Texting is the new frontier for agency communication. We all know who Alexa and Siri are, but have you heard about EVA? If not, be sure to tune into this week’s episode with Shaun McNeill from EZLynx. Communicating with insureds to get them what they need when they need it is a surefire way to keep customers happy. Shaun’s episode will have you thinking of new ways to use the customer contact tools that should be on your toolbelt. To learn more about Iroquois’ vendors see this page.
Edwin K. Morris (3s):
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. Shaun McNeill is the VP of sales for the agency software innovator EZLynx. Leveraging technology to achieve profitable growth has been the mantra for Sean’s professional career. For 20 years, he has provided solutions for the independent insurance agent community. Sean is an expert in the application of software to quickly improve operational efficiency, sales and the bottom line. So let’s get down to marketing. What do you know, what do you know about marketing?
Shaun McNeill (45s):
Yeah, so we, we, you know, of course work with independent agencies and obviously they have a lot of stake in being able to communicate with customers and prospects and drive new leads and drive new policies into the agency. So we’ve, we focus a lot about, on how to help them with that, right? So we build software that helps with that communication and automate a lot of those tasks. We think about it every day, obviously, so do our customers. So we try and make sure that it’s a central point of focus for you.
Edwin K. Morris (1m 16s):
What’s the weakest link in adoption of that type of marketing skill or software?
Shaun McNeill (1m 23s):
Well, fundamentally it’s usually the time and energy it’s required in order to maximize what the software is capable of doing. Occasionally it’s imagination. But you know, most of the time the agencies have a good sense of what they want to do and how they want, you know, who they want to communicate with. So frequently it’s simply, you know, knowing what’s possible and then actually getting out and, you know, driving the software to execution and then fundamentally testing the results and making adjustments, right? So it does take time and dedication. It’s something that, you know, the agencies have to, have to spend energy on. It’s not, you know, it’s not necessarily their primary wheelhouse, right?
Shaun McNeill (2m 2s):
I mean, becoming a master of marketing and a, a master at know, explaining coverages and why you should, you should transfer risk. They are not transferable in many cases. So yeah.
Edwin K. Morris (2m 16s):
What, what do you think is more effective: texting or email?
Shaun McNeill (2m 20s):
Marketing comes in a lot of different forms. One of the newest mediums for marketing of course, is you are able to text. There’s been a lot of talk about what in fact is the difference between texting a client and emailing a client. Fundamentally, you kind of start with the strategy, right? So how important is a text versus an email? You know, they’re both really powerful tools. They both are different fundamentally, right? So email space tends to be very noisy and that’s often crowded with lots of other things. I mean, everything from content about what’s going on with your insurance, to your bank, to your mother-in-law and what she’s wants you to bring for Thanksgiving.
Shaun McNeill (3m 2s):
So fundamentally there’s just a lot going on there. Some other key differences is the response rates. So text has a fantastic open rate compared to emails, right? So about 98% compared to about 20% on emails for open rates, that’s a huge, a huge difference. On average takes about 90 seconds for someone to respond to a text it’s about 90 minutes for an email, you know, depending upon what kind of exchange or conversation you’re trying to have with that, an agency customer, or a prospect, there’s a big difference in that. There’s pros and cons to each one. You know, there’s lots of detail around that. Texts tend to be fast and high priority. They get read. They’re more, you know, they’ve got to be a concise message, right?
Shaun McNeill (3m 44s):
You can’t put a book in there. They’re not meant for long form communication at all. Email, if you want to deliver some kind of complex information, you want better treatment for, you know, for an attachment you might want to include, if that’s important for your marketing. For a large group, it’s better for that. But you know, there really there’s, there’s lots of differences between the approach.
Edwin K. Morris (4m 3s):
Does this end up being an either/or, or is this just a complimentary add on?
Shaun McNeill (4m 9s):
Fundamentally it’s, it’s what are you trying to accomplish? Right. So if you know, it is either/or it’s absolutely either/or, I mean, you’re not going to shut down one communication method in, in lieu of another, you do need to make sure that you are incorporating text into part of your strategy because frankly it is, well, we just walked through the benefits, right? It is something that you can really get a great response from. You can get a quick response from, you know, you know, it’s going to get read, obviously don’t abuse it. Cause then they’re going to kick you out, you know, give you the thumbs down. But I mean, it is, you know, it’s a tool in your toolbox that you have to use.
Edwin K. Morris (4m 46s):
What’s the root element that an agency has to look at in their strategy of where and how to deploy these different elements in the digital format.
Shaun McNeill (4m 59s):
Well, I mean, you know, a couple of things, right? So you have to think about what is going on in, in your business climate. Okay. Right now, much of the traditional mediums that have been available to communicate are just not valid, right. And one can argue whether or not this is going to persist or not, frankly, I, a lot of this was already happening before the pandemic. And before, you know what, you know, what is influencing our business today and encumbering our communication, right? It’s, it’s embracing some change. Right? And one thing that you have to understand is, you know, mobilize, optimize client communication is a standard for our business.
