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Chip: Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the IA Advantage. My name is Chip Bacciocco, and if you’re joining us today, you are likely one of the tens of thousands of independent agency channel insurance professionals working all across America, doing the noble work of protecting the futures of millions of families and businesses.
Some housekeeping before we get started. This program is made possible through the support of TrustedChoice.com and the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, the Big “I”. Today’s broadcast will be made available to over 300,000 IA professionals across North America via the Trusted Choice independent agency network.
And as always, before we start, I want to urge you to make sure that your agency’s digital profile on TrustedChoice.com is complete and up to date. 2022 was a transformative year for us. Referral volume more than doubled. Please visit our site and hear what agents, just like you, are saying about TrustedChoice.com, especially about Claim-it, which is completely transforming the way agents find and acquire high-quality, exclusive leads the same way Uber transformed the taxi industry a few years ago.
And of course, don’t forget, Google continues to crawl our agency directory every hour. Having a complete and professional agency profile on TrustedChoice.com ensures that your agency is being properly recognized and showcased on the nation’s most important online agency directory.
I am excited to be joined today by an old friend from my Elevate days, Torey Maerz, the CEO and Co-founder of ClientCircle. Welcome, Torey, how have you been?
Torey: Hey, thanks for having me. I’ve been doing great, man. Weather’s looking nice here in Iowa and I think I’ll spend a little bit of time outside this weekend, which is nice.
So doing really, really good.
Chip: It’s good to see you again because our audience may not know but you, you were a, an original sponsor and attendee at the very first Elevate. That’s where we met in 2017. It was pretty small back then. I’m gonna say we had like 350 attendees. It’s hard to remember.
But then you are also with us in Cleveland, and you were with us in, in New Orleans. And then of course the Covid monster came and I didn’t get to see you after that. But it’s great to see you again. And, just for a minute, would you share a little bit about what you thought of Elevate, why you guys kept coming back?
Torey: Yeah, I mean, it was a great way to connect with, you know, agents that kind of thought about the future and how to innovate and how to improve. You know, it was kind of the movers and shakers, you know? So we really liked that. And at the time, 2017, our company would’ve only been two years old, right? And so I think we had a lot of things that just aligned, you know, to say, “Hey, we’ve got new tech. Check out this cool new tool.”
And it was the people that went to that show that were looking to actually use some of those stuff. So I think we’re, we’re gonna talk a little bit about agency adoption today.
So, you know, that’s where we got a lot of adoption is at shows like that.
Chip: Yeah. And a lot of the format of that was pretty different. If I remember, we had like a musician in the main hallway there, and you guys were set up not too far from that spot. We were giving out beer at the end of the day and there were, we were trying to have, I don’t know if I, we mentioned it to your time, our, our motto was we were gonna hold an insurance unconference.
Torey: Unconference. I like that.
Chip: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. And you guys, well, and, and of course in those days you were called, I remember meeting you and your brother there. You were called Rocket Referrals. So if you don’t mind, I’d love to start with…. why the name change? What’s behind that? Share a little bit about that.
Torey: Yeah, so first of all, same company, same people, everything. No change, right? We weren’t bought by anybody. In fact, we’re still a bootstrap company. We are funded and we innovate with customer revenue, right? When you are paying your subscription, we use that to innovate and improve and get better.
But the reason that we changed the name is because we’ve added so many new and different things over the years that, you know, being called Rocket Referrals just didn’t do justice to all of the great things that we’ve added to the platform. Also, people would sometimes get confused with Rocket Referrals and think that we sold leads, you know, we didn’t sell leads. We’re a communication platform to get your customers to refer you. You know, not necessarily selling leads. And so it’s alleviating some confusion of what we really are and talking more about the full client experience is what we’re trying to, you know, communicate with your, your customers for. So that’s why.
Chip: Okay. No, that’s, that makes a lot of sense. And so I want to dive down a little more on that because, like you said, it, the product has changed. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to you to share with the audience more of some of those features. So what has been added? It’s a lot of years, right? As, as I said to you in the, in the pre-thing, you’ve been around a while now. So what have you added over the years? What, what’s the full suite look like?
