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Story by Diana Reitz, FC&S Online

NU’s Mark E. Ruquet reported recently on a J.D. Power and Associates survey about overall satisfaction among auto-insurance consumers. The good news was that consumer satisfaction was the highest since J.D. Power began the service in 2000. The bad news, for some of us, is that interaction with an agent fell to the fourth position of importance. Auto-insurance customers ranked policy offerings as the most important. Other attributes that were high in the ranks were price, billing and payment, and claims service.

The J.D. Power research director said that the growth of more robust websites that can complete more complicated processes makes human interaction less important. But what about human intervention when problems arise? Do agents become more important then?

In the last few years, after a few brushes with speeding tickets that of course were bogus, my belief in the importance of agents was brought to the test. My auto-insurance premium skyrocketed, and I felt lucky to have a good independent agent who began to look for options without my even having to ask. She further took it upon herself to broaden my coverage not only on my auto insurance but also on my homeowners’. And she did all of that at a price that was acceptable.

That agent is very important, and I would rank her as the most important element to me.

Conversely, I have a long-term-care (LTC) policy with a life-insurance agent. I understand that life agents are highly compensated on the initial sale and, unlike P&C agents, don’t make a lot on the continuation of coverage. But in this instance, I called the agent who had sold me the LTC policy to discuss a substantial increase in premium when most LTC premiums skyrocketed.

The result was quite different from the experience I had with my agent. My life agent sent me an email saying he was a little tied up right then but would call me soon. The call never came, so I called the insurance company and found my solution there.  I will never buy another insurance product from that agent, and I probably will never leave my agent.

Is there a lesson in the J.D. Power study and such consumer experiences? Absolutely. I think agents are extremely important, but only when they take their role as advocate seriously and offer not only intervention services but also actively work to provide their insureds with coverage options, claims-service assistance and price competitiveness—all of which insureds stated as being high priorities. I just believe that the availability of agent intervention should also be high on that list.

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