process this transaction via the website. 
  •  Develop Quote –Provide quotes for some of your simplified products.
  • Check Policy Status –See what requirements remain outstanding for pended policies.
  • Access Sales and Marketing Material –Pull the latest brochures and other materials and print on demand, without having to order from the home office.
  • Run Reports –Run any and all agent reports whenever they need them.

These are just a few key functions that that I have helped our clients develop for their new upgraded agency websites. 

Built into the agency website is a tight security model, to protect all agent data from those who should not see or have access to it. 

Conclusion
If you’re serious about advancing your agency website, then consider the Agency Website Trilogy. You want to cover all three phases  in-depth.  Omitting just one could jeopardize the success of your revitalization project.

I’ve had clients say that they believe the cost and time commitment for undertaking such a project is more than they can afford during this economic downturn.  After spending a few weeks with a client to strategically plan a project such as this, the cost and time commitments are  far less than what they  anticipated.  In addition, completing a project like this in iterations can help to alleviate the impact of a financial “big bang” or a long-term deployment.

So what is stopping you from revitalizing your agency website?  Could I be right that you are still thinking, “Jeff – it’s not broken”?

Empowering Your Policyholders

You’ve worked hard developing  your Company Public site and Agency site.  You’ve added all the right features and functionality while utilizing the latest technology.  You’ve been successful — the public is driven to your site to “check you out” and your agents/agencies are trained and using their site.  All the benefits you had hoped for are being measured and realized.  Now you’re in maintenance mode for both sites.  Additional features and functionality are being added to keep the sites aligned with your business.  You’re moving along the maintenance cycle without any obstacles. 

Then it happens!  You get a call from the Executive Vice President of Product Development who happens to have a Universal Life policy with the company.  She asks “Do I use the public site or the agency site to check the cash value on my UL policy?”  You’re stumped, so answer “NEITHER”. She is stumped as well and states “I have an annuity product with AnnuityGeneric Insurance Company and I just went out to their Policyholder site and reviewed my cash value and changed my mailing address – all within a matter of minutes.  Where is our Policyholder site?”

This situation is not unique. I find that a majority of my clients have awesome Public and Agency sites, yet few have Policyholder sites.  Of course I always ask “WHY?”  Why not have a Policyholder site?  Are your Policyholders not as important to you as the general public?

As we know, Consumers today (all of us) are technology savvy.  We use our computers and laptops to shop, communicate, BLOG, read newspapers, etc.   Basically, we use our computers to do almost everything except maybe check our insurance policies.  It’s not that we choose not to, it’s that we don’t have the opportunity because your company does not have the site in place. What a lost opportunity this is for both your customers and, most importantly, your company.  

Over the last 3-5 years larger insurance carriers have started to develop very sophisticated Policyholder sites. Yet I still see many middle tier carriers who have not made the investment.  Again let me ask –

“Are your Policyholders not as important to you as the public or your agents?”

If you’ve answered, “YES they are just as important” – then where is their site?

Prior to starting analysis and design, I sit with my clients and we decide on the functions/services that can be provided via the web that are most important to policyholders.  Figure 1 below depicts some of the common yet most important functions.

Policy holder functions

Figure 1

Some of these functions help to alleviate the number of calls coming into your call centers.  This frees up your Customer Service Reps (“CSR”) to concentrate on the more complex and challenging transactions and calls.  Other benefits as noted:

  • Pay bills online
  • Communicate using email
  • Policy inquiry
  • Claim inquiry
  • Research other products offered
  • Simple quote capability

 As the analysis and design of the site starts, the game plan begins with identifying the most important features and functions for site.  From there, development and deployment is completed in iterations.  This gets the initial site up and running with the most critical features and functionality, while maintaining the ability to add and deploy additional features later.   Figure 2 below depicts this strategic approach (“play”).

Policy holder playFigure 2

What is preventing you from developing that much needed Policyholder site?  Realize one thing – not having one places you behind your competitors.  Jump on board now.  Wait too long and you eventually miss the “Policyholder” game.

Collaboration Style Revisited

When looking at the results of our last poll on collaboration styles, several things jumped out at us.

1. Nearly a third of the respondents are either still relying on email collaboration or under-utilizing basic portal functionality (document checkout/checkin for version control).

2. Among users of collaboration portals, there was an even split between Sharepoint and other tools.

This led us to wonder how broad corporate adoption of collaboration tools might be. And it leads us, of course, to another poll.

Comments always welcome, and in case you missed the first post in this series, it’s still open and you can vote here.

Missing pieces in your portal implementation plan?

missing-pieceClearly, many companies have collaboration tools such as portals on their to-do list as one of the top technology trends of 2009. Even this early in the year, we’re already hearing some frustration with the earlier adopters, in terms of the difficulties in getting their organizations to actually embrace the powerful functionality of collaboration portals. 

Here are four key elements to fostering user adoption of collaboration tools. They need to be baked into your portal implementation plan, because you need to sell this change aggressively into your organization to realize the full ROI of the technology investment. Sometimes, this can be the part of the implementation that requires the most finesse.

1. Strong executive sponsorship. Portals can fail when they are perceived as an IT initiative. Someone at the top has to get the early message out about how the portal can make the whole business more efficient. Executives can then lead the way by making the portal the preferred place to interact with the executive team.

2. Data Migration plan. If your business has traditionally used shared drives for file-level collaboration, make sure your portal migration plan includes moving the latest versions of files over to the portal site and decommissioning the old shared drive. 

3. Refine your collaboration processes to fully exploit the new technology. Workflows that have burdensome review/approval cycles can bog down any attempt at collaboration. While such rigor is useful in highly regulated businesses, it’s overkill in many others. If you make the portal a place where people can quickly share lessons learned and the new tools they develop for doing their jobs more efficiently, they will rush to embrace the portal. Limit approval requirements to the bare minimum and don’t let their contributions languish an an approval queue.

4. Change management. More than just training in portal functionality is needed. Key elements of your portal change management plan include organization design (assigning clear responsibility administration and creation/maintenance of portal sites), getting the message out early and often about the benefits of portal functionality, training in key user procedures (checkin/checkout, alerts, discussion boards, etc), and handholding as the business units create their own working sites.

If you’ve implemented a collaboration portal and are finding that your enterprise is ignoring it or under-utilizing its capabilities, please leave a comment–we’d love to hear about the challenges and how you’ve overcome them.