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Why the High Net Worth Client Needs More than Just an Agent

Posted By Patrick Wraight, Wednesday, September 11, 2019


What exactly is a high net worth client, also known as a "private client?"

According to, a high net worth individual is an individual or family with liquid assets above a certain figure. Many sources set that figure at $1 million. Those people need insurance like the rest of us do, but not exactly like the rest of us do.

They need a homeowners policy, but they aren't going to Lemonade on their smartphones for it.

They need a personal auto policy, but they aren't going to make a 15-minute call to save 15%.

They have the same basic insurance needs as other insurance customers do, except that they are likely more complicated. Those insurance needs aren't going to be met by any mobile app or cookie-cutter agent. They need someone who will act as their risk manager. They need an advisor, an advocate and an expert.

Think about property. Many customers own their primary home and that's all. Some might even own a rental property or vacation property. High net worth individuals may own several properties, including their primary home, some rental properties, a vacation home and foreign properties.

It's likely that when they purchased those properties, they didn't do it in their own names. If they have rental properties, they might be owned by a Limited Liability Company (LLC) that the customer owns. Their homes could all be owned by a trust or family LLC. It's possible that their primary residence includes a second dwelling, call it a guest house, or mother-in-law suite. That guest house may be on the same premises, but it may have its own address.

Once you deal with property ownership, you also must consider the homes themselves. Many insurance companies want to see exterior pictures of all sides of the house. That's not going to do. You will need to make a physical inspection of the home, taking pictures of the specialized building materials. You may need to spend time collecting information about certain works of art, custom personal property, and artifacts.

Creating a building valuation for the size and quality of their primary home will be complicated. It will take time. Once you handle the main house, if there are out buildings, you'll need to inspect those also. The ISO HO-3, and other homeowners' policies based on it, will only allow for so large a limit for other structures. High net worth customers are likely to have out buildings that require a higher limit than these policies will allow.

Consider the exclusive neighborhood in my town that is built around a private airstrip. Every house in that community includes two garages; one large enough for two or three cars and the other is for the homeowner's aircraft. This neighborhood has a restriction. You can only buy a house there if you own an airplane.

High net worth individuals have cars like the rest of us do, but not exactly like the rest of us. Many families have a car for every adult, or driver, in the family. At one time, my house had four cars that we owned.

These customers have daily use cars like we have. They may also have other vehicles such as exotics, classics, or antique vehicles. They may keep these vehicles for special occasions such as car shows and parades. They may not even drive any of them more than 100 miles in a year. They might take them to shows and events in other parts of their state, but they aren't driving them. They may travel by trailer or car hauler. They may even have cars that they keep at their second home.

Think about exotic cars. These are vehicles that are in limited production, have a limited number available, or are customized so that they are more custom car than production model. Even these vehicles are often used for show or events. They tend to make lots of sound and draw the attention of the crowd.

Whether they are antique, custom, exotic or classic vehicles, they are valuable vehicles. Rather than depreciate over time (like most vehicles do), these high-value vehicles can appreciate. That makes the standard actual cash value insurance policy inappropriate for them. Their agent needs to be able to help them to choose between other valuation options, like stated value or agreed value.

Of course, just like the homeowners' policies for these customers, there are carriers that specialize in dealing with their specialized exposures. High net worth customers don't want an agent that can take orders. They want someone that can help them with their complex insurance purchases.

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Are You Managing Your Relationships?

Posted By Frank Salerno, Wednesday, September 4, 2019


My accountant, Eric, recently told me his son passed the bar to practice law in New Jersey. During our conversation, Eric told me how he had explained to his son this important difference between his own business and his son’s new business: Accountants often develop lifetime relationships with their clients. I, for example, belong to his firm’s 25-year club. Lawyers, on the other hand, typically form transactional relationships. I have purchased four homes and sold three homes. Each time I have worked with a different lawyer.

When I first purchased a home, I grew impatient with our attorney, who had a bust of Theodore Roosevelt featured prominently in his office. As an acolyte of T.R., I tried to engage our attorney in conversation about the great man. Each time I offered what I considered to be a particularly thoughtful observation, but our attorney failed to return my serve.

Upon reflection, I now realize our attorney may have had zero interest in T.R. The bust may have been little more than a decorative item. I also now realize our attorney may have seen me as being what I was: a non-recurring $450 fee. Knowing I wouldn’t engage his services a second time, he saw no reason to fill otherwise billable hours with pointless prattle about the 26th president of the United States.

Lesson learned.

I tend to form lasting relationships with my vendors. Each morning I purchase bread from the same bakery. Whenever possible, I fill my tank with gasoline at the same station. I have been purchasing fettuccine and ravioli from the same store for the past 55 years. What’s more, the same man has been passing goods across the counter to me during all these years.

