RELATIONSHIPS ARE KEY TO CRUSHING THE COMPETITION
Insurance distribution seminar at Big “I” Convention emphasizes customer relations
ORLANDO, Oct. 11—When it comes to elevating independent insurance agents and brokers over their larger competitors, the key is establishing customer relationships based on personal service and individual trust.
That was the message at an intensive seminar, “The New Game of Insurance Distribution: Ten Ways Independent Agents Can Crush Alternative Distribution Channels,” held today at the Big “I” Convention.
During today’s seminar, Howard E. Candage, CPCU, CIC, CRM, an independent agency consultant, detailed his model for beating the competition and securing business for independent insurance agents and brokers. Candage, president of Portland, Maine-based H.E. Candage, Inc., an insurance training and management consulting firm, asserted that independent agents and brokers have an innate advantage over many larger companies because they can offer the personal service that their larger competitors cannot or will not offer.
The major players generally operate with a “transaction-based” service model, wherein systemic efficiency is often maintained at the expense of the “human touch.” It is the personal relationship that wins the trust, and the business, of potential customers. Candage noted that to be successful, an agency or brokerage firm must excel in three broad areas:
- Understanding their culture and the cultures of their insurers
- Knowing the skills necessary to provide excellent service
- Managing behavior within their organization.
Through a culture of establishing relationships of trust, independent agencies and brokerage firms can learn what their customers expect and can behave to exceed customers’ expectations. This understanding wins or retains the customers’ business.
“Currently, the larger distribution entities, save a few, are cultures practicing transaction-based customer service rather than relationship-based customer service,” Candage says. “The message I’m trying to convey is that real customer service is based on building relationships. American consumers value relationships.”
To illustrate his point about what customers expect, Candage points to two large companies that have grasped the concept of the importance of personal relationships between agents and customers.
“What are the No. 1 and No. 2 distributors of personal insurance products? State Farm and Allstate,” Candage says. “They do it through an agent in every town. That’s what people want—personal relationships.”
Candage says he has heard from many consumers that they will leave a larger company that provides more impersonal service, because their individual needs are not met. They often have a sense that the larger company will not “be there for them” in times of trouble.
The reason that one-on-one personal relationships work, Candage says, is because it places the customer’s individual service needs ahead of a process. Larger companies that rely on process often must resort to a “one-size-fits-all” method of dealing with customers. Independent agencies and brokerage firms can overcome their competition by providing greater flexibility.
“You have to develop in your employees a way of thinking about managing customers’ expectations, rather than a lockstep process,” Candage says.
The Big “I” Convention, the Association’s showcase meeting, is taking place in Orlando through Oct. 12. The event features a compelling company CEO roundtable; several prominent guest speakers and panelists; a variety of innovative continuing-education (CE) classes and other cutting-edge workshops; the largest exhibit hall in the insurance industry; numerous networking opportunities; and many other exciting events.
Founded in 1896, the Big “I” is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of independent insurance agents and brokers, representing a network of more than 300,000 agents, brokers and their employees nationally. Its members are businesses that offer customers a choice of policies from a variety of insurance companies. Independent agents and brokers offer all lines of insurance—property, casualty, life and health—employee benefit plans and retirement products. Web address: www.independentagent.com.