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The Customer Service Experience

An Independent Agent's Guide to Serving Today's Consumer

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Prepare to Master Customer Service

Your independent agency today has more opportunities to prosper than ever before in the history of the insurance industry.  The complexion of today’s marketplace allows your agency to be the hub of its own community as well as a member of many other communities – all populated by consumers. Some of these consumers are your customers, and you want to make sure they stay with you.  Others are prospective customers who need to be convinced to do business with you. 
 
The long-term success of your business depends on customers, so you cannot overstate the importance of customer service. So before you try to sell another policy, you should consider two key questions: Who is today’s consumer? What should “customer service” mean in today’s marketplace? 
 
This online guide provides direction that will help you to confidently and efficiently provide meaningful, valuable and profitable customer service as a foundational component of your business. 
 
 
 
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​​​​“This is our market — and this is our time.”
 Thomas Minkler, IIABA Chairman 2013-14
President, Clark-Mortenson Agency
  
 
Consumers are connected.  How do you reach them and interact with them?  The American economy is driven by consumers who want and expect to help and serve themselves. Social networking sites such as Facebook, consumer review portals such as Yelp, e-commerce sites such as eBay and Amazon, and community sites such as CraigsList and Wikipedia are the go-to tools for finding information and answers, shopping and buying, and getting things done. Researchers have dubbed this trend “the groundswell.”​
 
“The groundswell is: A social trend in which people use technologies to get what they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.”
—  Groundswell: Winning In A World Transformed by Social Technologies, by Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff

Today’s empowered consumers are taking different routes to get where they want to go.
 
Researchers at Forrester have segmented U.S. adult consumers by social technographic:


Social Technographic Group

% of U.S.  Population
 
What They Do


Creators
   24
Write blogs, maintain a website or upload audio/video
Critics
   37
React to others’ content, post comments, post ratings/reviews, edit wikis
Collectors
   21
Save and tag articles, use newsfeeds, organize content
Joiners
   51
Set up and maintain social networking profiles
Spectators
   73
Read, listen to and watch what others produce and publish
Inactives
   18
None of the above

Sources
:
Groundswell: Winning In A World Transformed by Social Technologies, by Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff, Forrester Research Inc. (2008); Forrester Empowered Tool (empowered.forrester.com/tool_consumer.html). Percentages as published by Forrester in October 2013. Percentages add up to more than 100% to reflect consumers in more than one category.

 
Today, most personal insurance consumers begin their search for new coverage online. In fact, nearly 80 percent of auto insurance shoppers use some form of online research. Only 20 percent depend on an agent alone to do their research, according to the 2012 McKinsey Auto Insurance Consumer Insights Research.

“Today’s consumers have more power and information than ever before. Consumers today expect that their questions are resolved quickly and that those answers are trustworthy.  Consumers no longer need information, they desire advice and direction from a seller who is courteous, prompt, and knowledgeable.”

Professional Service Remains Vital.  Yet, at the same time, consumers want to interact with product and service providers in ins​urance and financial services. For example, research and consumer behavior shows they still need and want what independent insurance agents provide: The overwhelming majority turns to a live person – in person or on the phone – to make an auto insurance purchase.

 

“Almost nobody buys online. Consumers don’t like to buy it online.
They want to talk to a trusted advisor.”
 Bob Rusbuldt
President & CEO
Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA)

For a generation, marketers followed a mass-market, megaphone approach. That’s shifted: Today’s marketing environment is interactive and consumer-driven.​ 

Traditional Marketing

 New Marketing

Mass Marketing

Individual/Personal marketing

Company focus

Customer focus 

Tightly controlled brand message

Customers control the message

One-way broadcast

Multi-directional conversations

Company-created content

User-created content

Interrupt: Big spending wins

Interact: Adding value wins

Ad-Speak: Spin & deception win

Transparent & authentic

30-Second spot is king

Word-of-mouth is king


Source: Project CAP Marketing, 2013

Now that you’ve recognized these changes in the environment, it’s time to adapt and work proactively and interactively with today’s connected consumers.

“‘Connected Generation’ consumers care about our story more than we realize. There is one business lesson that we independent insurance agents need to come to grips with:
‘Tell your story. Be useful.’
Success is that simple.”

  Ryan Hanley, Hanley Media Labs ​ 

Creating customer connections means gathering what you know about your existing customer base and using that insight to create long lasting customer engagement. Find out how to create a process that starts with the first contact and continues throughout the customer lifecycle.

There some simple steps that you can take to learn more about the customers you already have, and then find ways to leverage that knowledge to attract more just like them.

  • Determine your ideal customer, melding together a grouping and finding what makes them all similar.  Use things like their age, gender, income, along with their personality traits and buying preferences, then consider their hobbies, their community affiliations, their families, their employment, and other traits that could help define their buying behaviors.

  • Next, determine where you most often find your customers.  Word of mouth, community involvement, online, via printed marketing materials or ads in the newspaper?  Take time to analyze how you acquired the majority of your customers and use that information to start locating more of them!

  • Work with your ideal customers to gain insight into why they chose your agency over others.  Pick up the phone or send a personal e-mail and ask them to let you know what made them buy from you, why they continue renewing their business and what you offer than others didn’t. Take to social media and solicit feedback, get customer to provide feedback on sites that gather customer reviews.

  • Survey your new customers to learn why they choose you, what you offered that was attractive to them, even ask what you could improve upon to help hone your customer image.

Remember, the right metrics will help you analyze every interaction and begin to learn more about your customer base, especially as their needs change or their methods of communication evolve.

Finally, it is important to know that consumers today will come to you from a number of acquisition points, come more prepared than in the past, come with many questions and with reams of research that they have gathered online.  They will have collected information about you and your agency and will have likely formed an expectation of the advice and service they will receive.  Be up to the challenge!

 
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VIDEO
How are Best Practices agencies
dealing with changing consumer needs?
Andrew Siegel, Siegel Insurance, GA 
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Agencies are more successful when customer service is at the forefront of their operations. Meeting and exceeding customer expectations, responding to any and all feedback, and providing the trust and expertise they need and expect are what differiniates independent agencies from their competitiors. Agencies that take the time to get to know their customers, solicit feedback, and instill the importance of putting the customer first, regardless of how the interaction occurs are the most successful. In this month’s segment of the Customer Service Experiences, learn how seeing service from your customer’s perspective can help your staff deliver great service and improve retention.



Many research studies confirm that customer service is a pivotal
attribute of any insurance provider for both personal and small commercial clients. Personal lines buyers particularly are concerned with having a personal advocate who is representing the interests of the client more than the company. Small commercial lines customers are focused on quick carrier response, fair claims settlements, accurate policies, billing issues and having a knowledgeable agent.     

There’s more to customer service than returning phone calls, following up on e-mail or completing annual policy checks. Customer service is every bit as much about how you do things as the daily checklist of what you do. It’s about consistent delivery of your brand values with each and every customer interaction. It’s about seeing your services from your customer’s perspective, not from your own.

Always remember: if you can deliver against client expectations, the business will come.

Step 1: Consider what’s required throughout a customer lifecycle.

Not only are individual customer needs not the same, the same customer has different needs depending where they are in the purchase cycle.

New customers need more handholding. Don’t assume because they aren’t asking questions that they aren’t curious or confused. Explain your processes, introduce your team, let them know what to expect.

Existing customers need reinforcement that they’ve made the right decision. Remind them why certain policies or services are appropriate for their account. Solicit regular updates on their business goals and take the time to uncover new concerns.

