Owner and Founder of Forge3, Jeff Teschke, sits down with The Iroquois Trusted Advisor this week to harness the power of the web. He talks about how important good websites are for independent agencies. Jeff and his team have built an insurance agency website platform that attracts leads and simplifies customer services. All of this while keeping independent agencies needs at the top of the list. Agencies of all shapes and sizes are able to work with Forge3. Finally, learn how teaming up with an expert can help your agency harness the power of the web to build your business and educate and engage your customers.
Edwin K. Morris (6s):
Welcome to the trusted advisor podcast brought to you by Iroquois group. Iroquois is your trusted advisor in all things insurance. I am Edwin K. Morris. Let’s welcome Jeff Teschke. He joined the insurance industry immediately after his graduation from the University of Scranton, where he earned a degree in computer information systems. Jeff was well-suited to become a webmaster for Chubb in 2000. Fast forward a few years, Jeff founded Forge3, a fast growing business. Forge3 is home of active agency, offering website and digital marketing solutions designed specifically for the insurance industry. I know you built Iroquois group’s website.
Edwin K. Morris (48s):
What did you do to design it? What was the first steps?
Jeff Teschke (55s):
Geez, that’s a good question. So that was a few years ago now, and we’ve done a number of bigger projects for associations, for carriers, that sort of thing. So even though we specialize in the insurance agency market, we do some of these, these kind of fun projects and for friends and different relationships and whatnot. So really regardless of any website, it really starts with content. In fact, we’re working on our new website now, our Forge3 website, and it, depending upon when this gets released, it may be up already. But we started with content, a bunch of word documents, basically, and a bunch of content that looks super boring. Most people want to get right into the fun stuff, which is the design. And what does it look like?
Jeff Teschke (1m 35s):
And where does the button go and all of that, but you really start with content.
Edwin K. Morris (1m 39s):
So, but there’s a magic melting pot between art and data, right? I mean, how do you, how do you combine those two worlds?
Jeff Teschke (1m 49s):
Well, there’s an art and a science to it. I mean, it’s not all science, there’s a lot of art. Any creative project like that – it’s like building a house. What makes a good house? Well, it’s hard to answer that question. It really comes down to what’s the house for, do you need a two car garage or a four-car garage? Do you need a, an en suite or a, you know, do you have kids? Do you not have kids? So in the case of Iroquois group, it was really trying to figure out what was the message we’re trying to convey, coming up with the messaging first together, working obviously as a group here and then putting that together. And then the design really reinforces that. Just like a design of a house reinforces, is it four car garage? Is it two?
Edwin K. Morris (2m 26s):
It all comes down to that, that foundational architecture that is suiting the need. Okay. So we’ve talked about what you do, but who are you? What is Forge3?
Jeff Teschke (2m 37s):
Well, I got my start in the insurance industry. I worked at Chubb just like my dad did way back in the day. And Forge3 really came out of that. I was there until the mid two thousands. Forge3 has been around since 2004. So I started Forge3 really after I left Chubb and I was working for a big insurance agency at the time that Chubb owned called personal lines insurance brokerage, or PLI for short, my dad happened to be running that agency by the way is about 300 people, about 30 offices across the country. So it was a decent size operation, all personal lines. And I took that kind of knowledge and I broke off. I didn’t want to specialize in insurance though, at first.
Jeff Teschke (3m 17s):
I was like, well, my dad did that. I want to do something different. I don’t want to, Oh, Bob’s son. Oh, here comes Jeff here’s, here’s Bob son again. So I said, no, I don’t want to do that. So I’m into aviation and I was like, there’s gotta be some other cool stuff to do, but I was always doing websites. It was always website design, development technology, the web. I love this stuff. I saw the power of it. I saw the benefit of it. And long story short along from basically 2004 for the first 10 years, a lot of our clients happen to be insurance folks, some insurance carriers, but also a lot of insurance agencies. And eventually it was just like, you know what? This is kind of silly. There’s such an opportunity to help a lot of people in the country.