I realize it is possible that I take all of this a little too far. Since I retain key relationships each time I sell a home, I spend more time than may be necessary driving from here to there. Happily, I enjoy driving my car. We, too, have something resembling a relationship.

Over the past 25 years, I have remained loyal to what I consider to be “my” wine store. Not only am I loyal to this store, I am also loyal to one particular brand of red wine. The wine is named, appropriately, Friends. It has lately occurred to me, though, that ownership of the wine store may not be equally committed to our relationship.

The last few times I have driven from my present home on Manhattan Island to “my” wine store in Bergen County, N.J., the clerk has not been able to fill a case of Friends.

I consider this to be an instance of poor relationship management. I, who have been a loyal customer for 25 years, cross the George Washington Bridge with its $15 toll to predictably purchase a dozen bottles of the same brand of red wine. Ownership knows it can count on my patronage, even though I am no longer local. As a member in good standing of the 25-year club, I take my membership seriously.

If I were ownership, I would make sure there is always one case of this wine available during my next visit. When you are one-half of a relationship, it is never a good idea for the other party to feel his or her good intentions and efforts are not being reciprocated. The neglected party will feel taken for granted, which can cause him or her to seek a more satisfying relationship elsewhere.

Relationships, like many other things, should not be broken. Even though you may say and do things that appear to cement the cracks, those cracks will remain. Your good efforts notwithstanding, your relationship will have been compromised. Your other half is officially in play.

Relationships are not unlike a favorite houseplant. Water and feed the plant from time to time and it will give you pleasure for many years. However, a neglected plant will wither. No amount of well-intentioned effort will return it to good health.

When you twin the two words “relationship” and “management,” you understand there is an underlying dynamic process. Relationship management requires your active participation. You recognize there are a “give” and a “take.” You must remain mindful and present when managing a relationship. There is no sleeping at the wheel. Relationships either grow or decline over time. They are not static.

Relationships, as the saying goes, require work. A productive, healthy relationship, though, is well worth the effort.

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3 Tips for Improving Customer Relationships

Posted By Fara Haron, Wednesday, September 4, 2019


For many years, customer expectations, the impact of digitization on customer relationships, and the development of a successful customer journey have been the focus of customer service in the insurance business. But does this mean that the focus is really on the customer?

From the point that customers start looking for information to when they have to submit a claim with an organization, what are consumers looking for when it comes to customer service? Throughout the customer journey, insurers must actively meet customers across channels to deliver the highest quality experience.

Below are three tips for improving the relationship between insurer and customer throughout each stage of the customer journey.

1. Be more proactive during the consultation phase

Customers don’t focus on the topic of insurance because they feel like it. Rather, changes in someone’s situation will prompt a consumer to start requesting information and consultation. In this sense, customer communication in large part only starts when there is already a demand. Interactions between insurers and customers are, therefore, “accident-driven” instead of actively initiated. So, how can insurers improve customer satisfaction?

Too often, customer interactions occur haphazardly, based on need and without cause. Many insurance companies fail to actively communicate new products or services to customers. Instead of passively waiting for customers to approach, insurers should be actively making their customers aware of comprehensive risks and the need to protect against them.

2. Use diverse channels in the purchase decision phase

When it comes to making a purchase decision, the customer experience becomes even more critical. There are several ways a customer can purchase a policy, whether it be through personal sales, an intermediary, a website, comparison portals and other digital channels. As customers continue to leverage new sales channels, meet them on these channels with a personalized approach.

Customers are looking for insurers to provide comprehensive information that is designed personally for their needs. Customers also place a high value on an easy process and individualized options. Across all avenues, personal contact — or the human factor — plays a leading role during a purchase. While personal consultations are still important, it is now supported by intermediaries, service centers or digital channels. Insurance companies should strongly promote personal consultation services that are bolstered by other channels to communicate the value of products and services.

3. Leverage digital tools to personalize interactions

When it comes to support from insurers, customers are looking for the experience to be personal, fast and easy. To achieve these three attributes, insurers must combine trusted, familiar contact options with digital ones. Customers want to quickly and easily reach friendly and accommodating insurers over the phone. However, consumers also want to be able to communicate via digital contact options like email, chat and even self-service. From a customer perspective, both analog and digital channels have equal importance when looking for support.

Similar to support, customers expect a seamless, rapid and individualized experience when submitting a claim. Speed, in particular, becomes a major priority during claim settlement and payment processing.

However, digital services are often under-utilized in this area. While customers are accustomed to direct exchanges with insurers via the service center, digital and mobile processing can increase efficiency by solving claims quickly and providing tracking for customers.

Final thoughts

In the insurance industry, the insurer-customer relationship is particularly valuable when it comes to support and claims. To truly put the focus on customers from the information phase through claims service, insurers must be proactive, leverage diverse channels and utilize digital tools to personalize interactions.