Refresh your account relationships. Don’t leave appreciation to chance. If you don’t have a regular schedule for client contact, create one. It doesn’t always have to be face-to-face (although that should occur quarterly at a minimum). Take the time to forward relevant articles, recognize important milestones or business accomplishments, ask questions, and listen. If you sense an area of concern or worry, address it promptly and provide solutions.

Always look for opportunities to upsell existing accounts. This should not be a heavy-handed sales job. However, during regular review of client business, share information about new or relevant products and services. Even if the client isn’t ready for a sale right away, when you position yourself as an interested, trusted resource, they will think of you first when new opportunities do arise.

Step 2: Convey the benefits you provide as an independent agent.

There is an intangible that independent agents bring to a relationship. Be sure you communicate these advantages clearly. In addition to your own individual brand strengths, share the strengths you likely share with most independent agents:

  • Understands the worries other business owners face

  • Flexibility

  • Personal interest in seeing every client succeed

  • Local, accessible

  • Invested in the community

  • Focused on long-term client relationships, not short-term sales

  • Ability to create customized coverage—not limited by corporate requirements established by headquarter offices elsewhere

Step 3: Have A Consistent Strategy

While you staff may have the skills to interact with your customers, it is also important to have an overall organizational strategy to keep your customers happy. Following are some tips to ensure that your agency is constantly providing proactive customer service at every client interaction:

Personal Touches Count:  Your customers want to feel like they have access to real people. Don’t let your telephone prompts and website send them in a circle of never-ending frustration. Post photos and bios of your staff on your website, allowing customers to see that there are real people working on their behalf.

Be There For Your Clients:  Ensure that your customers can reach you. Provide an after-hours answering service, and if there is a widespread claim situation such as a flood or hail storm, have the office staffed both early and late when needed. Avoid the use of PO boxes for your mail and make sure they know your physical address, This will help build trust and remind them that your agency is a real business, with real people who care about their needs.

Give Them What They Want: Make sure you are fully meeting your customers’ needs. Set up focus groups, interview customers, or run a survey to get ideas on what they really want from doing business with your agency. Consider a quick follow-up survey after each interaction.

Your Agency In The Community:  Consider some non-traditional ways to create more touch points with your current and potential customers.  Think about offering webinars, daily social media updates about fun things happening in your office, manning a booth at local trade shows and conventions. And don’t forget that while people come to these forums to learn about insurance from you, you can learn as much–if not more–from them.

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Understanding your own agency is just as important as understanding the people and businesses that you hope to engage.

 
The key is understanding your agency from the customer perspective.  You need to understand what customers will perceive as distinctive about your agency and why it matters to anyone who might want to do business with you.   Independent agencies, unlike many captives and direct writers, can craft personalized stories and control telling those stories at every point of service. 
 
 
Step 1. Define who you are
 
This step requires careful consideration.  It’s not about what you are — an independent agency operating in X town,  with X years experience and X dollars in  revenue.  This is about the who of your story — what you stand for and how you serve the customer differently than any other agency.
 
It’s best to set aside some time off-site with your agency leadership to give this assignment the focus it deserves. 
 
  • Have one moderator to direct discussion. 
  • If you can, engage a marketing partner or outside consultant to moderate. It provides an objective perspective to challenge you and ensure that you consider how your definitions translate to the customer. 
 
There are no wrong answers. The only misstep comes from not taking the time to know what you stand for or in failing to communicate your findings and message to everyone at your agency.
 
Once you’ve defined who you are, give everyone in your agency the information and tools to understand your culture, core values, vision and mission, and goals.
 
Culture
Ask and answer these questions, which will affect the productivity, ethics and performance of all employees.  They will also help you find and hire the right kinds of employees for your firm.
 
  • How should we approach business?ow should we approach business? 
  • What type of day-to-day environment do we want to create?  For instance, are we buttoned-up and business-serious, or do we have a more laid-back, personal approach? 
 
Core Values
Defining your values will help you make business decisions large and small – from recruiting employees to deciding what types  business you should pursue.
  • What’s important to us? What do we believe in?
  • Here are some values to consider. Add others to customize your list:
  • Giving back to the community
  • Getting to know customers on a personal level
  • Work-life balance
  • Continuing education
  • Hard-nosed negotiations
  • No-nonsense, fact-based proposals
  • Profitability
  • Market prestige
  • Superior Customer Service
  • Creative Online Presence
Vision and Mission 
Your vision statement should declare what you want to accomplish for your customers and your community.  It should be far-reaching and not limited by product descriptors or narrow parameters.
 
Your mission statement spells out what you need to do to deliver on the vision.
 
 
Sample Statements:
 

VISION


MISSION

IBM
Solutions for a small planet
 
 
At IBM, we strive to lead in the invention, development and manufacture of the industry's most advanced information technologies, including computer systems, software, storage systems and microelectronics.

We translate these advanced technologies into value for our customers through our professional solutions, services and consulting
businesses worldwide.
 

Disney
To make people happy
 
The Walt Disney Company's objective is to be one of the world's leading producers and providers of entertainment and information, using its portfolio of brands to differentiate its content, services and consumer products. The company's primary financial goals are to maximize earnings and cash flow, and to allocate capital profitability toward growth initiatives that will drive long-term shareholder value.
 

Walmart
To be the worldwide leader in retail
 
We save people money so they can live better.
 

Kellogg
To be the food company of choice
 
To drive sustainable growth through the power of our people and brands by better serving the needs of our consumers, customers and communities.
 

Hilton
To fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality
 
We will be the pre-eminent global hospitality company – the first choice of guests, team members and owners alike.
 
 
Goals
Establish two or three long-term goals, defining what you want to accomplish in the next three to five years. Setting goals will help prioritize tactics and identify where to focus agency resources.

Be sure goals are measurable. Examples below. Add others to customize for your agency:  
  • Number of new accounts
  • Revenue growth
  • Percent growth
  • Retention rate
  • New markets to enter
  • Number of new hires in the next year
  • Organic growth
  • Community involvement
  • Technology advancements
       
Step 2. Market your difference
 
If any part of your sales message — company logo, marketing materials, even your name — doesn’t highlight what you defined in Step 1, it may be time for change. 
 
What to do? Find a marketing expert and collaborate to develop a plan. 

A professional marketer or marketing firm can help you reach your target markets
with a clear, concise message that attracts potential clients. You’ll also learn about the best way to reach those potential clients — be it online or through advertising, public relations, trade shows or presentations. 
Important:  Make sure once you commit to this investment that you have sufficient staff in place to manage your marketing and to monitor consistent message delivery.
 
Step 3. Be consistent
 
You might often become bored with your message or feel you need to constantly change what you’re saying. 
 
Don’t. 
 
Fact is, your customers aren’t paying enough attention for you to say something only a few times.  Ads are where they’ve always been — TV, radio, billboards — but now they also scroll across your computer screen, wrap around vehicles, play at the gas pump and project on the floor of your favorite retail store. You can even read ads imprinted on grocery receipts and even on your eggs.  To get noticed, you need to repeat, repeat, repeat.
 
Message consistency is key.  Same core message, same tone, same colors, same personality, same look, same logo.  That is how you break through and develop top-of-mind awareness so that someone who is ready to hear your sales pitch will call or otherwise get in touch.
 
 
Step 4. Serve
 
Service is a mindset, and it’s everyone’s job.
 
Yes, your agency is in the insurance industry — but you should also consider it part of a service industry.  When you approach every decision considering how it best serves the customer, then you will see true transformation and growth. 