Jeff Teschke (3m 58s):
There are a lot of insurance agencies out there, right? Depending upon what you look at 37,000-38,000 insurance agencies, and if we can help a fraction of them even embrace the web, embrace technology, get a better website, get sales tools, get servicing tools, video proposals, live chat, client service centers. This is the stuff that people need. And there’s an opportunity. And I think we can help. That’s basically where it came from.
Edwin K. Morris (4m 23s):
I just have to say, I assume that you have to educate before you can sell them a solution.
Jeff Teschke (4m 30s):
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, education is a huge piece of what we do in fact, our tagline up until we rebranded a little bit here – which again, depending upon when this comes out, you’ll see – our original tagline was learn, do, grow. A lot of education, a ton of education. It’s just like anything else, if you don’t know the power or the benefit of something, it’s hard to get excited about it. And we find ourselves doing that all the time. In fact, on the new website that we’re working on right now, we have a whole new help center and a whole new resources library. And it’s for that exact reason, you can’t just go into it, assuming that people know, well, this is the benefit of having live chat, or this is the benefit of using video proposals on my website or whatever.
Jeff Teschke (5m 12s):
A ot of education and in all kinds of different formats
Edwin K. Morris (5m 15s):
I assume that there’s probably a section of the marketplace for you that said, Oh yeah, we have a website. We put it up five years ago, right? What, what do I need to do now?
Jeff Teschke (5m 27s):
Oh yeah. I would say that’s probably a majority of the insurance agency market is that. There are, there are websites that have been around for a long time. Some of them were just kind of thrown up by a friend or family member or something like that. And they sit there and, and they’re not very helpful anymore. They, they, that was okay back, you know, back when I was getting my started Chubb in 1999, you could throw up a website and it didn’t have to do much. It was like, all right, look, they have a website. That’s nice. But now, especially with everybody working remotely more and can’t get together and, but you still have to do business well, it’s a totally different world right now.
Jeff Teschke (6m 8s):
So the tools and the technologies and all of the different pieces that allow us to connect to one another are way more important now than they ever have been in the past. So that’s kind of our sweet spot. That’s our job is to help educate and give insurance agencies, primarily, the tools to do all of it.
Edwin K. Morris (6m 27s):
So how do you keep that menu simple? Because I know you can get into the taxonomy because you have to understand all the content as you referred to and how it is being used, because content is not, content is not content across all organizations. Is that correct? I mean, it’s kind of specialized by company.
Jeff Teschke (6m 49s):
Yeah. I think when you look at insurance agencies, especially it comes down to where are they? You meet, you meet folks where they are. So some agencies are much more savvy and they have a marketing department or a marketing team, and they’re executing Facebook ad campaigns and Google ad campaigns. And that’s great. So we’re there for them, but a majority of agencies are, they’re just like, you know, our website is not helping right now and we can’t, we’re not available. Like we’re not making ourselves available to folks. If it’s a Saturday afternoon and somebody needs to make a policy change, like they have to call us on Monday morning. Well, that’s awful. Like you can go to Amazon and get a package delivered by a drone, but yet to make a policy change, you can’t.
Edwin K. Morris (7m 34s):
That concept is so 1980s. Come on.
Jeff Teschke (7m 37s):
It is. But again, a majority of the, of the market is, is still in that kind of old school way of thinking. So not all, not everybody though. And that’s kind of to your point where you, you kind of meet people where they are. So folks that really are interested in using video proposals to help sell, well then you focus on that. But other folks that are more interested in running targeted ad campaigns, well, then you focus there. But other people are just very happy having a quote form, believe it or not, on their website or having a client service center on their website to make it easier for clients to work with them. So it really depends
Edwin K. Morris (8m 12s):
All those tools, right? Those interactive user interface tools that make it functional and purposeful and beneficial to the consumer
Jeff Teschke (8m 20s):
A hundred percent. And that’s really what it’s all about. I mean, the tools are bridge. It’s not, let’s use the tools because the tools are so fun to use. Who cares? The tools are there to streamline, it’s the human connection is ultimately what business is. So you’re trying to get a connection from the insurance agency to the prospect or the client. And that experience is what you’re building. So if the experiences will take, you know, here, I’m going to, I’m going to email you a word document. You print it, dear prospect, figure out a way to sign it and then figure out a way to scan it. Or if you don’t scan it, how about fax it to me and my fax – what are you talking about?