Torey: You know, you know, Apple, for example, they’re gonna release a new iPhone every year, and we like to release one or two big features every year. So being 10 years old, that’s 20 or so new and different things.
You know, every year that we’ve been improving on, in, in adding over the last couple of years, we’ve added a full omni, what I call omni communication, omni-channel communication platform, right? So you can communicate with your customers in text messaging and web chat and email and handwritten cards and on your website and everything across, even Facebook Messenger and Google.
So that’s one of the big things that we’ve added where, you know, we say that we want you to communicate with your customers where they are. Don’t force them on your platform. And so to do that, we need to be able to communicate with people across all. All different things we’ve added recently. A, a neat feature called Journeys and Journeys is kind of this idea where I wanna be able to look at a customer experience with your company, and think about what’s the, the path along the journey that they’re taking with you from, you know, the time they visit the, your website to the time that you’re trying to win them back if you lost them, you know, and then bring them full circle back into the, you know, the fold.
And so we think of those as journeys, and the idea is you define. The path that you want people to take. And then our system will kind of automatically progress people through that journey. So you can see where people are, but then automate what type of communication you want to get along. You want them to get along the way.
So that’s a big new one. And the latest thing that we’ve announced is we also help you with your website. So, our websites are made to work with our platform. Instead of thinking about integrating your website into your CRM and having it automate communications that just comes out of the box we have content that’s ready to go for you, but also use AI to help you generate unique content so that your content is not the same as everybody else’s.
That’s another huge thing that we, we just started and we’re starting to see some agents adopt that and be really happy with how easy it is to get started. And then the integration with our platform is pretty cool. So those are some of the big things that we’ve had. I mean, and, and now you can see why Rocket Referrals doesn’t quite fit, you know, the name of, of that company.
Chip: Yeah, no, I, I totally get it. You’re right. You, you’ve you’ve expanded quite a bit. How, how long has the the website capability been around?
Torey: Literally less than a month. So, so brand spanking new. And we’re really excited about what that’s gonna bring.
We have a lot of neat things kind of planned that we haven’t seen people do before. So we’re really excited about when you have. A fully integrated platform, not just integrated, but made to work together. What you can do is gonna be pretty awesome. So I’m excited about what we’re gonna be able to build on top of that over the next few years.
Chip: Yeah, that’s, that’s exciting. The reason I’m, I’m I’m always interested in the website side is and many people don’t know this, but TrustedChoice.Com’s original, original product 10 years ago now. Was an agency website you know, that could be customized to the agency. And we just didn’t have all the tools. I think we did it in the wrong order, which is why we don’t do it anymore. Right. So I think you’re right. If you got all those other CRM kind of tools and the remarketing…
Torey: Right. So once you have that, then it just makes sense to put the website on top of it.
Chip: Yes. Because we basically, I mean, agents liked it and back then, in some cases that was a serious improvement just to have a good website. But it was kind of stale. Not stale, but stagnant or…
Torey: Static, exactly.
Chip: Exactly. That’s the word I want. It was static. Well, that’s a great addition and like I said, you guys, I mean you guys are veterans in the space. I know it’s not easy to, you know, to be in this space for five plus years and still growing. So congratulations on all the growth. And so speaking of you being a veteran, and I guess, I guess we both are so I’m always amazed at how much has changed in the IA insurtech space. I remember if you were talking about insurtech, say in 2016, 2015, a lot of times the next word was disruptor or disintermediate.
Have you seen sort of the, you know, the subject matter of insurtech evolve over these years? And if so, how So?
Torey: I have for sure, I think that people have realized that. To stand out and to differentiate yourself from others you need tools that that can help you. And there’s a lot of really great tools out there.
And the great thing is you have a lot of choice and with a lot of choice means a lot of innovation and a lot of improvements and, and things. And I have, I mean, I remember not just in 2017, 2015 timeframe people were scared to communicate with their clients. I would talk with people and they would say, “I don’t wanna send them an email, because I’m afraid they’ll remember I’m here. And if they remember I’m here, then they might start asking me about a better price or this,” and I’m like, no, no. I don’t hear that anymore. This is great. You know, instead people are saying, “how can I communicate more effectively, more efficiently?” You know, “how can we do this without a lot of work,” and things like that.