As an industry, we’ve got some work to do.  The Ernst & Young 2012 Global Consumer Insurance Survey, Voice of the Customer, found that 39 percent of American customers agree or strongly agree that the insurance industry lags behind other industries in service, and 37 percent are neutral on the topic. Those two categories represent 76 percent of total respondents. The survey points out that even though there’s an increase in online customer research, “the majority of consumers still want personal interaction when actually making a purchase, stating that products are too complicated and they don’t know which products meet their needs.”

How can you become more service oriented?  Ernst & Young concludes that insurers need to become as customer-focused as other consumer businesses and deliver a genuinely customer-centric experience.
The research recommends you:
  • Provide simple and transparent products that customers can buy with confidence.
  • Make it easy to access relevant products and information throughout the product life cycle, particularly online.
  • Build trust by delivering a great customer experience and responding to customers’ changing needs throughout the life cycle.
  • Reward customer loyalty.
 
This kind of service approach must be followed by everyone in your firm.  Anyone can sell a policy. It’s how you service the policy and take care of the customer after the sale that matters.  Take care of your customer first, and your business will benefit.
 
To help you establish a more customer-focused approach at your own agency, check out 9 Keys to Keeping a Service Minded Attitude … Tuesday Tip #591 from motivational speaker Dr. Alan Zimmerman.   
 
 
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Local agents — longstanding integral parts of the property-casualty (P&C) insurance landscape — continue to play important roles as advisors and intermediaries. However, there has been a gradual shift in the value that carriers and customers (both retail and small business) place on many activities traditionally performed by local agents, which is increasingly calling into question what role they will play in the future.  

 
"Agents of the Future: The Evolution of Property and
Casualty Insurance Distribution"
McKinsey & Company
 
As Bob Dylan sings, “Times, they are a’changin’.”  The customer/agent relationship has been affected in many ways:
 
 
Communication
  • The Internet has shifted sizable power to the consumer, as access to information has exploded and demand for real-time information has solidified.

  • Consumers once began and completed their entire insurance shopping experience with and through their agents.  No one contemplated “going it alone.”  Today, customers can research information independently, when they choose and via multiple channels (phone, online, click-to-chat, self-service portals, etc.).

  • Customer service expectations have risen — the internet has created a demand for nearly instantaneous response.

Carrier role

  • Just one decade ago, agents placed 80 percent of personal auto policies and nearly 100 percent of homeowner and small business policies.

  • Heavy carrier investment in technology has enabled direct contact between consumers and carriers. Customer care centers allow clients to ask questions or conduct transactions directly.  This replicates the feel of traditional agent roles (and often eliminates the customer’s perceived need to even have an agent).

  • The sophistication of today’s computerized predictive models have also diminished the role agents once played in providing local risk insight to carriers.
 
The end result?  According to McKinsey: “Not too long ago, the average insurance consumer would respond to the question, “Who is your insurance policy with?” by naming her local agent. Today, after 10 to 20 years during which carriers have invested billions of advertising dollars building and strengthening their brands, customers are far more likely to answer the same question with the name of the carrier instead.”
 
Customer research isn’t something you do one time when you launch your agency or enter into a new market niche.  Business conditions change continually, so your research of existing and potential customers should be continuous as well. Otherwise you run the risk of making decisions for growth and change in your agency based on out-of-date information, potentially leading to failure.
 
The more successful you are in growing your agency, the more competitors notice - and react to - what you are doing.  A very successful sales approach could be no better than average in a short few months after launching.  Even loyal customers can be quick to change when offered something newer and more innovative
 
Information sources
 
Published information can provide useful insights into market conditions and trends, and even the changing demographics of your community and/or marketing area.  As an established agency, your own experience can be even more valuable. You will be able to build up an in-depth picture of what customers want, how they behave and which of your marketing approaches work best.  Nobody should know your customer better than you!
 
 
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Taking the time to talk to key customers pays off. Your social relationships, your community and philanthropic involvement and your professional memberships can be important sources of market information. You should encourage your employees to share what they know about existing and potential customers, changes in the community and areas of growth opportunity.
 
 
 
 
So how does the independent agent remain relevant and support growth?  Begin by accepting that it isn’t business as usual — that the traditional lines between agent and carrier have blurred.  Work to build customer awareness for the unique advantages you still provide and be continually adapting and changing to meet the needs of the customers and communities that you serve.
 
 

 

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Business Data, Statistics & More
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What Diverse Populations Live
In Your Area? Market Snapshots 
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Things to Consider - PDF Fillable
 
 

 

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The tactics in the Customer Service Experience are meant to be a team project. You can’t decide your agency’s future or the best way to reach your clients and potential clients without input from your entire agency — not just the sales force. If everyone is not lockstep with your agency positioning or how you want your agency to be perceived, your message will fall short. Consistency is key. Everyone should be singing from the same song book.

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To succeed, you need buy-in. Buy-in creates motivation. Motivation creates action. And action creates results.
 
 
 
 
 
What are some keys to motivation?
 
1.    Establish agency goals with input. Of course, not everyone can sit in on agency planning meetings, but everyone can share in the process.
a.     Have managers solicit input from their respective teams. Ask for feedback on current business practices. Be respectful of all viewpoints: You might learn something you never knew about internal dynamics, client relationships, sales roadblocks, frustrations, employee or client hot buttons, etc.
 
2.     Share annual or long-range plans, and show how they support individual goals. Highlight how proposed growth will lead to a better bonus, higher salary, promotion, move to a new office … whatever concrete payoff you feel comfortable promising.
a.     Put it in writing. Be specific. This can be done during employee reviews and should be tied to annual goals.
 
3.     Recognize that money is not the supreme motivator. While salary is important, a study by Vickie Niebrugge found it is not the number one “want” for employees. Niebrugge, Vicki, Declining Employee Morale: Defining the Causes and Finding the Cure
 
What employees say they value most:
1. Interesting work
2. Appreciation and recognition
3. Feeling “in on things”
4. Job security
5. Good wages
6. Promotion/growth
7. Good working conditions
8. Personal loyalty
9. Tactful discipline
10. Sympathetic help with problems
 
Based on this list, what can you do as a manager to satisfy these needs? After all, a happy employee is a motivated employee.
 
4.     Review plan progress regularly (at least quarterly), so everyone knows how the agency is performing versus plan.
a.     Treat these reviews as important milestones, not as afterthoughts.
b.    Include every department — you never know who might brainstorm the next idea for improvement or change.
 
5.     Live the plan and stay true to its original focus. Everyone will see when you veer from what you originally said was important. This alone can kill motivation. If you want to change the original course established for the agency, explain why and how the change affects how they should be working.
 
6.     Reward ongoing performance. Don’t wait for big end-of-year rewards. Even simple thank-you reminders can be remarkably powerful. Give someone who worked overtime a gift card for the local coffee shop. Mention someone’s extra effort in the company blog. Leave a personal, handwritten thank-you note in someone’s inbox.
a.     Don’t let personal biases affect feedback. A person you don’t have a strong personal connection to might be one of the biggest contributors to agency success. A positive word from you in these instances could be especially powerful.
 
7.     Provide a feedback mechanism. Let employees know the agency’s plans are responsive and flexible. If they have ideas for improvement, provide a clear path for employee input, either formally or informally.
a.     Reward all suggestions, even if they aren’t ultimately implemented. This supports the continued flow of ideas and reinforces the notion that “no idea is a bad idea.”
b.    If people are reticent, set up a method for anonymous suggestions.

 

 
 
 
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​​​An independent agent can spend countless hours investigating leads and thousands of dollars in advertising in the pursuit of new business. Knowing the best methods, investigating new marketing trends, and creating a referral pipeline can make prospecting more customer-centric and more efficient for overall agency growth.

