Social Media – Brings Carriers and Agencies Together – or Tears them Apart?


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I recently attended an insurance industry conference with the usual mix of attendees from agencies and carriers, two groups that can be described as frenemies. There are deep-seated suspicions on both sides, even though they profess undying love for each other. Culturally they are worlds apart – small, often family-owned businesses on one side, big corporations on the other.

Coming from outside the insurance industry, one question has always baffled me: “Who is the customer?” Only in the insurance industry is this a hard question.

Carriers often view agencies as customers, sending field reps to promote products and improve their “share of the book” – a sales call. Carrier reps arrive, with similar agendas and checklists, and agencies politely respond wishing for a verbal equivalent of copy and paste. The reps are welcomed as a matter of courtesy and a quarterly ritual dance transpires that involves lots of smiling and handshakes. Agencies care far more about generating leads and nurturing the prospect through the sales process. If you characterized the differences – carriers talk about products and agencies care about solutions. And even though it is flawed – in most cases it works.

It could go like this forever but social media is threatening to disrupt this unholy alliance. Social media, we are told, is not about selling products, but developing relationships. Agencies look on with some concern as carriers attempt to be “human” by conducting dialogue with real customers – in other words, encroaching on their domain. Agencies, it turns out, quite like the inhuman, autocratic face of carriers; it helps demonstrate agencies’ value.

Carriers are creating content that they want agencies to pass through to their own social channels – a process called social amplification. Agencies aren’t especially keen on the heavily branded, product-oriented content preferring their own local news and updates. Certainly, agencies need help with social media – but they need training, technical help and support. Carriers lack motivation to help arguing that agencies want to use social media to develop the agency’s brand, so what’s in it for the carrier? The “rising tide raises all boats” argument only goes so far.

Agencies do need to enhance their own brand – they are people that can develop relationships. Many consumers are shunning the bricks-and-mortar offices of agencies either because they are too busy or simply not in town during the workday. The ability or agencies to develop purely digital relationships is now essential. Carriers, on the other hand will struggle to create true ongoing relationships – customers see little value and the idea does n’t scale beyond a small percentage of customers. The carrier is far more qualified to deliver on macro issues such as social care, natural disaster updates, community support, promotions and campaigns.

Social media might force carriers and agencies to rethink their relationship and roles and if that is the case, that’s not a bad thing and then we might be able to answer the question “Who is the customer?”

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Terry Golesworthy
As the president of The Customer Respect Group for 7 years, I focus on the online experience of consumers. Online experience has always been bigger than the company website, from the response to email to integration to other offline channels. It has now grown to include social media.


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