Shaun McNeill (5m 46s):
It should be. And if it’s not part of your agency standard, then you might be leaving some things on the table. Right.
Edwin K. Morris (5m 53s):
And now when you say mobility, you’re talking customer mobility, right. Customer mobility interface. Right. And, and what that’s going to be 10 years from now, which who knows. Right. Because it’s just gonna keep changing.
Shaun McNeill (6m 7s):
I mean, think about your, you know, your situation. Right. And think about this conceptually, if right now I couldn’t conduct business without going to the bank, what would that be like? Who does that? That’s crazy talk. Right. You know, so I should be able to conduct business with my agency partner in a way that is consistent with other, you know, other businesses that I have relationships with. And text messaging is obviously a piece of that, but it’s, you know, it’s a broader topic, right? It’s this whole customer self enablement, it’s this concept of online self-service, it’s an, a, what tools are you providing to your customers to communicate, get information they need and do the things that they need without having to get ahold of you, burn during business hours or outside of them.
Shaun McNeill (6m 56s):
Right. So, you know, text is a piece of that, right. And it’s, it’s an important piece because it’s now, you know, where everyone lives. Yeah. I mean on that phone, right. I mean, in your Thanksgiving celebration coming up, I’m sure that someone’s going to look at someone and say, Hey, can you put the phone down? You know, we’re here having a conversation. So I mean, it’s, you know, it’s that embedded in our culture,
Edwin K. Morris (7m 19s):
Something we’ve all grown accustomed to, and it seems to affect anybody in most any age category, also.
Shaun McNeill (7m 26s):
It does. Well, it’s definitely expanded to all categories, right? This isn’t a millennial thing anymore.
Edwin K. Morris (7m 34s):
On the texting piece, do you feel there’s a difference between using an integrated agency management system versus from an individual? Is there a difference in effectiveness or
Shaun McNeill (7m 44s):
There’s more than a difference. I think that there’s really some important elements. Okay. Here’s the deal three main important topics. One is agencies are keenly aware of E&O exposure. All of everyone is right. Text messaging from a personal mobile phone. Look, my mobile phone is subject to a 30 day standard expiration. So the content goes away. Bye-bye right. Even if a conversation is maintained longer, I know attachments are thrown off of there in about that timeframe. So you have to preserve what you’ve done with communicating with clients. So it just goes without saying, having something, when you’re texting associated to an agency management system, as your sole source of truth is just a better fundamental practice, business practice.
Edwin K. Morris (8m 29s):
That’s sharing that knowledge across the enterprise where anybody can see the latest activity.
Shaun McNeill (8m 35s):
Yes. Well, I mean, you have to be able to recall that if someone says, Hey, you didn’t offer me that coverage or, Hey, you didn’t tell me that. Right. You need a documentation. Moreover, in addition to that, you want a centralized communication platform, right? I want one text number that my customers look at and say, okay, that’s associated with this agency. I mean, I want them to communicate with my agency. I don’t necessarily want them to communicate with Bob or Kelsey or, you know, whoever, right. It really comes down to, they need to be able to communicate with us no matter who’s available. You know, someone needs to be in a position to respond to them. And so I want them to associate, you know, a single text number with my organization. And ultimately that would be through our, through a management system.
Shaun McNeill (9m 17s):
You know, the, the last thing I think is the most compelling, right. You know, the point of not texting from your phone is that texting as a communication is not the end goal, right? Collecting text number information, maintaining it inside the management system and using the new, you know, automation that gets connected to the management systems is, you know, is the key here. This is about marketing. This is about communication. This is about active engagement with clients. And frankly, you know, modern management systems have automated communication functionality. Customers can respond to text.
Shaun McNeill (9m 57s):
The systems can send these texts, right, without a CSR, they can, you know, email on your behalf. They can do all of these things and, you know, scale your business. And of course take advantage of the, of the communication medium. That’s most likely for the customer to respond. So
Edwin K. Morris (10m 11s):
Is this more in the line of frequently asked questions with a texting bot kind of just responding back with a canned answer or…?
Shaun McNeill (10m 20s):
Absolutely. I mean, look, you know, we all interact with organizations that are using chat bots and using AI and learning natural language systems. So, you know, our business shouldn’t be any different and it’s not, frankly, I mean, EZLynx recently went ahead and launched what we call Eva. Eva is our virtual agent, you know, EZLynx virtual agent effectively. It really comes down to what would you prefer your staff spend their time doing? So short answer is selling versus servicing, right? Artificial intelligence and machine learning offers immense potential and improves profitability of the agency.
Shaun McNeill (11m 1s):
So, you know, fundamentally when these technologies exist, you have to take advantage of them. You don’t have to incorporate it as part of your plan and client texts for a mundane task. Like I want my auto ID card. I want to know, you know, if this driver is associated with this vehicle, right. Why can’t a virtual agent take care of that? Yeah. So, and they can,
Edwin K. Morris (11m 25s):
So is this virtual agent, Eva, is she a mobile app or is this something different that’s embedded into the system?