Use Traditional Marketing Methods

In spite of the social media revolution of the 21st century, some traditional methods of marketing outreach are still crucial.

  • Maximize your value to potential clients. Customers value the attributes primarily held by independent agencies:
    • Agent familiar with account
    • Agent analyzes needs and finds best coverage
    • Expert to meet with face-to-face

  • Focus advertising on strengths of independent agent:
    • Finds best policy for price
    • Available locally
    • Builds personal relationship
    • Finds tailored coverage

  • Communicate with current customers. It’s as important as publicizing to potential customers.
    • Use emailed company newsletters and ask people to forward it at the bottom (see “Content Marketing” below). Reinforcing the choice made by current clientele through ongoing publicity reduces defections as well.
    • Articles should highlight new and most popular services and specialty coverages as well as accomplishments. (More than one-third of small commercial customers say they don’t rely on their agent for advice on coverage. Perhaps a more consistent communication strategy to clients will demonstrate what your agency can offer.)

  • Trade associations are important sources of information on insurance. They influence the decision-making process, particularly for businesses that may not be mainstream (e.g., day care, nail salons).

  • Identify which current customers can be targeted for new services. Stimulate cross-buying (auto, home and umbrella). Small commercial buyers indicate an interest in packages designed for their business: key person life, investment services, personal property/casualty, credit products and personal life. Some potential clients are willing to switch providers to get these services.

  • Use integrated marketing. Work with car dealerships and realtors for joint advertising and cross referrals of services and products.

  • Get involved in community causes and participate in special events:
    • Staff a booth at your next fire station open house.
    • Donate child safety seats to your local police department for the needy.
    • Adopt a local school during fire safety week.
    • Sponsor a local youth group or sports team.

  • Use affinity merchandise to gain name recognition:
    • Offer safety “seals of approval” to school kids during safety awareness campaigns.
    • Print a small, quick-reference guide for emergency road services.
    • Provide other low-cost tools that educate and motivate.

  • Ask for customer feedback:
    • Invite your customers in to an employee meeting to give feedback on their recent experience with your agency. Customer service will improve, and word will get around.

Capitalize on Internet Marketing

Experts in the Big “I” Agents Council for Technology (ACT) say it’s urgent and critical that agencies participate online. Those that don’t are invisible to the majority of potential customers, who are searching for insurance information online.

Agency Websites

No marketing plan is complete without a robust Web site.

  • Must be professionally designed.

  • Add content regularly to optimize search engine results. For ideas see “Ten Things Agents Should Know about SEO

  • Must meet customers’ expectations:
    • Offer quote capability. According to the comScore Online Auto Insurance Shopping Report, in 2012 69% of shoppers went online to obtain price quotes on auto insurance. Only 25% called toll-free numbers or visited a local agent.

    • Offer a self-service portal for customers to access their policies, download ID cards, etc., day or night. You can outsource this service to vendors like Artisan and others. For guidance on self-service portals, see Inc.’s article, “How to Provide Customer Self-Service Online

    • For further guidance on Web marketing, visit Agents Council for Technology online.

Social Media

ACT experts say it is both urgent and critical that agencies participate in social media.

For information on a balanced approach to using technology for sales and marketing, see ACT’s article, “A Balanced Approach to Agency Marketing.” 

For information on how to develop as a business in the new social culture, read ACT’s “Becoming a Social Business.” 

View Ernst & Young’s report on U.S. insurance trends, including the need to use technology, here.

 

Referrals

Referrals are a very effective way of gaining new customers. But many people have trouble asking for one.

Obstacles

The first priority is to get over your fear. Bear in mind that most people like to help other people (if there is no negative cost to them).

 

Referral Methods

The most effective way to gain referrals is to make it standard operating procedure to ask for one from every satisfied client. A face-to-face request is the most effective, then phone, then email.

In addition:

  • Add a sentence in a bright color to the email signatures of your staff: “If you like our service, tell a friend! We love referrals!”

  • Use your current customer database to identify potential customers. Ask for a face-to-face meeting in which to discuss the referral; if the prospect doesn’t agree to an in-person meeting, use the phone or email.

  • Use LinkedIn tutorial. 

  • Use Facebook ​

  • Use Twitter #clientreferral

Listening and Offering What the Prospective Customer Needs

Have you ever sat down with someone who really listened to you? It’s rare—you remember that person. He or she stands out in your mind, and you want to go back to him or her.

Be that kind of person. Be a good listener and create that kind of rapport with every customer. When you listen to find out what that customer needs, you can match him readily with the best product.

Tips for good listening:

  • Don’t get so wrapped up in what you can offer that you forget to find out what the prospective customer needs.

  • Bear in mind the old adage: “When my mouth is moving, I’m not learning anything.”

  • If the prospect asks you about your business or background, answer, but be brief. Then take the focus off yourself and turn it back on the prospect.

  • Learn what they need: that way you'll have a much easier time presenting them with solutions that meet their needs. When the product matches the client’s need, the sale is easy.

  • Actively listen to the customer. Show that you're actively listening by making eye contact, nodding, saying, “Yes, I see,” or jotting a note.

  • Don’t interrupt a customer when he or she is speaking: Ask clarifying questions when the customer is finished.

 

Community Building and Engagement

The word "community" is derived via Old French from the
Latin communitas (com, "with/together" + munus, "gift"),
a broad term for fellowship or organized society.

Definition of Community Building

It’s a range of practices that alleviates problems and helps create a sense of community among individuals who live within a region or who share a common interest. It is sometimes referred to as community development or community service.

  • Insurance agencies have long been aware that involvement in their community’s causes and events is good business practice.

  • Approaching community involvement with a bigger goal, however—the health of your community--will, in the long run, benefit your agency even more.

  • Communities are enhanced when causes are approached with a sense of possibility, generosity and celebration of gifts.

Places to get involved include, but are not limited to:

  • Public libraries. They establish a sense of place in a community. They are anchor institutions that, in times of disaster and economic struggle, are the heart of their communities.
  • Houses of worship.
  • Hospitals.
  • Schools (tutoring, mentoring, coaching).
  • Chambers of Commerce, Rotary, Lions, other service organizations.

Engagement

As you meet people in these organizations, get to know them and try to connect them with others in the community who share their interests. Be of service.

Content Marketing

As you participate in the online revolution, finding content for blog posts and Tweets can be a challenge.

The good news is you have lots of content right within your agency:

    • Post your involvement in community causes and events on your blog, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ but not in a self-promotional way (more in a celebratory way, celebrating the community).

    • Brand journalism: Assign someone in your agency to write down your company’s success stories: Discounts found for clients, smart deals structured, problems solved. These can be posted on your Web site; then write posts in social media that link to the stories on your site. Use the success stories in your email newsletter.

    • Target your newsletter: It’s a measurable, cost-effective way to grow client accounts. Send success stories on certain topics to clients who are likely to be interested in those topics. Use an email system like Constant Contact

    • Write down the questions your customers ask. Post a snippet on social media and a link to the full answer on your blog. This makes you part of the education economy, where people want information, not a hard sell.

Content from Outside Your Agency

    • Curate Web content that would interest your clients (always giving attribution). Set up a Google Alert on a topic clients have expressed interest in. Google will troll the Web for articles on that topic and notify you automatically. Talkwalker is another source.

    • Always think of what your customers need to know in order to manage their lives and businesses better. Don’t just think about what you want to say.

    • Segment your customers. Some are interested in home and auto, others are interested in business interruption insurance.

 

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According to “Are You Being Served?,” an article in The New Yorker, 80 percent of companies surveyed said they deliver “superior” service.  But consumers put that figure at just 8 percent. That’s quite the discrepancy.  
 