So it’s definitely a new day, which is awesome. It’s great to hear. So we have changed. We’ve reached that goal where people want to communicate with customers.
Chip: Absolutely. And do you feel like solutions like yours, That are empowering of independent agents instead of trying to remove or marginalize them. Do you, do you feel like the trend has tipped and that, you know there’s more success and, and more energy around what, like, what you guys are doing compared to those that are trying to undo the channel?
Torey: Yeah, you know I, I wish I remember authors of books that I read, but I read a, a great marketing book many years ago, and they used Harley Davidson as an example in this book.
And at the time, Harley Davidson was going through a pretty difficult time with all of the crotch rockets, right? Like the Yamahas, Suzukis, and things. And people were wanting to, you know, faster, more. You know, agile bikes and, and things like that. And what Harley said was, you know what, we’re gonna go the opposite direction. You know, we’re gonna build louder, more cooler, you know, type of bikes. And that really paid off for them when everybody was turning right, they turned left. And I think that that’s also an advantage of the independent agent channel, right? Where you know, back in the day it was competing on price and speed and you know, all of those other things. And Big “I” actually was one of the people that said, “no, no, no. When they’re going right, we need to go left. We need to focus on relationships and expertise and things like that.” And I just thought that was the smartest thing ever. And that’s why we built tools that help improve those relationships because, I know that it takes a lot of energy to do that, right? It takes a lot of energy to have a lot of really good relationships with customers, but you need to have tools that you can use not to eliminate your job, but to bring yourself to more people. And that’s what our goal is, is to enhance relationships you have with customers, not take you out of the equation.
And because that’s where your advantage is, you know, as an independent agent, is the relationships, the expertise, and the connection you have with customers.
Chip: Yeah, totally agree. It’s, it’s been quite a transformation in the space and I even remember, you know, papers written by very serious consultants and industry experts 10, seven years ago that the independent agent… by the way, I have a 30 year career, so I, this goes through cycles… the independent agent has been declared dead and varied at least three times. But we, we rally again and it’s thanks to the work of of folks like you. So, so thank you for that.
You know, you mentioned a minute ago that there’s a plethora, I think you used that word, of solutions compared to what there used to be, and I just, it just occurred to me… we’re doing another podcast not too far from now, I believe… have you heard there’s a company out there at this point that’s actually helping agents to sort through all the possible choices. Like there’s, there’s so many different choices and what works with, you know, which platform’s bolt up. There’s an outfit called Catalyit which is actually sponsored by some Big “I” state association organizations. And if you haven’t already, I would encourage you to reach out and make sure that ClientCircle is included in their catalog and, you know, they’ll, they’ll make sure agents at least know what you guys do and make sure that it gets considered. So not really a question. It’s something I wanted to…
Torey: Yeah, they had a really good report recently that I looked at and you know, it really, I think is an eye-opening experience to go through it and to see, even though we have come a long way, there’s a lot of choice of tools to use. Not everybody is adopting these things, right? There is a lot of room for improvement and it was a great report by the way. So if the Catalyit folks are listening good job on putting that together and thanks for all the sponsors that made that work, because it’s good. And I think people should look at that and say, “Hey, we can do more.”
Chip: Yeah, I totally agree with that. Hey, since you mentioned adoption, it’s also a recurring theme for me. So, so I we have so many great tools, I think at this point, most agents are at the point where they’re leaning forward and they’re acknowledging that digital technology can make them stronger, can make them more successful. And maybe even what they’re encountering is that a few people at an agency are sort of leaning forward and saying, “yes, so I like this tool. I like how these could work together.” But they, when they, when they bring it in house, they have a new challenge that maybe they didn’t expect, and that’s getting sort of adoption within the organization.
Have you encountered that with your tools? And if so do you have some tactics, some ways you encourage agents to get over those hurdles?