Shaun McNeill (11m 35s):
Well, Eva is embedded into both the system and the client portal. So if you think about your client portal on your, you know, it should be available on your website, right? I mean, again, back to the, you know, where do your customers live? It’s online, this client interaction, you know, I, as a customer expect, I should be able to go to my agency. I should be to get my ID card, pull up my policy information. And frankly, if I’m not doing it from my computer, I’m doing it from my phone or, you know, I’m in the moment and I shoot my, you know, I’ve got my agent’s contact number in my, in my phone. If I shoot them a text, you know, I want that system to be able to interact on behalf of the agent or get the agent, engage the agent.
Shaun McNeill (12m 19s):
If I, in fact, can’t get my answer. Eva’s set up to do both. So if she, she understands that all you’re asking for is something she can handle. She simply responds. If not, she creates a task as a follow-up for the individual. And that way you’re going to be the engaged, trusted advisor that, that they expect you to be without necessarily having to drop everything. Right. And answer your phone or, you know, shoot a text back.
Edwin K. Morris (12m 47s):
Are you guys deploying a mobile app?
Shaun McNeill (12m 48s):
Absolutely. Well, I mean, we, you know, we’ve gone beyond mobile app, right? So EZLynx provides a mobile optimized client application. It’s a standard feature of our management system, customers access documents that can share secure documents over that platform, get ID cards, certificates. They can get their policy details from there. So Eva is part of that strategy. It’s part of this idea of how do we technologically enable a, you know, a superior customer experience through the technology at an agency level.
Edwin K. Morris (13m 21s):
So out of all, all that interface that is available, what do you see as the most utilized part of what you offer?
Shaun McNeill (13m 30s):
Obviously I would, I want to change kind of behavior to not, you know, pick up the phone and call me, right. I, you know, I’m making these tool tools available, so I want them to engage them. And, and so what’s available, continues to grow. So obviously, you know, clients showing up at your website to pick up a client ID card, that’s grown immensely because it’s been out there for a long time. People are changing their behaviors and their expectations, right? Yeah. We have self-service certificates. We have, we have lots of things in the roadmap that we intend to continue to allow customers to access from your agency through their trusted advisor. You know, they, they should be able to get a life insurance quote.
Shaun McNeill (14m 13s):
They should be able to get other information again, through a technology that’s enabled to help them get what they need, communicate with you, but not necessarily have to have a CSR, you know, drop what they’re doing. Right.
Edwin K. Morris (14m 25s):
To finally wrap things up here. I want to just throw this at you and see what you think. So does an agency look at this more as a spend in an HR realm versus a IT realm?
Shaun McNeill (14m 38s):
That’s a great question.
Edwin K. Morris (14m 40s):
The more you keep talking about how the interface provides customer service, it’s more than just a CRM because the CRM is heavy to a person operating through the CRM, which is critical. I get, but yeah, so it would seem to me, if you’re trying to talk to someone that is looking at this as a solution, you got to get the brain to think, you know, this is more of an HR function than it is simply an IT.
Shaun McNeill (15m 9s):
It’s both. And frankly, it’s an evolution of a business, right? There’s lots of people that have, have some tension, fear, concern about how AI technology is going to affect them, their business, their staff, right. There’s lots of worry in that regard, but at the end of the day, AI creates opportunities. You know, just as much as it might put a job at risk. And so the, you know, the reality is that it is both right. I want my staff who have great skills focused on things that drive revenue and drive customer experience. I don’t want them focused necessarily on, you know, things that are service oriented and simple expenses for my business.
Shaun McNeill (15m 54s):
And so I think we can, we can improve the outcomes for both our business and our customers. So I would treat it as both, you know, it, it needs to be part of a comprehensive strategy for your business on how you are trying to move your business forward and you have to plan for it.
Edwin K. Morris (16m 11s):
Right there. You got to plan for it. Luck will only take you so far. I got you.
Shaun McNeill (16m 15s):
If you don’t have a plan, my mother used to tell me all the time, if y’all don’t, if you don’t have a plan, you plan to fail, right. You know, fundamentally. So, you know, have a plan, obviously, you know, it’s going to be fluid, right? We all, you know, all we’re, we’re talking with business owners, they understand the concept of not every first idea is the one you end up in, but there is tools available to you. And, and this isn’t, you know, a notion, right? I mean, customers expect client experience. They expect to communicate via text. You know, if you’re not doing these things already, look at it, listen to this podcast, make some decisions about when it’s appropriate to communicate in certain ways, look for automation and see how you can leverage it and evolve your business in a way that provides scale and profitability.
Shaun McNeill (17m 4s):
And we all win.
Edwin K. Morris (17m 5s):
Especially the customer.
Shaun McNeill (17m 6s):
Edwin K. Morris (17m 7s):
All right, Sean. Well, thank you all for that great conversation.
Shaun McNeill (17m 11s):
I appreciate it. Thanks. We really appreciate being invited to the show and I hope you and your audience find this meaningful.
Edwin K. Morris (17m 19s):
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.