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Thursday, 24 January 2013 16:44

Aligning with Agents

Written by Tom Franklin

As insurance companies set up 800 number claims lines or move away from agents altogether with direct sales and service on-line, agents have become less of a marketing target for many shops. Nevertheless, there are still numerous agents almost everywhere, and many of their customers still call them when they have an accident.

Agents are still a good referral source for collision repair business, but today an agent might be more particular about who he or she refers business to. Getting and keeping an insurance customer has become more difficult for agents today. Competition from no-agent, direct online companies is very intense these days. There are continual advertisements on TV, radio and the Internet, and low-ball rates to hook customers are common. It’s not easy for an agent to get new customers.


Some shops go to great lengths to get an agent’s referrals. I’ve heard of some that invite them for hunting parties, fishing trips, barbecues, golf tournaments, and trips to exotic places. A while back, one shop had a three-month promotion where anyone bringing his or her car in for repair would have a chance to win a paid vacation to Hawaii. But the shop went further than that: They notified the agents that whichever agent referred the winner would also win a trip to Hawaii! Another shop initiated the practice of filling every customer’s tank with gas, and noting that the fill-up was “Courtesy of the Agent.”

Some insurance companies forbid their agents from accepting any gift. But what an agent would value above all else is not a gift, but rather a new customer. But how can a shop help local agents in their search for new customers? Many shops now ask customers to fill out a “Customer Satisfaction Survey” when a job is completed, or have a CSI company call them. Those with a view to building a stronger relationship with the agents can include a question on the survey regarding the customer’s satisfaction with his or her agent. These are then passed along to the agent as a free service.

Many agents seek to sell their expertise as a way to get new customers. Not everyone is happy with the impersonal nature of online insurance services. These days, insurance companies try to bundle home, health, life and auto insurance as a package. Covering all of these aspects of a customer’s life and family can raise many questions. Clever agents try to get speaking opportunities at networking groups, professional association meetings and chambers of commerce where they can demonstrate their wide range of knowledge and their value as an agent. These are groups that a good shop marketing person will also be trying to address, so there may be an opportunity for a cooperative presentation.

Most insurance agents probably assume that people who have been insured with a competing company for a long time will be harder to convert than someone who hasn’t yet purchased much insurance. This suggests reaching the kind of audience that is a natural for a collision repair facility: young and beginning drivers. Smart shop marketing people like to speak at high schools and colleges and driving schools. When one of these is scheduled, it would be an ideal time to invite a key agent to also speak. The more a shop can align itself with an agent’s purposes, the more likely it will be to become an exclusive referral point for that agent.

One shop I work with frequently also hosts agent manager meetings regularly. This brings agents into the shop where they can see the modern equipment and highly-trained technicians at work. An agent will be reluctant to refer a customer to a shop that will reflect badly on the agent. Hosting meetings allows the shop to showcase its best features and to plan a shop tour for the visiting agents and managers.

Several shops have also done well with what I would call a “goodwill ambassador.” To make this work, it’s necessary to have a person who can make the rounds of the agents every month without fail, with pens, notepads or other promotional specialties, and who will be in it for the long haul. When the same person stops by every month for several years running, the agent’s people get to know this person well and trust becomes established. An older, semi-retired person is ideal for this job.

Agents are still a good referral source for collision repair shops. Many of their customers still call them when they have an accident, and an agent will gladly refer the business to a shop that he or she knows is competent, trustworthy and attractive so it will reflect positively on the agent.


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