Edwin K. Morris (8m 59s):
Jeff Teschke (8m 59s):
It doesn’t work.
Edwin K. Morris (9m 0s):
So going back to your example of you had a cousin that built your website or, or back 30 years ago, where you just had somebody put something up without much thought or design behind it, what’s the benefit of a professionally built website?
Jeff Teschke (9m 16s):
Well, I think it comes down to the benefit of professionally built anything is that there’s experience going into it. It’s like I could build a deck off the back of my house. You’re not going to want to come over for a barbecue. Let me tell you, you’re not going to want to, it’s not really necessarily a professionally designed website inherent. It’s just anything that has professionalism. It has an expertise to it. So in our particular case, you know, we’ve been around for 15 plus years in the insurance industry. So we’ve seen over that time period, this is what works. This is what doesn’t work. This is where the quote forms should be. This is where the quote form should not be. Here’s how you surface these different features.
Jeff Teschke (9m 56s):
Like we have a really cool thing called clickable coverage, which is these interactive graphics. Where do they go? How do you use those? You’ll actually see those on the Iroquois website. So the expertise is what the professionalism is. And then how do you put all these pieces pieces together so that they’re not overwhelming, they’re not confusing. They’re just there naturally where they should be. If you look at like the iPhone, for example, the iPhone is incredibly complicated and complex yet anybody including my six year old son or my eight year old daughter could pick it up and use it the way they want to use it.
Edwin K. Morris (10m 32s):
That commonality of function that is intuitive is what we all want. That’s the sweet spot, right? If it’s laborious and you have to do keyword searches to find something, it’s not well-designed. With that, what are some of the call to action buttons or anything that’s a functional feature that’s fairly new? What would be something that an owner would want to know about that they should have?
Jeff Teschke (10m 54s):
I think there’s a couple, I don’t think it’s any one thing necessarily. Obviously you want to make sure a quote request forms and whatnot are pretty prominent and it’s not just on the homepage somewhere because people aren’t always going to come to the home page. They’re going to go to the home insurance page. They’re going to go to the business insurance page. They’re going to go to brewery insurance in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania page. You’d have to kind of think of a website, I think globally. And not just let me focus on this one page. So quote request forms are obviously one example, live chat is another one. I would much rather, and maybe you do too, would much rather live chat with somebody to get something taken care of, than call them or email them and wait for a couple of hours.
Jeff Teschke (11m 36s):
And so it’s more immediate. I think that would be another kind of call to action to have on there. But then there are other things I mentioned, clickable coverage a little while ago, some type of interactive content that makes especially insurance, insurance is a tough topic because it’s boring. Like most non-insurance people don’t want to read about a bop or agreed value or like what’s a premium and why does it, how’s it reflect my deductible and why does it change? And it’s like, this is a bunch of stuff that people don’t care about.
Edwin K. Morris (12m 6s):
That’s so interesting. Tell me more.
Jeff Teschke (12m 8s):
Right? Nobody cares. And that’s why sending full brochures. And you know, I’ve seen websites too, where, you know, they know that the website should be educational. So sometimes there’s this kind of knee jerk reaction in the other direction, which is, we’re just going to put a, we’re just going to dump content. We’re going to dump every piece of content that we know about XYZ insurance onto this page. The problem with that is nobody reads it. Even if somebody gets there, they’re not gonna, it doesn’t make a great impression on them. They’re not going to do it. So, so find ways to make interactive content, which is also a call to action. So this goes back to your original question. Clickable coverage is one way to do that. These are those interactive graphics where it’s like a picture of a home, for example, like home insurance with these little circles that kind of highlight, we call them hotspots, you click on them.
