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Pick up the Phone [Please!]

answer-the-phoneOver the past few months I have been helping a P&C agency optimize their marketing workflow and lead funnel.  The agency buys shared leads and also has quite a few organic leads coming through – around 200/month total.  The owner had read most of our content and overall the marketing plan setup and lead diversification were excellent.

The problem was the lead conversion rate.

I started drilling down into their lead response roles and activities and things looked pretty solid on the surface.  They had a nice automated lead assignment setup and initial response time was ideal.  After asking a few more questions it became clear that we had a leak.  The agency owner was focused on running a lean operation and had been debating hiring another office assistant as the previous one had recently been licensed and was taking on a producer role.  Incoming calls had become a shared responsibility and they had a lot of calls rolling over to voice mail.

***Insert Screeching Brake Sounds Here***

Yeah…that would be the problem!

I am not saying there were no other problems, because there were, but this was the major issue.  Clearly, we have not addressed this enough here at ILG so I will try to make it as clear as possible now.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS Make Sure a Live Person Picks Up the Phone

I could probably list 100 reasons why the phone needs to be answered by a person, but here is the short list.

  1. Engagement
    We have mentioned the importance of response time on several occasions.  The primary reason for this, and why it is critical for conversion, is because you connect with the person when they are fully engaged.  I cannot stress enough how important this is. 
  2. Lost Sales
    When it comes to sales in a competitive market you are always on the other person’s time.  They are not on your time.  Most consumers shopping for insurance have a very low time tolerance for the process.  Even if they do leave a message, most consumers will just keep moving down the list to get a quote from another agency.
  3. Bad Impression
    What do you think it tells a consumer when the phone goes to voice mail?  For me, it is a red flag that this is what can probably be expected moving forward.  This is not what clients want from an agency.  I have done a lot of local reputation work and one of the most common complaints among bad reviews with insurance agencies is the failure to pick up the phone.

I convey to the agency owner that letting calls go to voice mail is the same thing as throwing money in the garbage disposal.  The response I got “…but I really don’t have the budget or time for a new hire right now.”

Running a small agency can be tough.  Most of the readers here fully understand the HR challenges with agency growth.  This is why we often suggest outsourcing what you can.

An in-office answer is always going to be the ideal situation but if that is not an option by all means get an answering service to pick up any calls you cannot, even at 2 in the morning.  Below are some options.

answering-machine-banAnswering Service Options

  • Local – Higher population areas will typically have at least one local answering service.  These services will typically have more flexibility with the response to get that in-office feel.  Prices vary but if you have a good a local service and can afford it,  I would recommend starting here.
  • Online Answering Services – Online services can vary so some research is needed.  Try to find one with native English speakers and a regional dialect if possible.  Most online services will have a large staff so they should be as reliable as a local service.  Pricing options with online answering services will generally offer more flexibility due to the number of options ranging from a monthly fee to a pay per call model.
    See – AnswerAmerica.com, AnswerForce.com
  • Freelance – If you want to cut out the overhead you might want to consider hiring a freelance answering service rep directly.  There are plenty of folks out there that run their own service from their home and do a great job at it.  This option requires a bit more of a vetting process and there is a risk of being without service if they quit or are sick.  Make sure you have a backup plan with this option.
    See – PeoplePerHour.com, Upwork.com

Is It Really THAT Important?

Importance can be relative so I prefer to use numbers.  After hiring a local answering service to ensure the calls were answered 24 hours a day the agency realized an increase in lead conversions of more than 64%!  I would say it was worth it and so would the bottom line.

This was a one-off case so your results may vary but if your company is letting calls roll to voice mail more than a few times per day I urge you to explore ways to make that stop.

In closing, I hope I have made it clear that incoming call response time is just as critical as lead time response.  A missed call (or one sent to voice mail) is a missed opportunity.  So please… Just Pick Up The Phone! 🙂

For more background on lead optimization check out our Lead Closing Success Factors post.

P.S. If anyone has a similar case study and would like to share the results please get in touch.


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