The article concludes:
 
“The real problem may be that companies have a roving eye: they’re always more interested in the customers they don’t have … they end up devoting all their energies to courting us, promising wonderful products and excellent service. Then, once they’ve got us, their attention wanders.”
 
Does this happen to your new customers?  Certainly not intentionally.  But without specific plans to support new client “on-ramping,” it could.  After all, it’s easy during the set-up of a new account to lose sight of the client—the actual person or people behind the account.  The processes of your firm are second nature to you.  They are unfamiliar to your new clients.  Don’t leave them in the dark. They hate the dark.
 
And, you only get one chance to make a first impression, right?  That’s why a well-planned customer service approach is so important.  It can change the initial — and the lasting — impression a customer has of your agency.
 
Some ideas to consider:
 
1.     Know the obvious. 
Don’t show up at your first meeting and ask the things you should already know about their company.  Do your research and impress with the head start you’ve established.

2.     Provide contact information. 
Not just for you, but for everyone who might touch the account.  Be clear on areas of responsibility and provide multiple points of contact — e-mail, phone, social media links.  Include photos when possible.  It’s nice to have a face connected to the name.
a.     Be sure to ask in the beginning what kind of communication
contact each client prefers.  Some appreciate phone calls, other
want e-mail. Still others want to be poked in social media. 
3.     Pre-empt FAQ. 
You know the most common issues or concerns new clients have.  Give them the answers before they need them. They may be too embarrassed or initially overwhelmed to even ask. 
 
4.     Check in frequently. 
Do so more often than you might with an established client.  But again, check the clients’ preferences, too.  Even a quick, informal follow-up at the end of each week —“Everything OK? Just checking in to make sure everything we did this week makes sense.” 
 
5.     Explain next steps. 
Clients appreciate knowing what happens next.  Be sure to let them know expected timelines as well. 
 
6.     Anticipate. 
If you were new to the account, what might you be wondering about?  Addressing potential issues before they arise positions you as the expert.
 
7.     Establish methods for formal and informal feedback.   
Let clients know you welcome their input.
 
8.     Respond. 
Always and promptly.  Even if you don’t have a solution yet, let them know you are working on it.
 
9.     Deliver as promised. 
If possible, over-deliver — ahead of time and under budget. But if you hit a snag, don’t wait until you’ve blown a deadline to let the client know of any issues.  People understand when issues arise, but they don’t want to be taken by surprise. 
 
10.  Get personal. 
At the same time you’re getting to know the business, get to know the person. 
 
11.  Become a resource. 
Forward articles, research or other information you find that could help clients with their jobs, even when not directly related to the insurance services you provide.  It’s simple to forward the link and become a reliable resource. Valued partners become long-term partners.
 
 
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It is so much easier to be nice, to be
respectful, to put yourself in
your customers' shoes and try to understand how you might
help them before they ask for help, than it is to try to mend
a broken customer relationship. - Mark Cuban
 
 
 
 
 
 
Looking for More? 5 Simple Things That Can Make a Difference!

New clients want to be appreciated, especially when making hard choices about their insurance and how to choose the best agent for their needs.  Regularly communicating that you care about your customers reinforces their choice of your agency and lets them know that you don’t just see them as income, but value them as them an important part of your agency’s success!

These five actions will show customers you care long after the first sale is a wrap:

1. Share Your Insurance Knowledge
Give away helpful coverage advice in your e-mail newsletter, as well as on your social media pages.  Provide information that will help them make better decisions about their coverage needs, and probe for what information will help them make the insurance buying process easier and more beneficial.  Find out what they'd like to learn more about and give them what they want!  When you can offer your customers, both old and new, something valuable for free, everyone wins!

2. Inquire, Listen, Communicate, Adapt
·         ​Inquire    Find out what your customers have on their mind, including things like satisfaction with their most recent sales or service experience with your employees.  Solicit feedback using various method like e-mail communications, online surveys, comments directly on your website, after online inquires, and via notes sent in the mail    Knowing what they want, like and value will help you keep their business.
·         Listen to what customers and others have to say about your agency in survey responses, on social media, feedback forums and in general conversation.  Good or bad, consider providing survey results, social media responses and answers to customer questions in your e-mail newsletter and other communications.
·         Communicate with customers quickly when they contact your business, whether it's a complaint or a compliment. Let them know that you hear them and that you care.   Quickly fix problems and never let a customer walk away feeling like they were not heard or that you minimized their issue.
·         Adapt your agency operations based on customer feedback to better meet your client’s needs.  Let them know that you heard them, valued their feedback and are creating the customer experience based on what they say they want.

3. Thank your customers!
·         Freebies. A coupon can go a long way to adding value.   Use e-mail  or even snail-mail  to offer coupons that say thank you and provide things like a cup of coffee, an ice cone, or a car wash!
·         Branded Items. Offer an agency branded gift as part of a promotion. A calendar, a mug, or even a blanket will keep your agency on their minds and let them know you care about them!
·         Knowledge. Offer a free insurance checklist, or maybe a disaster planner when a new customer comes signs up for your agency newsletter.
 
 
4. “Customer Care” Events
Invite all new customers to an event in your agency offices on a quarterly basis. You could present a free seminar on an insurance specific topic like adding a teen driver, have a guest speaker talk about an important issue that impacts insurance availability such as flood or earthquake, or simply offer a time to talk and enjoy refreshments.   Use all your social media accounts and e-communications to get the word out and ask your new customers to bring friend and/or family member along.
 
5. Be active in the community and give back
Make sure your agency is involved in a local charity or community-serving non-profit, and encourage your fellow local businesses and commercial clients to participate, as well.  Use your newsletter and social media to tell customers about the cause you support and ask them to become active and donate.  Engage all your employees in the cause and ensure that they know the reason for your involvement so that they can communicate that to clients.    Make sure that your marketing materials highlight your community involvement.
 
Don’t make your involvement a one-time event.  Showing customers you care should be an ongoing effort.  
 

 

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Retaining your clients is one of the most important aspects of your agency’s operation. It takes hard work  to bring new clients to your agency, whether that be through online or offline efforts, so it is critical that you work to keep them more than satisfied once they become your insureds.

Unfortunately, for many reasons, many agency owners focus much more on the sale and not enough on the retention when it comes to their clients.  In order to maintain clients and have them to continue to come back and bring friends and family via referrals, savvy agency owners put in the effort to ensure that their retention strategies are as focused and measurable as their sales strategies. 

Fun Fact: 
Many studies have shown that $1 paid towards customer retention increases profits by more than $5 spent on new customer acquisition.

It is important to think of client retention as a sales strategy.  If your insureds like you and the way you do business, they are going to send more business your way. Here are some ideas to consider to ensure that your insured retention rates remains high:

1.       Consider setting up a “Retention” Department. This group would be in charge of insuring that all agency outreach is consistent and that every employee is held accountable for delivering an exceptional experience during every client contact.  They should be creative and set up policies and procedures that ensure everyone is responsible for client retention.   Reward success with small financial incentives if retention rates remain high!

2.      Institute a mandatory annual review of every insured. It can be a 5-minute “hey, what’s new”  phone call or an in-depth “live” meeting. These reviews convey your interest in your insureds and provides you with the opportunity show why working with your agency is providing them with expert advice and insurance knowledge to make them feel comfortable and secure with their insurance purchases.

3.      During those annual reviews, create a plan to cross-sell other insurance products. Be able to point out the need for these products and how they will benefit their insurance portfolio. Remember, the more policies the insured has with your agency, the more likely they will be to stay!