The focus on the customer does not end once a purchase is made. With the right mindset, strong digital tools and an active approach to addressing customers’ needs, insurers can drive positive customer experiences during every step of the journey.

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Are Your Clients Priority #1?

Posted By Kelly Donahue-Piro, Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Since the advent of ADD, I think we have all felt we may have a touch of attention deficit disorder from time to time. Call it lack of focus, distractions or multi-tasking, to stay 100% in the moment is something I think we struggle with as adults. There have been countless articles and blogs written about being present for your family, well the same can apply to the workplace. So really ask yourself how often are you completely present for your clients, your team and the task at hand.

If we all were being truly authentic and honest, the answer is we try really hard but can still fall short. There is no shortage of at work distractions:

  • Phone calls
  • Emails
  • Co-workers questions/conversations
  • That “oh no” moment that pops into your head randomly thinking “Did I do this?”

Staying present has to be something we intentionally practice rather than just hoping it happens.

So in this cluttered world, what is the solution? Here are our best strategies for insuring our client gets the best of us not just sometimes but all the time:

  • Turn off the email pop up alerts: For some of you, I just made you cringe. You love the Las Vegas feel of what task could be coming next or want to hop in and multi-task. Turn it off. When you are speaking with a client or focusing on a task at hand that all be it small but mighty 2 second distraction hurts you and your concentration and takes you away from the client or task. Think about how many emails you get in a day that could be 100 2 second distractions breaking your concentration. The reality is that emergencies call in and emails can wait the 10 minutes for you to complete your action and give it the fullest attention.
  • Put your cell phone away: The number one activity for American’s is unlocking our cell phones. They can often feel like a central hub of communication but let’s face it for the vast majority of agency team members their clients are not calling their cell phones. However, those quick weather alerts, Facebook pop ups or texts from friends and family can bring an unwelcome distraction to our lives. By totally silencing (not just putting the phone on vibrate) you can attend to those matters on breaks or at lunch. True emergencies can still happen but remember they can call the office to find you. The quick text here and there may seem harmless but when we are talking about being present that makes us more present in our personal matters than the matters of the client.
  • Focus on Your Desk Not the Floor: This one may take some inner work. We often pick up noise and chatter around us. Could be a phone call your coworker is on, a friendly chat near your desk or the background noise of the radio. Blocking out those distractions can help you really stay present in your task at hand. Our minds can all naturally wonder however I bet you can remember some times where you were completely focused on your matters at hand. How much more productive were you? How much more did you accomplish? I bet if you are like me, it was significant.
  • Personal Matters: Every single one of us has something in our personal life that can cause a distraction at work. Sometimes it’s a small matter and other times it’s a larger challenge. Either way, we have to realize if there is nothing we can do about it during the work day then we need to leave it at the door and pick it up when we leave work. By having it on our mind all day or working on it at work, we break the focus on the client.
  • Work to Complete Tasks: Yes, we all think we can multi-task. By having 20 internet browsers open we aren’t doing anyone any favors. There are certainly days where everything feels like an interruption, but by focusing on one thing at a time you limit mistakes and misfortune.
  • First Call Resolution: To really become excellent at giving our customer everything we have, we need to work on and through first call resolution.  This is the concept that we complete, in its entirety, the clients request on the phone with them. To do this you need to remain focused on the client, connect and build rapport with them during the call, complete their request and document all in one swoop. Why this is critical is it leaves nothing more to do after the call. All the little details are completed and you can focus on the next call coming in. What this means is the stack of “to do’s” in your brain that can cause you to cut a call short is now minimal.

Another major way we can show our clients their importance is by making sure we consistently give them our time. The number one thing we hear in every agency is how busy and how little time everyone has. It’s important to ponder, with the lack of time in an agency are we often short cutting client connections? Think of it this way – on every call are we:

  • Confirming contact information
  • Providing a quick, yet detailed, account review
  • Thanking them sincerely for their business
  • Clearly outlining next steps with deadlines
  • Encouraging referrals

Before you jump to the next paragraph take a moment, on every new call with a request are we doing these 5 steps?

If we are not, why?

If we are not are we making it the best call of their day?

If we are not are we maybe not giving them our full attention?

Remember for most insurance clients (not your frequent flyers) they will only speak with their agent once every 2-3 years. When they engage with us how can we present the best of ourselves and be impressive?

We can handle an insurance transaction or provide an experience!

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Changing Your Vocabulary to Change Your Approach

Posted By Deanna Hotham, Wednesday, May 15, 2019


One of the most common obstacles I hear to selling insurance is hearing people say things like “I’m not in sales” or “I’m not a salesperson.”  Almost every service person I have ever met wants to put the client’s best interests at the forefront. I completely agree with this approach. A client-focused approach is the best way to create scenarios where everyone wins.

