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Agent to Agent: Keeping It Personal — Three Innovative Approaches to Growth and Retention


Brenda Mann HarrisonBy Brenda Mann Harrison

The insurance landscape just keeps getting more and more crowded. Look no further than the recent news that Google is entering the auto insurance market. With more and more insurance shopping options for customers, many independent agents are looking for new ways to stand apart from the competition.

Three independent agents who do business with Safeco Insurance share uniquely different strategies that have helped them develop strong customer relationships, grow their businesses and maintain high retention.

Giving Back to the Community

Giving to the community is just part of doing business at McClain Insurance Services in Everett, Wash. The entire agency gets involved in charitable events throughout the year, like the Stuff the Bus for Kids school supply drive in September, and each staff member is encouraged to support a charity of their choosing.

Agency principal Claudia McClain matches her employees’ financial giving to charity and pays each of her staff members to spend 16 hours a year doing volunteer work.

And there’s more — for every referral from a customer, the 38-year-old agency donates $25 to a featured “charity of the month.” All that adds up.

Why does McClain Insurance Services do all that? “We are passionate about the community in which we live and work,” says McClain. “My whole team believes this is important and it’s a part of who they are.”

McClain and her team may be driven to volunteer by a passion for their community, but there is a positive impact to the business that comes from all their good works: McClain Insurance averages 96% retention and at least 25 monthly referrals.

Like McClain Insurance Services, any agency that gets involved in its community for all the right reasons will find itself reaping additional benefits. For more than a decade, Deloitte has been tracking volunteer impact. In 2010, 64% of executives surveyed said community involvement produces a tangible contribution to the company bottom line. In 2013, 88% of executives participating in the Deloitte Volunteer Impact Survey agreed that volunteering positively impacts the business’s reputation.

Making an Investment in Social Media

Many agencies are taking a wait and see approach before investing time or money into social media. That’s not the case for Shaun Murphy of Pablo Beach Insurance Group in Jacksonville, Florida. “We have for many years put other priorities in front of this. But not anymore,” says Murphy, who recently contracted with an outside marketing firm to manage the agency’s social media marketing efforts. “We will not and cannot compete into the future in our market space without a presence on social media.”

While the marketing firm helps set strategy and track metrics, Murphy is still very much involved in executing on the strategy so that the content and tone of the agency’s online conversation remains genuine and personal. The agency’s most successful Facebook post was when Murphy posted a message congratulating his son, Spencer, for passing his agent exam.

To effectively engage his audience, Murphy uses a mix of posting styles: brand posts are about the community and agency employees, value posts point back to the Pablo Beach Insurance Group blog for a quick read about a particular topic and sales posts include calls to action for customers to contact the agency.

Metrics are tracked through inbound marketing software, which tells Murphy if people are seeing his posts and engaging with his content, and if that engagement is driving traffic back to his site and converting.

Since launching a new website and a social media presence in January, Murphy is seeing a return on his investment. Engagement is strong and visits to his site are up significantly. “We’ve done a lot in a short amount of time,” says Murphy. “We’re not the poster children of the market but there’s a lot of great stuff going on.”

The Power of Listening to Customers

Browse the Joe Peterson Insurance website and you’ll find testimonials raving about great service. All the comments were received through a newly implemented program designed to bring in customer feedback.

The process is easy — after a meeting or phone call with Joe Peterson Insurance, customers are asked to fill out a quick email survey. To the initial surprise of Joe Peterson, president of the agency in Kennewick, Washington, most are willing to. His tip: ask them personally.

“I’ve found that when you ask customers personally for feedback, instead of just sending an email survey, most will respond,” Peterson says.

While 80% to 90% of feedback is positive — like the testimonials Peterson posts to the website — it’s the negative that he finds most actionable.

“I like hearing the good and the bad,” says Peterson. “If someone has a concern, it gives us the opportunity to get in touch with them before they start shopping.”

In addition to the obvious benefit of being able to make improvements to the customer’s experience, Peterson says that listening to and acting on customer feedback creates fans of your agency and improves your retention.

“I believe that when you can get someone to personally say something positive about you and your business,” Peterson says, “they become more than a client, they become a fan — and that’s great for growth and retention.”

Brenda Mann Harrison is a communications manager for Safeco Insurance, where she primarily focuses on helping agents tell their stories, and managing Safeco’s charitable contributions on their behalf. Safeco’s home, auto and specialty products are sold exclusively through independent agents.