Torey: Yeah, so for us, one of the things I think that, that we always want people to start off with are the things that they get immediate, sort of, gratification benefit. One of those things for us is the net promoter score. When, if you haven’t used the net promoter score system before, using it for the first time is eye-opening. It’s rewarding and also can sometimes be a little scary because you’re gonna hear from clients that aren’t happy with you, but, they’ve always been there, but now you’re surfacing it, right? And so that’s one of the things that we always start off with, which helps improve adoption and, and get value out of the tool.
And that’s kind of the segue into the second piece, whether it’s our tool or any other tool you’re gonna have things that don’t work the way they expect them to. They’re gonna be a little bit different. And I think a lot of times people will hang onto those things so hardcore that it sours all of the other benefits, right? They say throw the baby out with the bathwater. So find the things that you get a lot of value on and continue to invest in those and, and push forward with them and work on the, the things like every vendor out there wants your experience to be great.
So give feedback and stick with those companies to improve it and make it better because we’re in this together and you know, for us we want to hear feedback. We want to learn where we’re not great for you so that we can become great and, but don’t give up. Right? Don’t give up when you hit that one hurdle because what you’re getting from the benefit of all the other things can far outweigh those one or two small things that, that are, that you see as a, as an issue.
Chip: Yeah. And, and I think increasingly I’ve talked to so many agencies about this oftentimes it can, it can come down to just a couple of people in an organization that are, for whatever reason, sort of putting up the, you know, the hold back, the pushback hands.
And I think there are tactics out there. I’m sure you guys know of some, but, but others too. You can learn ways to try to pull people in and reward the best behavior in the office and find what constructive ways to encourage people that are whatever holding back people like to do what they do.
This is like a rant of mine. As a, as a species, our strongest capability is our ability to adapt to anything. Adapt to any change, and yet it’s the one thing we hate to do the most. Don’t wanna adapt. We don’t wanna change, even though we’re great at it, it’d be like, if we were birds and we hated flying, that’s what it would be.
Torey: I’ve trained myself to, to be comfortable being uncomfortable by putting myself in uncomfortable situations. And, you know, if you find yourself uncomfortable in uncomfortable situations, you need to put yourself in more, in more uncomfortable situations because over time you learn to want that and bring it on rather than back away.
And, you know, kind of hitting it head on is a really important way to be able to overcome those things because you, you’re right, we’re all capable of it, but we avoid it because it’s easy to avoid it, but it becomes easier if you don’t.
Chip: Totally true. I hope everybody heard that one. I, I think Torey nailed that one. Just, you just have to embrace being a little uncomfortable, and after a while, I think you’re right. You’ll find a lot of actual fulfillment in in going there and realizing, “oh my gosh, I can change, I can adapt, I can do this. This isn’t really, this is what I actually do. This is why I was put on the planet.” Which is great.
All right, so I want to switch topics a little bit and you know, you, you, we can’t talk at all these days without getting a little bit into AI. ChatGPT by itself has kind of stormed into the world for the last six months. I think everybody has played with it. I certainly have done my share. I’ve got like a whole list of all these ideas. I know you guys are incorporating some AI and you already mentioned a little bit, but share a little bit more about how you’re using AI and maybe even if you can, how, how you’re thinking about using it in the future.
Torey: Yeah, for sure. I have never been more excited about the future of where technology is going. You know, since ChatGPT has taken off because these large language models that they call and have just exploded and have given me so many new ideas that are possible to do that I’m really excited about the things that we’re gonna do, but back in the day, thinking about where the industry is coming, kind of bringing this conversation full circle. We talked about, you know, where we came from. We’ve been using AI in our tool for 10 years and we couldn’t really talk about it a lot. I mean, we could, but people wouldn’t really care or know what it really means. But we’ve been using AI to classify NPS survey responses for everyone, so we can tell you when someone, you know, writes a comment that it means, “hey, you’re not responding fast enough to this person,” or they don’t feel like you’re knowledgeable in your topic, or, you know, they’re talking about price. And then we can tell you as an agency, “hey, you need to improve these things” just in general because this is what people are talking about.