The conflict I find is most often with the service rep not feeling comfortable about discussing increases in coverage or additional policies, even when we know it is in the client’s best interests to have this protection.  My definition of Good Service is providing the client with what they need, not what they ask for (sorry for the ending my sentence in a preposition!).  The general public is not aware of their risks, the solutions, or that we have the solutions.

This has been a discussion for my entire career.  Everyone can wrap their head around the concept, but taking action can be difficult.  Our two biggest training programs (AppX Retention and AppX Sales) have components assisting in the improvement of sales skills for both salespeople and service people.  The common issue with both programs is not typically a feeling like we are doing something wrong by the client, but a fear of coming off too salesy, which typically creates an uncomfortable conversation and an awkward experience.

For a few years now, I have been adjusting some of the terms I use to help increase the comfort level and decrease the awkwardness around the discussion.  Getting the heart to believe what the head knows can be a long process.

Here are four terms commonly used in our industry which should be adjusted when thinking about the approach with the client.  I am in no way suggesting these are negative terms and should be completely eliminated from our lexicon and more importantly, our key performance metrics, but only that they can sometimes hold us back from doing what is best for our clients.

The term to the right puts the client experience in front of the agency goals, creating a situation where it becomes more comfortable for those with less inherent sales skills to approach the client about improving their protection.

Upselling —> Increasing Coverage
Cross-selling —> Account Rounding
Sales —> Education
Retention —> Relationships

In all of the cases above, the traditional term (on the left) is a very agency-focused term.  In three of the cases, we also use the word “sales” or “selling.” The beneficiary of these terms is the agency.  While I am all for us selling, upselling, and cross-selling, these terms appear to put the agency before the client.  Even the word “retention” is basically us holding onto a client versus the client deciding we are the best agency for them.

Upselling a client does not always have the client’s best interests at heart.  I remember buying our last car and finding out it didn’t come with floor mats, but for an extra $1,000, we could get them.  A quick Google search showed me I could buy ones to fit for 20% of the cost. I mentioned this to the salesman, and he told me how they wouldn’t fit exactly and I was better off with the official ones from the dealer.  This really rubbed me the wrong way and almost caused me to back out of the deal. I ended up making the car purchase but passed on the floor mats. When I think about upselling, I think about this situation, and I understand why someone with a conscience would hesitate to upsell.

Let’s apply this to an insurance situation.  If I have a client with $100,000 of Property Damage and I show him or her how to increase this to $250,000 for less than a dollar a month (in most states), am I upselling in the traditional/negative connotation of the word, or am I increasing their coverage (and protection)?

Cross-selling is very similar.  How often have you heard something like, “I didn’t realize you sold homeowners” or “I didn’t know you provide business insurance”?  When a client is unaware of our products, it is our fault. We must let them know about our products and their value. We all know the vast majority of clients are best off having all of their insurance with one agency.  By rounding the account, we are ensuring proper protection, eliminating potential gaps in coverage, getting the best rate, and making it more convenient for the client.

Both upselling and cross-selling (increasing coverage and account rounding) fall into the larger bucket of sales.  Generally people with more of a service focus want to avoid being salesy at the expense of hurting an existing relationship and potentially losing a client.  Instead of trying to sell new policies to prospects or clients, we simply need to make sure we are educating them.  We need to educate them on their risks, where they are currently exposed, the solutions to those exposures, and our ability to provide the solution.

Again, the difference between the approach of selling and educating clients is minor.  In order to be able to sell the client anything, they need to be aware of the problem and the solution.  The first step in sales (or the approach) is to provide that education. There are certainly higher level steps to be made to close sales, such as how to present the quote or ask for the business, but it all starts with education.

Finally, the word retention doesn’t have the same negative connotation as the word sales, but I still believe it can be too agency-focused for some service people. While everyone hates to lose a client, simply saying we want to retain clients doesn’t provide us with an approach to doing so; the word relationship does provide an approach.  This is what most account managers have been doing for years.  The better the relationship with the client, the more likely they are to stay with us.  We should absolutely be looking at our retention rate as one of our major metrics, but to improve it we should be focusing on how we improve our relationships with our clients.

Ultimately, we should have at least one goal around each one of these items.  But creating a goal is not enough! Identifying the metric and creating a goal is the easy part.  The difficulty is building the path for success and being able to achieve the goal. Our approach at Agency Performance Partners is to not only provide scripts, reports, workbooks, goals, etc., but to work directly with the staff to achieve success.  Changing the vocabulary to change the approach is certainly one component of helping to achieve success.