4.      If you know that a price increase is coming, get in front of it with your insureds. Give them a call and provide them with all the information that you have about the increase and how it may impact their premiums going forward.  Provide them options that might help offset the increase and be able to explain the impact they their own actions may have had on the increase.  They will respect your honesty and continue to value your advice in the future.  Remember, an unexpected and unexplained premium is one of the biggest incentives for an insured to shop around for new coverage!

5.      Make insureds feel like family! Send a birthday card, an anniversary card, a small gift for a new baby, or some flowers for a job promotion.  If they feel like they are important to you and your agency, they will be much more likely to stay.

6.      Know that your clients might need your help to have a positive claims experience. Proactively provide guidance on summiting a claim to the carrier and provide information on what to expect during the claims process.  Consider providing all clients with claims communication plan, which would provide them with a personal acknowledgement of the claim via a call, note or e-mail, with your contact information in the event of any issue, and provide them with a quick survey after the claim to ensure that everything was handled to their satisfaction.


Social Media and Its Impact on Client Retention

Social media is all about relationship building, so shouldn’t your existing customers be the best group to start your outreach with? People who have chosen to ‘like’ or ‘follow’ your agency tend to do so because they value the information you bring, or respect your thoughts on certain topics. These people can be your most loyal customers and elevate your brand awareness in the social sphere.  They want to hear about your services and product, so it's important to use these channels regularly to make sure you’re connecting with followers on a regular basis, ensuring they will reach out to you when they have a coverage question or need. 

Social media has shifted power to the consumer and there are now new roles for buyer vs. seller. Even before your first meeting, many customers will have done reference checks and reviewed your agency’s reputation online on social media sites.  Social media provides an opportunity for agencies to speak directly with their existing customers and reach new prospects. Responding to questions, concerns and other feedback will help boost your agency’s reputation.  If your agency is using social media, how do you measure whether social media is affecting your ability to keep customersConsider that while social media measurement is a fairly new, your non-social customers can help you establish a control group so that you can compare how social media is affecting both client retention and agency growth.

1.      Compare the retention rate of customers who came to your agency via social media channels versus those who didn’t, whether it is through your customer service efforts and separately for any leads that have been generated.  Each renewal is worth a certain amount of revenue to your agency.   Assign an average dollar value to customers and compare the value of a social media customer versus a non-social media customer based on retention rates.

2.      Do the customers interacting with your agency on social media tend to also call your agency for help?  Generally, it costs significantly less to service a customer online.     For the next month, keep a record of the number of customer interactions via phone vs online and the time spent on each interaction and calculate the cost of each interaction.  You may be able to provide the client with the level of service they want at a cost savings to your agency!

3.      Social media may allow you to turn complaints into opportunities.   These would be customers who had an interaction with your agency that is leading toward a cancellation, but the customer either comes back or doesn’t cancel as a result of social media interaction. These customers are worth money to your agency and you will want to measure their value, as well as learn from the experience.

4.      Are your social media followers more or less likely to buy more coverage?  If they are following your agency online, reading your agency blogs that provide information about innovative insurance products, learning more about how to better protect their assets, it is likely that you will see more opportunities to cross-sell.  Set up a system to calculate how much revenue was generated from cross-sells directly from social media compared to non-social media customers to establish a firm return on your investment.



Social Media Concepts to Gain and Retain Customers


Social Media is integral to purchase decisions
:

Types of online sources visited for company, brand or product info:

  • 70% social media sites
  • 68% company websites
  • 57% online news
  • 49% review sites
  • 44% Wikipedia

Source: Market Definitive Guide to BtoB Social Media

  • 83% of B2B or Professional Services buyers’ research online before making a purchase decision 
Source: trovus.co.uk

  • More than half of Facebook fans say social media influences their buying decisions and 67% of Twitter followers report the same.
 
 Source: iModerate
 
 

Of adults under 35 more than half (52%) visit more than two websites before visiting a local business.

  • 63% head to Google
  • 24% visit Facebook
  • 21% look to site reviews
     

Source: marketingmatters.dexone.com, Daniel Kehrer (2/3/12)

 Social Me​dia is effective:
  • Companies that blog have 55% more website visitors than those without,
  • 2/3 of marketers surveyed say their company blog is critical or important,
  • B to B companies that blog get 67% more leads,
  • Companies that use Twitter average two times more leads per month than those that don’t,
  • 79% of US Twitter users are more likely to recommend a brand they follow.

Source: Hubspot

Your competitors are already online:

Across all US agency sizes,

  • Facebook pages have an average of just over 200 Likes
  • The average Twitter account has 440 followers
  • Respondents in the $2.5MM-$5MM and $5MM-$10MM revenue ranges are the most active in social media 

Source: BH Burke & Co., Inc., 2012

 

How To Engage Users Online
 
  • Own a topic. Be the expert.  Even when someone isn’t ready for a sale, positioning yourself as an expert plants seeds of opportunity. Fact is that 85% of all commercial accounts stay put every year.  However, if you’re top of mind as an expert, you’re poised to claim a sale when the account might be ready for a switch. 
 
Source: Rough Notes, Producer Self-Management article by John Love, 8/2011 
  • Avoid heavy sales messaging. Instead, tell the topic story from the customer’s viewpoint.
  • Don’t be a know-it-all. Own a few true specialties.
  • Be creative with your message delivery.  Fifty-five percent of respondents said they would be more likely to consume white papers and analyst reports if they were delivered as podcasts.”

     
    Source: Podcasts Penetrate B2B Mainstream, MarketingVOX

  • Encourage conversation. 
  • Reply promptly to customer comments. Follow up more directly if necessary.
  • Make comments on other appropriate sites as well. The more impressions you leave online, the larger your footprint and the better your search engine results will become.
  • Be genuine. Phony, canned responses that sound like a corporate speech track will do more harm than silence.  In social media, it’s ok to sound approachable, human and…social.
 

It goes beyond social media.  Customers expect today’s businesses to be technologically saavy.

 

People regularly use online reservation tools, purchase from online retailers and want the 24/7 flexibility only available through technology. 

  • Utilize survey tools such as Survey Monkey or Zoomerang to elicit regular feedback from both potential and current customers. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask “How are we doing? Asking won’t change the reality.  But not asking might mask a potential problem and lead to the loss of an account.
  • Ask specific, pointed questions and make the survey itself as short as possible. 
  • No more than four surveys a year.
  • Screen your invite list to ensure you are asking only relevant respondents for feedback.
 

Automate and create as much 24/7 online access for the client as possible.

  • Technology has bred impatience.  Customers want to have their answers on their own schedule.
  • Investigate opportunities for secure self-service portals and online customer service centers.  But remember even with automation, technology cannot replace a real person. Provide easy access to a live customer service rep. 
  • Redirect time savings created by technology back to client retention and new business.  Be very conscious of this available opportunity and attack it with measured planning.

 

 
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How do you measure your reputation with your clients?  

Have you ever asked a client if they would continue to do business with you and your agency without qualms?  Or, if they would refer their friends and family to you without any hesitation?  

If you have and they answered “yes”, then you have already established an agency culture that creates trusts and shows that you care about how they view your agency.

Maybe you haven’t asked, or maybe you have and have gotten some not-so-positive responses.  What can you do to become a trusted agency in your community with a stellar reputation?

