Historically, Castell Insurance has been a very brick and mortar, traditional agency. As a family agency in a small town, we are hyper community-focused and local.

Until recently, we did nearly all of our business in-person. Every client had to come into the office even for simple tasks like signing paperwork.

But in the last few years, we’ve started adopting more digital tools. It has been a pet passion of mine to move from filing cabinets to the web space and from mailer marketing to digital marketing.

I still believe in the value of in-person relationships, but I felt we were missing out on opportunities by making it hard for people to do business with us. Not every customer wants to come into the office, and independent insurance agents need to be able to meet customers where they want to be met.

Streamlining operations

Our agency had a further push toward digital last year when a huge snowstorm hit the Northwest and forced our whole staff to work from home on our cell phones for 10 days. We realized we needed to get better systems in place to keep operations running in emergencies.

That was the impetus for us to update to a VoIP phone system. We’ve also implemented a web-based agency system, integrated texting and eSignature and started using more videos.

Now, it’s easy for our agency to keep business running as usual even if we can’t be in the office. Our staff can transition to working from home without skipping a beat.

Our digital capabilities have broadened us to be able to access another third of the market that we weren’t reaching before, which has helped us grow. Until about five years ago, I was the only personal lines producer in the agency. A few months ago, we hired our fourth P&C team member.

Communicating efficiently

We try to bring a personal touch to our digital communications. For example, we’ve used video proposals with first-time clients who are moving to the area. I’ve found those get a higher conversion rate because it humanizes the experience.

I’m also using video with current client renewals and questions. I’ll film a 30- to 90-second video answering a client question and send the client the link so they can watch it on their own time. Over time, I’m planning to build out a page of videos answering common insurance questions as a resource for all our customers.

Another benefit of the digital approach is that it allows us to automate communications and utilize repeat content to have more proactive touches with our clients.

For example, when we had a big rate increase on our auto book in Washington state, I made a video showing my kids and I installing the device for Safeco’s RightTrack program. We created an email template that included information about the rate increases and a link to the video. We used that email throughout the entire renewal cycle, automatically sending it out 60 days before the renewal due date so it reached customers before they got the paperwork with the rate increase.

This proactive approach helped us keep up retention rates and also made our agency one of the biggest adopters of the RightTrack program in our region.

Extending our staff’s capacity

Digital tools have also helped us operate more efficiently and extend our staff’s capabilities.

For example, our agency specializes in retirement solutions, including personalized Medicare products. Annual policy reviews for that product have to be done within a seven-week open enrollment period. In the past, we’d always done one-on-one reviews with every policy holder, often in person. That worked when we had 500 policyholders, but as we grew to 1,000, 2,000 and now 4,000 policyholders, we simply did not have enough man hours to do a review with every client during open enrollment.

So, last year, we created a branded website that clients could use to do their own review. We made screen-recording videos to show clients how to use the website, where to click, how to put in their information and more.

Instead of attempting to do 4,000 in-person reviews in seven weeks, we had over 1,000 clients do their own review online. And we were able to add 500 new clients during that period, as well.

Getting started

That Medicare website was a huge leap of faith. My father, who runs the Medicare side of our agency, was hesitant to do it. But he realized our agency can’t keep growing if we are pulling ourselves back to do these old brick and mortar type things. We did lose a few clients in the process, but we know that in the long run, digital tools like this will help us scale our business and educate more people.

For other insurance agents who are trying to go digital, I would say that you have to rip the Band-Aid off. You can’t wait for it to be perfect – it never will be. There is going to be trial and error, and there may be some casualties along the way, but digital tools will ultimately help your agency grow.

Do you have a digital success story? Share it in the comments below.

Every agency appointed with Liberty Mutual and/or Safeco Insurance is responsible for ensuring that they are in compliance with all state and federal laws/regulations that govern their business, including, but not limited to, telemarketing, texting and commercial emails. If you have questions, please seek advice from your legal counsel.