Jeff Teschke (12m 54s):
And it talks about what if you have a fire? What if you have a trampoline? What if you have a secondary home? What if you have flooding? The answer is always to have the right coverage from an insurance perspective. The challenge though is how do you educate folks so that they don’t focus on how cheap is my premium it’s do I have the right coverage first? So all those are just a couple of examples of different calls to action that call you to action in different ways, whether it’s education, whether it’s live chat, whether it’s, I need a quote, whether it’s, I need a, I want to, self-service my policy. I need a certificate. I need an auto ID card. So it really depends. Are you a prospect? Are you a client? And then all of those different calls to actions kind of need to be organized, I would say, and highlighted throughout the insurance agency website, the right way,
Edwin K. Morris (13m 38s):
So with the current pandemic going on, what is driving change in web interface with reflection on COVID-19?
Jeff Teschke (13m 46s):
So what’s interesting about this is when COVID hit in, in March or so of 2020, I don’t think anybody really knew the impact of what it was going to be. We may not still not know, honestly. So as a business owner, myself thinking, all right, well, I don’t know what’s going to happen. So it was kind of interesting. Looking back is April was our record sales month when you look at active agency. So in the, in this case of April alone, we had 40 agencies sign up for active agency, our website platform. So that was a single month. That’s about 10 more than average for us, on an average month we’re about 30. So then you kind of look at that and you’re like, well, that’s interesting.
Jeff Teschke (14m 28s):
So as we dug into that a little bit deeper, it kind of makes sense because active agency has these tools that agencies need now more than ever. I mentioned video proposals before. So we saw video proposals from March until today are up about 20%. Why? Well, because if you can’t get together face to face, you still need to do business and you still need to explain different policy options or hear the different carriers that we’re suggesting and here’s why the premiums are different. Well, you can do that using technology and video proposals as one tool built into active agency that allows people to do that. So I think it’s, I think it’s a combination. I think people realized they had to go remote.
Jeff Teschke (15m 10s):
They still need to do business. They need tools. They don’t know where to turn. We happen to be a friendly, helpful resource. And then they got excited about that and they’re using the tools more so than ever.
Edwin K. Morris (15m 20s):
So where did active agency come from?
Jeff Teschke (15m 23s):
So, that came from really being in the industry as long as we have. And back in the beginning, it was just me building websites for insurance folks that I knew from my Chubb days. And as we were working on more and more insurance agency websites, we realized we were doing the same thing over and over again. We were building in the same features. A clickable coverage actually was the first feature that we built way before active agency. So these interactive graphics existed probably a year just before activate agency did. And we were, we were putting them into websites and then eventually we’re like, well, this is silly. Why are we charging 20, $30,000 for a custom website? Not all agencies can afford that.
Jeff Teschke (16m 3s):
We’re not going to make a huge impact on the industry by doing it this way. It takes a ton of time, a ton of effort. It’s hard to maintain it. It’s hard to keep it up to date. So what we did is we basically locked ourselves in a room and we said, we’re going to come up with something. We’re going to call it active agency. We’re going to take everything we’ve learned over the last 10 years. All the features, all the tools, everything we can possibly do, we’re going to build it in for 250 a month. And that is how we’re going to help the industry. And as soon as we did that, five years ago, things really took off. And I think that’s great
Edwin K. Morris (16m 35s):
Instead of making a one-shot production out of it, you made a partnership availability out of it because now you’ve got constant evolution and updates. And I presume, right. I mean, that’s the features?
Jeff Teschke (16m 47s):
That’s one of the benefits. Absolutely. I mean, it includes everything. I mean, our goal is to make it as simple as possible for insurance agencies to use, embrace this technology, no matter how simple or how complicated it is, our job is to make it simple. So sure. I mean, we come out with clickable coverage graphics all the time. We’re, we have almost 40 now in the portfolio. So personal lines, commercial lines, we have benefits. We have risk management, cyber liability, some deep dive ones. So as they come out the entire, all the agencies using active agency get access to that. We make unlimited updates, unlimited support. So can you add this team member? Can you add this carrier? Can you add this blog post? Can you change this, we have a new logo?
Edwin K. Morris (17m 32s):
Does your responsiveness to these customers help design and come up with best new thing coming up on a future?