Below are some tips to help build the trust you want to have with your policyholders:

  1. Always have your clients’ best interest in mind. Be willing to forego personal gain to give your policyholders the best coverage at the best price. If you can’t help with them a particular need, don’t be afraid to refer them to someone who can.
  2. Keep your promises. If you tell a client you can meet their coverage expectations or budget, back those promises up. They won’t forget if the price is higher or if you assured them a claim was covered, when in reality it isn’t.
  3. Be consistent.An insured’s ability to trust you depends on consistent and persistent behavior. When a customer knows how you will behave, they are more likely to trust you.
  4. Keep the conversations real. Every meeting should be a conversation, not a sales pitch. You should spend half your time with each customer listening, and be sure that the conversation is relevant and has substance.
  5. Be transparent. Understand what it means to be transparent. Your clients are smart—they know when you are being truthful and upfront and when you’re lying. Don’t hide your mistakes and always address any issues or misunderstanding directly. Never avoid the topic and let them know what steps you’re taking to handle the issue and prevent it from happening in the future.


“Professionals never guess—
they make it their business to know their business.”
Michelle Moore, Selling Simplified

Priorities and Tactics

Professional Agency Priorities:

  • Be knowledgeable about your company’s products and be able to explain coverage.
  • Understand client needs and expectations.
  • Present the unique benefits (i.e., differentiators) that your agency offers .
  • Display certifications for training and memberships.
  • Create and maintain a professional appearance.
  • ​Take time to talk to clients personally.
  • Know client accounts and needs.
  • Advise on tailored coverage options.

​Professional Advice and Attention Builds Trust​

“People don’t care how much you know
until they know how much you care.”
David Maister, True Professionalism


Tactics To Build Trust With Your Clients

For many consumers, the most important element in a transaction is customer satisfaction. An important aspect of this is simply making the customer feel heard.


Ten ways to do this:

  1. Know who is boss. Henry Ford put it well: “Employers only handle the mone—it is the customer who pays the wages.” You are in business to serve customer needs, and you can only do that if you know what your customers want. When you truly listen to your customers, they let you know what they want and how you can provide good service. This is what pays your salary.

  2. Be a good listener. Take the time to identify customer needs by asking questions and concentrating on what the customer is really saying. Listen to their words, tone of voice, body language, and most importantly, how they feel. Beware of making assumptions; i.e., thinking you intuitively know what the customer wants.

  3. Identify and anticipate needs. Customers don't buy products or services. They buy good feelings and solutions to problems. Most customer needs are emotional rather than logical. The more you know your customers, the better you become at anticipating their needs. Communicate regularly so that you are aware of problems or upcoming needs.

  4. Make customers feel important and appreciated. Treat them as individuals. Always use their name and find ways to compliment them, but be sincere. People value sincerity. It creates good feeling and trust. Customers are very sensitive and know whether or not you really care about them. Thank them every time you get a chance. Convey sincerity. Your words and actions should be congruent.

  5. Help customers understand your systems. Your organization may have the world's best systems for getting things done, but if customers don't understand them, they can get confused, impatient and angry. Take time to explain how your systems work and how they simplify transactions.

  6. Appreciate the power of "Yes". Always look for ways to help your customers. When they have a request (as long as it is reasonable), tell them that you can do it. Figure out how afterwards. Look for ways to make doing business with you easy. Always do what you say you are going to do.

  7. When something goes wrong, apologize. It's easy and customers like it. The customer may not always be right, but the customer must always win. Deal with problems immediately and let customers know what you have done. Make it simple for customers to complain. Value their complaints. As much as we dislike it, it gives us an opportunity to improve. Even if customers are having a bad day, go out of your way to make them feel comfortable.

  8. Give more than expected. Since the future of all companies lies in keeping customers happy, think of ways to elevate yourself above the competition.

  9. Get regular feedback. Encourage and welcome suggestions about how you could improve. There are several ways in which you can find out what customers think and feel about your services
    a.  Listen carefully to what they say
    b.  Check back regularly to see how things are going.
    c.  Provide a method that invites constructive criticism, comments and suggestions.​

  10. Treat employees well. They are your internal customers and need a regular dose of appreciation. Thank them and find ways to let them know how important they are. Treat your employees with respect and chances are they will have a higher regard for customers. Appreciation starts from the top. Treating both customers and employees well are equally important. 


Other TacticsCSE-Quote.jpg

  • Employ an upbeat tone—essential in phone communication. If you write or email with customers, be sure to use proper grammar and spelling, and choose words and phrases that convey 
    a similarly upbeat attitude.

  • A sense of humor can make a potentially stressful interaction more enjoyable. If a customer cracks
    a silly joke, she will appreciate it if you chuckle along with her. Make sure you never laugh
    at a customer (if they make a mistake or have trouble with something), but instead laugh with a customer.

  • Producers and CSRs should be familiar with client accounts and conversant on specific needs.

  • Agency-initiated communication with clients is a must.

  • Notify clients well before deadlines about options and changes in coverage. Verify or coordinate changes in coverage both by phone and in writing.

  • Respond to changes in customers’ life cycles. Examples:

    • ​Contact the insured before a child reaches driving age. Offer to explain to the child how he/she can help keep the family’s rates to a minimum
    •  Contact a policyholder nearing retirement age regarding an annuity.
    • Recommend increasing policy limits/add a personal umbrella policy as clients gain assets.
    • Conversely, set up reminders to yourself to recommend that clients decrease coverage of their automobiles as they lose value. You will gain great loyalty from doing this.

  • Encourage proper protection. Provide advance advice to policyholders in disaster-prone areas and to special-issue clients; e.g., pools, dogs, etc. Consumer advice is available at www.independentagent.com and www.trustedchoice.com​.

  • Have a customer satisfaction coordinator—a “concierge” of sorts—to oversee special activities over and above insurance services; e.g., birthday cards, holiday greetings, get-well notes. Correspondence should carry the agent’s actual signature.

  • Conduct a full account review of each personal lines account at least every two years using a written exposure checklist. Include alternative deductibles, new products, policy limits and coverages.

 

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​​Is your agency prepared to deal with a call from an upset client, with a major fire at an insured business, or simply an online negative review about your sales or service?  While all different, all are likely unexpected and requires internal planning and discussion to ensure that your response is timely and effective.

Complaining Customers

There will always come a time in every agency when a client is upset. Your challenge is to handle the situation in a way that leaves the customer satisfied and if you’re lucky, you can even encourage him or her to serve as a passionate advocate your agency going forward.

You and your customer service staffs’ ability to effectively deal with customer complaints provides a great opportunity to turn dissatisfied customers into lifelong customers.

Here are some tips to help ensure that you are ready to help when a complaint is made:

  • ​LISTEN…hear what they have to say and don’t interrupt until they are finished. Don't get defensive nor take the complaint personally and don’​​​​​​​​​t jump to conclusions.

  • Once they have finished, repeat back what you heard and ask questions to better understand their perspective. You want to solve their problem, not argue with them, so empathize and look for ways to solve the issue.

  • Remember that an apology will often diffuse the situation. Don’t place the blame on another person or department. Simply let them know that you are sincerely sorry for the issue that is causing them concern. 

  • Work with the customer to find an acceptable solution and you can start by asking them "What would be an acceptable solution to you?" They may not know, but making them a partner to solve the issue will assure them that you care about them and the outcome. Be prepared with a few solutions of your own to offer the client to consider.

  • If you need to work with someone else internally to solve it, do so quickly! Remember that customers prefer the person they are speaking with to be able to solve their issue. When complaints are sent upstream to be handled by others, only add to the customer's frustration.

There is no getting around customer complaints. But, if you and your service teams use these tips to navigate through the client’s issues you can turn challenges into growth opportunities.

Social Media Scares

Negative news

Even if your agency isn’t using social media, someone is online talking about you. Wouldn’t you like to be part of that dialogue? Wait and it could be too late.