Tags:  customer service  insurance  sales 

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Ad-libbing is for Amateurs

Posted By Troy Korsgaden, Wednesday, March 13, 2019


Insurance industry icon and consultant Garry Kinder, along with his brother, Jack, trained me back in the 1980s. Garry says, “Ad libs are for amateurs, and all pros practice.” In our agencies, we typically get the same basic questions every day, and we should deliver consistent responses to them. Ad-libbing, or making up spontaneous answers to questions, is not the way to provide unrivaled, confident service to your customers.

In 2003, I developed the Korsgaden International Concierge Complete Retention and Life Insurance Selling System. It includes all the tools that agencies need to implement a step-by-step method for enhancing service for clients, increasing life insurance sales and boosting client retention. The system contains scripts, letter templates and A–Z instructions on how to convert a client call into an appointment and ultimately into a sale. If you have 10 people in your agency, and every single one of them answers questions differently, there is little continuity in the way your agency is delivering customer service.

So how do you get past this road block to excellence that is common in so many agencies?

Script everything. Write down a list of all the questions, concerns and objections your team members hear often, and then write scripts that specify how you want those conversations to be handled.

Client interaction script samples

Our continuity book includes scripts for all types of interactions with our existing and potential clients. Here are a few examples:

  1. Answering the phone
  2. Making outbound service calls
  3. Conducting annual reviews
  4. Responding to questions and personalizing the information to fit each client and his or her situation
  5. Finding out if a client is happy with the service we provided recently
  6. Setting up an appointment for a review during a personal visit
  7. Gathering information about the client and his or her situation during an in-person meeting, including beneficiary details, current coverage and credit insurance
  8. Letting a client know you will help his or her family claim any benefits in the event of a tragedy
  9. Suggesting options for personal or business coverage and planning

Practice makes perfect

It is critical that you have everyone in your agency practice the scripts you write so their responses don’t sound canned. It will take some practice to follow the script while also maintaining a genuine and caring demeanor. It also takes practice to personalize the script as necessary to fit the client and his or her specific situation.

When your team members role-play the way they handle questions and concerns, then everything will sound like a relaxed conversation — not like a canned presentation. Work with every team member to ensure that your scripts are serving their intended purpose well.

Erase ambiguities

Following scripts made a significant improvement in our customer service. It ensures that everyone in our office is relaying consistent information to our clients. Everyone is singing from the same songbook. It also takes the guesswork out of our communications and ensures that we come across as confident. Scripts also enable everyone in your agency to anticipate and respond to clients’ objections or concerns — or address them before they come up at all.

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Customer Experience IS the Insurance Product

Posted By Ryan Hanley, Monday, February 4, 2019


There is no doubt Ted Devine, CEO of Insureon, rattled some cages with his closing keynote presentation at Elevate 2017. He also delivered one of the defining quotes of the conference: 

Experience is the product”.

Before we can dive into why customer experience is the product, we first define the term (per Wikipedia): 

“In commerce, customer experience (CX) is the product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship. This interaction is made up of three parts: the customer journey, the brand touchpoints the customer interacts with, and the   environments the customer experiences (including digital environment) during their experience.” 

The barriers to finding new products and service providers have all been torn down. Independent agents are no longer the gatekeepers of insurance coverage. The entire insurtech movement is based on the modern insurance consumers desire for a new customer experience.

But while customer experience building a modern customer experience may feel fairly straightforward for tangible products, there is a deeper CX application for a consumer brand that does not offer a tangible product (like insurance). This has always been the issue with insurance products.

Our product is a contract. Ugh.

There is nothing sexy about an insurance contract.
You can’t walk into a trendy boutique and “experience” the latest fashion in insurance contracts. Insurance contracts are intangible, obscure and obtuse. It is extremely difficult to build a customer experience around the insurance contract. Not to mention an entrenched belief among consumers that insurance is a commodity.

As independent agents we sell relationships and a promise built on trust. Relationships and promises are easy. It’s the trust part that’s tricky. There was a time when trust assumed based on our industry’s legacy in the marketplace.

The Baby Boomers parents used independent agents, so they used independent agents. Gen X’ers parents are Baby Boomers, so the same equation applied. But with each subsequent generation, (the Silent Generation, to Baby Boomers, to Gen Xers), more and more consumers gave directs and captives a shot.

This is why Geico was the most-advertised individual brand in 2016, for the first time taking the No. 1 spot on Ad Age’s ranking of brands’ measured-media spending, knocking off AT&T (the top spender in 2015). Geico had U.S. measured-media spending above $1.4 billion in 2016 (source).

Inherent trust in the independent agency channel began to wane as more insurance consumers built trust with competitive channels. This is where we find ourselves today.

