It’s been looming for a while – Google’s entry into the personal lines market.
And while this news brings some anxiety, many say they are prepared to tackle competition from the Internet giant. Part of it is realizing that an independent agent is not going to be able to compete with a Google search for auto insurance, but will have an advantage on the local level. “An independent agent can’t out-Google Google, but they can out-local Google,” says Steve Anderson, insurance technology consultant.
Here is what is happening.
A new Google product, Google Compare, will be changing the way consumers purchase insurance. It’s first being launched in California. The comparison shopping site (think Kayak for car insurance) allows customers to input their zip code and other details and provides them with insurance rates for multiple insurers who are participating in the program.
While the option to comparison shop may be good for consumers, this could have a devastating impact on insurance brokers, who count on commissions for the policies they sell. The effect could be similar to the impact online buying had on travel agents when airlines and hotels went direct to consumers.
Consumers can then take the rate information and purchase the policy directly from the insurer. Google also provides a reference number and phone number for buyers who want to complete their purchases over the phone. Participating insurers then provide a referral fee to Google for the sale.
Google is promoting the service as a “seamless, intuitive experience for connecting with your customers online.” The company says it provides an “apples-to-apples” comparison of insurers into a customer’s phone or computer in only a few minutes. As more and more customers value the ability to use technology to file and monitor their claims, Google Compare is just another way to use technology at the beginning of the insurance process.
What companies are currently participating?
Participating insurers include Mercury Insurance, 21st Century Insurance, Kemper Specialty, Infinity Auto, Titan Insurance, Stillwater Insurance Group, MetLife and several others.
Although Google is launching in California, it anticipates expanding the program to other states. The company also expects to add ratings and reviews for insurers, as well as local agent support.
So how can you out- Google Google as you think about this new marketplace?
Here are some tips on how to navigate this new and for some, impending, reality.
1. Be Ready to Compete
Prepare for Google as a source of competition. If both direct sellers and agency models don’t invest time, effort and resources into their teams, processes and marketing, they will suffer in the long run.
At Paradiso Insurance, based in CT but selling nationally, the agency uses an automated e-mail marketing system and a dedicated SEO consultant to get its name out to clients and prospects. The agency invests about 11% of its gross revenues back into promoting its brand.
Unsure of what an automated e-mail marketing system entails? Read Digital marketing: A new twist on a proven method.
2. Make Your Operations 24/7/365
Insurance buyers have strongly voiced their desire for an insurance channel that is convenient for them, and Google presents an efficient and convenient option.
“The challenge lies with an aging and somewhat lazy independent agent channel attempting to force its buyer to purchase in a way that’s convenient to the agent,” says Tom Barrett, president of SIAA MidAmerica Inc., the strategic insurance agency alliance.
So how does an agency, or a direct seller for that matter, provide around-the-clock service? Mobile apps and online quoting are two ways. Another is with a Web portal. A portal’s most important element is functionality—clients need to be able to interact with the agency. It shouldn’t just be a marketing tool. Functional features include those that allow self-service, such as policy changes, claims assistance and providing certificates of insurance.
3. Be a Friend Online
“The main difference between my agency versus Google,” Paradiso says, “is that my people are trained very well and use social sites such as Pinterest to find commonality with our prospects and clients.”
If an insured posts a photo of his or her new car on social media, does Google “like” the photo? Can Google reply to that photo with winter safety tips, such as raising windshield wipers on a parked car during a snow storm? Despite all of Google’s algorithms and data collecting, the Internet giant cannot connect with its insureds in that way—but independent agents can.
4. Offer an Experience—Not a Service
A Google auto policy may sound cool, but just because it’s simple and quick doesn’t make it attractive, NU P&C columnist Chris Amrhein wrote in his January article.
Although coverage can be bought and bound over the Internet, that doesn’t mean that it should be treated as a commodity. Indeed, agents need to communicate why their value-added services and advice help prospects and insureds, Anderson says. “A Personal Auto Policy is not the same. A Geico policy or a Google policy, there are significant difference there,” and it’s up to the independent agent to educate his or her prospects and insureds on those differences.
From branding, to advertising, to prospecting, to communication, to quoting, to closing a proposal, to retention and finally to cross-selling, the experience that a client goes through is both social and digital, Cass says. “Customer service is what the client expects—it’s what they