  • If you aren’t already engaged online and talking about your brand, just one negative news story can be rocket to the top of the search engine results.

  • ​Every mention and every connection you create in cyberspace creates a rich network of brand content.  

  • If you haven’t established your own content and claimed an online foothold for your brand on your own terms, it can become extremely difficult to make up lost ground later.  

Professional Response to a Negative Review

So, someone posted a review on a social media site pointing out some a bad experience they had with your agency….what do you do?

  • Keep your composure and never engage in a virtual shouting match with someone online, even if the post was off base or even false. If the post is threatening or in some way may violate the Terms of Service for the site, flag it for the site’s support team to review and possibly have it deleted.

  • Be civil and professional in your response to any online review. Give your professional perspective of the situation and offer a solution.  It is important to show others that you have taken the time to address the poster’s concern and have taken steps to solve the problem.  If the poster is someone that you know professionally or personally, consider a private message or outreach through another method to discuss.

  • Don’t respond to one compliment or compliant, but not others. Consistency is critical to establishing your online reputation! Consider having the marketing department be in charge of monitoring and responding to online posts about your agency.

Disaster Communication

Social media can also prove an important tool for reaching customers during disasters.

  • ​Even when phone lines or power are interrupted, smart phones often still work.

  • If you have generated a strong following online or have a contact list of customer cellphone numbers, you can maintain important communication during particularly difficult times. This is when your value as an agency can be solidified for life.


Important Tip!

Many agencies already actively use social media, while others are still exploring it. For some, there are questions of whether social media sites will supplant the need for traditional websites. While social media is an excellent way to connect
with customers, increase visibility of the agency, and build relationships with prospects, its usage does have some E&O exposure. Check out the E&O Happens​ site for information about social media use and your exposure.


Texting?

Do you text with your agency clients? If so, it’s important to establish firm guidelines for texts and to understand the possible business implications as well as E/O issues that can come from accepting texts:

Consider these issues:

  • Critical Information Could Be Lost. When you get a text, there is no easy way to file it with the rest of the insured’s info. The information lives on your phone, and at the end of a long day, you may forget about it. There are some applications that allow you to send the text to email so that it could be filed, however, that’s another touchpoint that will mean loss of your time and another place where the information could be lost.

  • Texting is Distracting. If all your customers are continually texting you and/ or your service staff throughout the day, productively will fall off. Every buzz or ding will necessitate a glance and create disruptions.  And, will the text stop the minute your office closes for the day? Highly unlikely. An autoresponder may be necessary after hours informing texters that they will not hear back from you until the next business day and provide an emergency number they can call if necessary. Otherwise, family meals, date night and your sleep may suffer.

  • Unrealistic Expectations. Text massagers expect an immediate response! It could make a client upset or even angry if you don’t answer them within seconds. Your clients will need to understand that you can always respond to non-emergency texts immediately, as you might be with another client or driving to another appointment.

Consider adding verbiage to client communications outlining your text messaging policies. Be clear about how you want to communicate with them, set boundaries and stay consistent in how you respond or don’t respond to text messages from clients.

 

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RELATED RESOURCES


Big "I"
Professional Liability
- Visit the Risk Management page for tools, sample letters, information, checklists, podcasts to avoid avoid E&O claims and improve business practices. ​

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The future belongs to those who prepare for it.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson​

Plan for the Future

There’s no denying that the world of insurance is changing at an extraordinary pace. With the widespread reach of all things Internet, the vast array of technology tools and myriad access points for the latest information, a profound shift has occurred for agencies. Your insureds and future customers have more power than ever before, as they come to you having done research about the coverages they need, and having read reviews about your agency. Your employees are using new tools to service clients, improve workflows and simply sell insurance. They are also working more collaboratively and using the latest technologies to communicate with your clients and with each other. Social media has created the expectation that the workplace will be transparent, and that the use external resources will not only be allowed, but also required.

The Future Is NOW!

The War For Talent

 

Did you know that the number of professionals age 55 and older is 30% higher in the insurance industry than the rest of the economy and that by 2020 our industry will have an estimated 400,000 job openings? Agencies over the next 10 years will see a large number of retirements as the agency workforce ages. You must start now to find and hire the most promising and smartest workers to keep your agency competitive and relevant and able to provide the service your clients using efficient and techno-savvy means.

 

Age Of Principals With 20+% Ownership

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The average age of principals with 20% or more ownership in their agencies is 56 years old, with 18% of those principals age 66 or older.


Your Customers Are Going To Be Different

A key to your agency’s future success is understanding that your customer base will change and evolve as the U.S. demographics change. Your customer service team needs to be able recognize and work effectively with customer diversity, which will include woman, the five generations (matures, Boomers, GenX, GenY and GenZ, as well as racial and ethnic groups, such as Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans. Also, included are new customers that may be defined by key lifestyle attributes, such as the LBGT community. Acknowledging and creating a customer experience to meet the needs of a diverse client pool will help you create a competitive advantage over agencies not addressing customer diversity.

 

People are more diverse than ever before and our differences manifest themselves in a number of ways. It may mean differing expectations about the speed of getting information-within seconds or by the end of the day. It may mean differing preferences for communication-text versus
a phone call or face-to-face meeting. 
Even racial, ethnic, religious, generational, and geographic differences come into play when
satisfying customers’ service expectations.

- Kelly McDonald


Learn about Industry Disrupters 

 

Telematics, the Internet of things, driverless cars, drones, cybercrimes, on-demand everything!  Is your service staff up-to-speed on these things and can they help current and new customers effectively navigate the marketplace for the proper coverage?  What about things like ridesharing or homesharing? Do they know the underwriting criteria of each of your markets and how these issues are handled company by company? The insurance industry is addressing some of these issues head-on and adding new product lines, endorsements, exclusions and sending out reams of information.  Education is critical to protecting your clients and your errors and omissions exposure.

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Please see information and educational materials addressing these topic in the
Big “I” Virtual University​.

Staying Social

Agencies must be vigilant to catch the next wave before it passes by, taking customers with it. Consider just these latest online trends:

 

  • While Facebook continues to lead the social media pack with 1.15 billion active monthly users, Google+ is quickly gaining steam, and now has the second highest number of monthly users—343 million. (www.cosida.com)

  • Visual content is vitally important. Is there application for your agency on Pinterest, Slideshare, Tumblr, Path and Mobli? If you don’t know what these sites entail, get online and investigate what your customers and competitors are doing there.

  • Be sure to include video content when appropriate. From longer format options via YouTube to six second mini-videos via Vine, remember that a picture can say a thousand words. Yes, you’re in insurance, but you can have fun; be creative.

Between the time this information was written and you are reading it, it’s likely something new has come to the forefront. Stay engaged. 

And, don’t forget that even if you aren’t using every technology or communication tool for your own agency, your client might be. You better know what they are using in order to recommend steps for managing their risks.

 

Monitor and Measure

Many firms are frustrated by social media, in particular, because it can be difficult to capture a monetary ROI. But there are other important measurements you can use to gauge effectiveness (be sure to start with a baseline measure.)

 

  • Website traffic
  • Number of new business partnerships
  • Exposure
  • Search ranking
  • Number of qualified leads captured
  • Number of likes, follows, comments etc.
  • Number of successful closed business leads
  • Reduction in marketing expenses
 
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RELATED RESOURCES

Checklist
- Plan For The Future​
PDF Fillable


Big "I" Education
The War For Talent
InVEST

Changing Demographics
Diversity Task Force​

Stay on Top of Industry Trends
Big "I" Virtual University

Bonus Reading
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