Here are 5 ways to make customer experience the insurance product and save the future of your agency: 

1) Get your entrance experience right
You’ve heard the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Well, it’s true and the psychology behind first impressions is crazy. It can take as little as one-tenth of a second for us to judge someone and make a first impression (source).
The scary part, whether you are trustworthy or not is one traits determined during a first impression.
So what kind of first impression does it make on a new potential client when you advertise, (through word of mouth, digital or otherwise), around a commitment to customer service and then send inbound callers to a phone tree? That’s right, you can’t be trusted.
No one who actually cares about their clients sends them directly into a phone tree. But phone calls certainly aren’t the only way prospects get a first impression of your agency. Your website is big one for sure. Your social media platforms, including Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and so on. What about how your agency looks from the outside and even more important, the inside. When is the last time your physical location got a fresh coat of paint and some new carpeting?
However, all of this is simply lipstick on a pig, if your “Entrance Experience” does not match customer expectations.

LESSON: Sit down and think about what the type of client you want expects when they reach out to you the first time. The answer is where you begin building your customer experience.

2) Design your customer experience with the customer in mind

Designing the customer experience has nothing to do with you. This is mistake number one I see agents and carriers making. They try to develop a customer experience based on how THEY like to do business.

Nope. Not going to work.

Your customers (or potential customers in this case) don’t care how you like to do business. They care about how they like to do business. This is the defining difference between customer service vs customer experience.

Sydney Roe put together a fantastic video explaining this concept and why it’s so important to understand the difference.

Customer service is the company-centric model. Customer experience is the customer-centric model.

How your customer wants to do business, is the way you do business or they won’t be your customer for long.

LESSON: Think customer first. Always. How you want to do business doesn’t matter anymore.

3) Empower your people

Wegmans, one of the largest grocery retailers in the US, is commonly held up as example of steadfast commitment to customer experience. Their secret sauce you ask? Wegmans empowers their people. Staff members have complete control in their day-to-day interactions, without having to filter inquiries through several layers of management before they can resolve a customer issue. 

At Wegmans, empowering their people is also letting them experience with new products and processes that may or may not work. In practice, this empowerment can range from the bakery department making pork-flavored biscuits to supporting an employee initiative to accept Apple Pay.

According to Kevin Stickles, senior vice president of Human Resources,

“When you think about employees first, the bottom line is better. We want our employees to extend the brand to our customers.” 

So how does an independent agency owner develop enough confidence in her people to empower them in a similar manner?

Training and trust.

Wegmans does an incredible amount of training. Employees are not allowed to talk to a customer until they have had 40 hours of training. And the training doesn’t stop there. They send their butchers to cattle farms, their fish market team to Alaska and their deli managers to Wisconsin.

“What some companies believe is that you can’t grow and treat your people well,” explains Mary Ellen Burris, senior vice president at Wegmans. “We’ve proven that you can grow and treat your people well.”  

LESSON: Your team can only be as good as you empower them to be. Train them. Trust Them. Then let them do their job. 

4) Use technology to streamline the customer experience

We’ve written extensively on the insurance technology revolution, (aka insurtech) and the focus on customer experience. Take a deep dive here: How Insurtech Disruptors Will Defeat Independent Agents.

Customer experience is the insurance industry’s low hanging fruit. Independent insurance channel has avoided improving their own customer experience for far too long, (decades in many cases). This goes to carriers and agents alike.

However, a customer experience based solely on technology is far too easy to commoditize. Therefore, disruptors will not defeat independent agents on customer experience alone.

This does not give you the right to purposefully neglect technology at your customer’s expense.

Today’s technology is cheap and easy to use. There is no excuse for a lack of adoption. Your agency is NOT the unique snowflake who can survive without streamlining at least some of your customer experience touchpoints.

Here are just a few of the tools at your fingertips:

LESSON: Streamlining your customer experience with technology is cheaper and easier than ever before. Don’t allow the competition to pull ahead because of easy to solve technology problems. 

5) Prioritize effectiveness over efficiency

At first blush, number five may sound contrary to number four. It’s not. For every shiny new object technology provides us, it must always be passed through the filter of effectiveness. Does this tool improve our ability to provide the customer experience insurance consumers desire?

And just any insurance consumer, but the exact insurance consumer you and your agency WANT work with. Not every powerful customer experience improvement scales over the entirety of your client base. Nor do you need it to.

Right now, our competition is winning on efficiency. In truth, I’m not sure the independent agency channel can ever win on efficiency. I’m not sure we want to win on efficiency. Efficiency isn’t our value proposition.

Effectiveness is our value. Effectiveness in coverage, in quality of carrier, in depth of connection.

LESSON: Always, always, always prioritize effectiveness of customer experience over efficiency of customer experience and your business will never be a commodity. 

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3 Ways to Improve the Customer Experience

Posted By Fred Lizza, Monday, February 4, 2019

The excitement of implementing new technology can cause insurers to forget the main reason for adoption — improving the customer experience.  