And so that’s an example of how we can use AI to help you do your job more effectively and to improve your relationships with people. And now we can talk… like people are excited about it… so we branded all of our AI tools as CircleAI. So we’ve taken our existing AI models and the things that we’ve written and combine it with some of these large language models like Chat GPT and what open AI has to be able to create new and unique things.
So, for example, on our website, we can use it to generate content, but also in our journeys. I talked yesterday to kind of demo webinars with a bunch of, or webinars, demo journeys on a webinar with people. And in the journey I said, “write an email to welcome a new client to our customer,” and it gave me a really good starting point so they didn’t have to think about what to say. You know, so it’s a, a good way to help us work more effectively and we’ve set sort of a core foundational belief that we’re gonna stick with, that we’re going to use AI in a way that helps enhance relationships and make your job easier and make you better than to replace anyone, right?
So it’s not about replacing people or doing what people can do, but it’s about doing what machines can do so that people can do what people can do better, which is building relationships and connections and, you know, doing real critical thought and things like that.
Chip: Yeah, no, that’s, that’s, and I, thanks for pointing out that you guys have been doing it for a long time. TrustedChoice.com also has been doing it for a long time. The way that our appetite engine, the way we match consumers with the right agent. So there’s been a quite a bit of that, you know, lightweight AI, I’ll call it. Nothing like, you know, where we’re going. But you’re right, it’s been, it’s been around for a long time.
I’m excited to see what you guys are doing with it. And I think it’s gonna blow agents’ minds away. All of our minds away a little bit. If we, if I could fast forward about two and a half years from now. Yeah. It’ll be, it’ll be a lot of fun. We live in a, an interesting time for sure.
Torey: I think sometimes people are a little scared of what AI can do, and that’s rightfully so. Because we don’t quite know what we’re gonna get. But I think that two years from now, we’re not gonna be talking about being scared of it. I think it’s gonna be like a calculator, you know? It’s a tool for us to do the job and do a better job. Can you imagine doing math without a calculator anymore? Like, doesn’t exist, you know which I’m terrible at mental math. So thank God we have calculators and I think that it’s gonna be similar in the future too with AI.
Chip: I totally agree.
You know, when you, when you say calculator, I’ve even gone beyond that now. If I want to calculate some numbers, which happens almost every day, I just ask, and I’m not gonna say her name, but [blank] talks to me and tells me, me what the math is. I will not say her name on a podcast or we’ll have to listen to her.
So you get the final comments of the podcast. Anything else you wanna share with the audience?
Torey: You know, thank you very much for having me and giving me an opportunity to talk a little bit about our name change and what’s new and things like that.
And I would encourage anybody who even was a prior customer, you know, of Rocket Referrals and wants to see what ClientCircle is about, just go to our website, ClientCircle.com. You know, try a demo and just talk with somebody on our team. We’re not pushy salespeople. We truly are here to help this industry improve and to get better and to exist for a really long time and to provide value to people. So we wanna also learn from you, right? So tell us. What problems do you have and how are you solving them today? And where do you think there could be improvements? Because we’re gonna take that, learn, and hopefully build new and different tools. So I really appreciate your time today, man. It’s been been great chatting and hopefully we can do this again sometime soon.
Chip: Yeah, it’s good to catch up with you, Torey. And thanks for coming on the program. I’m glad we did it. It’s always fun. It’s always good to see ya.
So all right, I’m gonna wrap it up. I’m gonna thank everybody. I’m gonna thank my guest most especially of course, Torey Maerz, the CEO and Co-founder of ClientCircle, and an old friend of TrustedChoice.com from the Elevate days.
As always, I wanna remind everyone listening to please take a few minutes each week and look around. As we just talked about, we are living in the golden age of insurance innovation. Enjoy it, soak it up. You’re gonna tell your grandkids about it.
I wanna thank all the folks that make this program possible, including Central Insurance Encova, Main Street America, Safeco, Selective, State Auto, Travelers, Westfield, and of course the Big “I”.
And one more reminder to check out your agency profile or your IA company profile on TrustedChoice.com. Your digital footprint matters now more than ever.
Thank you everyone. This has been another episode of The IA Advantage and I am Chip Bacciocco signing off. Have a safe and prosperous week everyone.