Jeff Teschke (17m 37s):
Absolutely. I mean, I think that is iterative. I mean, we’re constantly working on that and it’s not one of those things where it’s this revolutionary change that happens like every six months or something like that. It’s more iterative it’s what, what do we need to add to the platform so that insurance agencies can be competitive? There are a lot of things that an independent agency has to their advantage that a Geico does not. It’s a matter of how do you play that up? How do you make sure that they have the tools to reinforce the personal connections? What kind of tools would be beneficial to help with those personal connections, especially now where everyone’s remote. Hopefully this is temporary, but you know, business is going to be different after this COVID wave passes us, hopefully.
Jeff Teschke (18m 22s):
And it’s a matter of us figuring out across all of the different agencies that are using active agency, it’s about 800 right now. So it’s a decent sample size and what are they doing and what are they using? What are they asking for? And then the demand is what influences and directs the product.
Edwin K. Morris (18m 41s):
So to wrap things up, I want you to summarize your viewpoint on, cause I know there was a push about this 10 years plus ago that everything had to be an app, right? You have to create these apps for, and now I see a, kind of a swing of the pendulum back to just web interface. Just, just give them a URL and just go to the website versus constructing an app. Have you looked at the pros and cons to both?
Jeff Teschke (19m 8s):
We have. And honestly, we, we were never a big proponent of apps for insurance agencies with an asterisk next to that. So for example, if it’s an insurance agency that does a lot of commercial lines policies and those commercial lines, clients need always to get a certain, a certificate or download something it’s transactional and that would make their lives easier. Maybe in that case. However, I would say for most agencies, why would an insured download the app? Right? So we all have an iPhone or an Android, but we have something. Why would you download the app from your insurance agency? Just in case I hit something with my car, like in case my home floods?
Jeff Teschke (19m 49s):
Like you’re not really thinking about it in that way. So I think the typical use case for most insureds is that if there is a problem, if there is a claim that they need to file or something like that, and let’s say it’s on a Saturday or Sunday, whenever it doesn’t matter what it is, they’re going to go on their phone, they’re going to go to Google, they’re going to type in the agency name, they’re going to get to it, hit the link, they’re on the website. So that’s why it’s important that the, the insurance agency website has a, some sort of client service center option on there. And it could be, you know, active agency has a bunch of forms, but even if it’s like one form like contact us, what do you need? Kind of a thing. That’s most likely what they’re going to do.
Jeff Teschke (20m 30s):
So they’re not going to download the apps. We’ve had agencies try using different kinds of templated app solutions and what we found, Again, results will vary, and depending upon the agency, there are specific use cases I think that it does make sense, but we found that most clients just don’t do it because they you’re right. They go to the website now and websites work really well. And as long as there’s a full feature set on there and they can go in and do what they need to do, that’s what they’re going to do.
Edwin K. Morris (20m 57s):
Jeff, where can people go to learn more about what you’re talking about? Well, the easiest thing to do would be go to Forge3.com F O R G E the number three.com. There’s a lot there, they’ll most likely, if the new website’s launched, they’ll see the new resources section at the top and the help center across the bottom. And a lot of info, just a lot of information, helpful information to kind of get inspired, hopefully about some of the things that we’re talking about.
Jeff Teschke (21m 25s):
The other place I’ll also suggest is if folks are on LinkedIn, find me on LinkedIn. If you can spell my last name, that’s the first test. So it’s Teschke, so it’s a Jeff Teschke J E F F that’s easy Teschke is not as easy. It’s T E S C H K E. Find me on there, say hello, have a great little audience on there, which is fun.
Edwin K. Morris (21m 47s):
Well, thanks for coming in today. It’s been a blast to hear about all this technology and the usefulness of it. I wish you well in you’re continued growth.
Jeff Teschke (21m 59s):
Edwin K. Morris (22m 0s):
Thanks for listening to this edition of the trusted advisor podcast brought to you by Iroquois group. Iroquois, your trusted advisor for all things insurance, and remember get out of the office and sell. I am Edwin K. Morris, and I invite you to join me for the next edition of the trusted advisor podcast.