As the insurance industry undergoes a period of reinvention through digital transformation, it’s vital to remain focused on what really matters. The excitement and hype over new technology can lead us to forget the underlying drive to adopt it — improving the customer experience. Treating customers right encourages them to spread the word, consider new services and remain loyal. All three are essential in a competitive industry with such a bounty of choice. 

Best-in-class customer experience means faster growth and higher profitability, according to McKinsey, and can be achieved through the pursuit of certain qualities that customers crave. Courtesy and professionalism should be a given at any carrier, but many insurers could make strides by focusing on greater transparency, facilitating easier communication, and increasing the average speed of claim settlement. 

Making things crystal clear

The fastest way to annoy a customer is to obfuscate and then make them jump through hoops to find out what’s going on. An insurance claim is often a stressful time for insureds, so it’s vital to make things clear to ease the burden. Every claim you process will have a workflow or lifecycle with several stages that require different actions before further progress can be made. Ensure that the current status is easily accessible for every customer, and for every employee or third-party administrator that interacts with your customer.

If the ball is in their court, and you require further information before the claim can go ahead, then make that crystal clear. An automated query system, combined with self-service portals, can make for a smooth process where there’s never any doubt about what must happen next to advance the claim. Real transparency is vital internally, so your adjusters can do the best job possible. Why not expand it to include your customers?

Boost settlement speed

If insureds can easily check on the claim status and upload supporting materials to move things along, then resolution will come faster, but there are also many other things insurers can do to increase the average settlement speed. Consider how appraisal, repair and replacement is handled. Could you fold service providers into the mix? Enabling, for example, a customer to book a windshield replacement directly with the repair service through your portal.

The length of time it takes to settle a claim is one of the biggest contributors to customer satisfaction. The faster insureds can put the accident or claim event behind them and get on with their lives, the better. For many claims it’s also advantageous for the insurer to process the settlement as swiftly as possible as it can lead to lower costs.

Claim automation enables carriers to process the bulk of straightforward claims with minimal involvement. Insureds drive the process and insurers act as facilitators. In rare cases where a problem develops, agents can be alerted and step in quickly.

Focus on what’s really important

There’s such a huge pressure nowadays to embrace the digital revolution, and such an abundance of different services, tools and products to help you do it, that you can fall into the trap of adopting technology for its own sake. Making the right choices can be tricky, but if you turn things around and focus on improving customer experience, all becomes clear. Nothing is more important for your business than customer satisfaction and the pursuit of transparency, easy access and communication, and speedy settlements will secure it.

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The Impact of Changing Customer Expectations

Posted By Nick Frankland, Monday, February 4, 2019


Most people who’ve worked a lifetime in the insurance industry may not see a direct parallel with how Amazon’s aggregator model is reaching into virtually every aspect of consumer life, casting its shadow across an ever-lengthening list of industries, and channeling the direction in which technology is nudging insurance and financial services.

Yet, this is exactly the mindset our industry needs to become aware of and acknowledge, so as to adopt strategies to leapfrog the challenges we face. This means addressing evolving customer expectations by offering comparison pricing and transparency, new products and innovative services.

Further, it’s aspiring to make the customer’s experience truly frictionless, whether through quick delivery of quotes based on a minimum number of questions asked, but powered on the back end by big data; or on the banking side, by being able to speed underwrite a mortgage that’s no less rigorously risk-assessed but with the prospective borrower not having to jump through hoops because through open data, the necessary information on the borrower already exists and doesn’t have to be re-ascertained for the hundredth time. 

While the financial industry is unlikely to have the broad reach into consumers’ lives as sectors such as retail, consumer technology, telecom, entertainment and grocery, the digitization of these other industries have set up an expectation that the financial industry must also quickly move in this direction.

Progress in our industry has been incremental rather than of a disruptive, “Big Bang” nature. Consider for example that in insurance, it’s taken us a couple of decades to get to a more advanced phase of online comparison, to evolve insurance aggregation from clunky to streamlined, from sites that were hard to navigate and finally arriving at apps that are frictionless and consumer-friendly.

But clearly, when you think about Amazon’s recent opening gambit into insurance and healthcare, there’s far more potential to shake things up, well beyond comparison apps. In the past six months, this industry outsider has purchased an InsurTech company in India, announced with two other major employers, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase that it’s  looking for ways to make employee healthcare more affordable, and announced its acquisition of Pillpack. Where next?

How can the industry begin to respond to these developments? First, by recognizing how easily a non-incumbent could steal away its customers. Then by looking at where money can actually be made, and who is powering that shift.

Data is central to digital transformation
For our industry to start thinking like an Amazon, it would look first at ways to show their customers that they are valued. Understanding customer pain points, and delivering life-improving solutions to those pain points to as many people as possible, is where the solution lies, and where technology plays a role in solving this primary challenge.

Data is clearly the fuel that will power this endeavor by suggesting consumer-driven solutions. Data is allowing for a new form of transacting based on consumer habits, preferences, demographics and financial wherewithal — in short, their needs — supplanting traditional means of purchasing..

In a larger societal sense, these platforms offer a way to help and empower massive and under-served sectors of the population, for example young millennials and the elderly, giving them access to more choice, more availability of products and services, at a more reasonable price. A relentless pursuit of technological innovation to realize this goal can play a role in replacing retreating social safety nets. 

The role of open data

Between aggregation and comparison shopping and the trend toward the open data models, some patterns are emerging that should start coming into crisp focus for the insurance industry.

With open data, consumers consent to making their financial data available to third parties. In exchange, they expect and demand a seller-as-bidder approach to transactions such as buying insurance and getting mortgages. Empowered consumers can thus gain the advantage by “putting themselves out there” — they can have their pick of the best priced, easiest, and highest value offers in insurance and other financial services.

Simultaneously, we’re seeing a concept that has driven insurance and financial services since its inception doing a 180. Generally, we have relied on making most of our revenue from a few, low-risk customers. Now, we are looking at the more sustainable value proposition of getting a small amount of revenue from masses of customers. Today’s successful organizations understand that the model has to change in order to thrive. 

Disruptors in insurance
Innovators from within our industry are also taking slices of our pizza. Consider that there are one-month insurance policies available online. How did this happen? It’s a disruption of the long-held industry standard that the minimum period for a household insurance policy is one year.
Now these companies are competing for your customers, who want insurance for a month, and making it possible to provide coverage for a policy period previously thought not worth the underwriting. Compare this to short term contracts for mobile phone or utility bills… the customer’s mantra seems to be: “Provide me only what I need and exactly when I need it — no more and no less.”

We have no choice but to engage in this manner. Insurance’s legacy model of minimal interaction with customers — think of life insurers interacting with their policyholders only at the time of underwriting, and then with their families after their death — is no longer relevant, in light of current consumer demands for convenience, transparency and interaction.

Our industry needs to start thinking like those competitors that have launched themselves headlong at our world with their digital models. After all, we have the key advantage: we know insurance. Now, we simply have to learn to reinvent the industry around the way consumers want to interact, before the industry is reinvented for us. 

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Want Happier Customers?

Posted By Maria Ferrante-Schepis, Monday, February 4, 2019

Help Them Get Oriented


Hugh Dubberly and Shelley Evenson provided a helpful framework for looking at customer experience in 2008, when they released their Experience Cycle model.

In this framework, a customer’s interaction with a product or service is broken down into five phases: Connect & Attract, Orient, Transact, Extend & Retain and Advocate.

You probably spend a great deal of time on connecting with consumers and attracting them, and also on the Transact, Extend & Retain and Advocate phases.

How to ‘orient’ insurance consumers

Too often, “Orient” is the missing piece.

To write profitable insurance, an insurance company often needs to spend time to get and review information about the consumer. The consumer needs to understand why the insurance company needs this information, and how to get the information efficiently.

Insurance companies often expect consumers to go right from the Connect & Attract phase to the Transact phase, without going through the Orient stage. The consumer gets turned off by all of the unexpected requests for information, and may even bail out.

This can happen online, and it can also happen in a face-to-face sales environment.

So, in what ways might we fill in the missing piece?

Questions that must be answered

First, we must understand what questions must be answered to get the consumer oriented. These questions include:

  • Do I really need insurance?
  • If so, what kind?
  • How much do I need?
  • How are my costs determined? How much will it cost?
  • What does the process look like?
  • How much time and information do I really need to give?
  • How will you use my data? Will it be used against me now or down the road?

Next, we can take pages out of the lesson books from companies in other industry categories:

Here are three examples:

1. Credit Karma
Here’s a service that not only aggregates your various credit reports but also breaks your score down into key behaviors. The breakdown helps users understand how to improve their credit scores, and how credit scores are is used by credit card companies 

2. Domino’s Pizza
When you’re hungry, the tension of not knowing what’s happening with your order, or when it will arrive, can be maddening. Domino’s responded by creating the “where’s my pizza” function. The consumer can see exactly when the pizza is being made, when the pizza is in the oven, and when the pizza is in the car and on the way. For users, knowing in advance that they will have visibility into the process is comforting.

3. RealAge Test
This system, used by millions of people, engages the user in a series of questions and instantly delivers a “real age,” based on health and risk factors. Your calendar age might be 40, but your “real age” could be 38. The test is a socially engaging way to help orient people around the behaviors that lead to longevity and health, while also helping them understand risk factors.

Those are examples of elaborate digital experiences, but you can also provide orientation with mechanisms such as simple FAQs, videos and chat tools. 

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