Breaking Down The Barrier To Better Customer Relations

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The question of “who owns the customer” is one for the ages. Many agree that when asking a registered representative and a large insurance carrier this same question, both will claim ownership.

So, one would think that two entities with the same customer would be able to work together to help build on that customers loyalty to both–that is, the rep who sold the product and the company that created the product.

According to experts, however, that is not always the case.

“Agents have a responsibility to their customer to actually teach the customer; this is why the agent is still strong in life and annuity insurance,” says Frank Cacchione, head of PA Consulting Groups US Financial Services Practice, New York. “But what weve found is that the barriers to the next level of customer service have to do with the difficulty of collaboration between the broker/agent and insurer,” he says.

Broker-dealers often build a “firewall” between themselves and the carrier, Cacchione contends, so that the carrier does not have access to the customers. “At one level its understandable,” he says. But conflict exists when an agent or broker wants to deal with the customer in a certain way and doesnt want any customer communication coming from the carriers corporate offices. At this point, brokers and carriers seldom carry the dialogue any further, he indicates.

Cacchione contends it is important for agents to work with their carriers on building existing customer relationships. “They do have some basis for collaboration, some basis for actually wanting to do the same thing on the others behalf,” he says.

When brokers build this wall, Cacchione explains, it can be detrimental to the service levels agents and brokers provide. Carriers are able to develop, maintain and implement a whole host of tools that can help agents better serve their existing customers, he points out. These include segmentation tools, training tools, predictive modeling tools, data mining and portal solutions.

These tools are just too expensive for an agent, broker or broker/dealer to develop on their own, he says. “Its economically unviable; theres no scale.”

Although Cacchione says this conflict continues in most carrier/broker relationships, he does see some success in the area of working together to further develop customer relationships. “All of the segmentation tools, customer relationship tools, predictors of cross selling and predictors of potential lapse of customers of those kinds of things and–companies can mine all provide the information in a format thats acceptable to the agent. This is where they can really come together,” he says.

This is where the agent can “add to the value that theyre already providing to the customer,” he adds.

Currently, though, this concept is only happening in a very small number of organizations, Cacchione adds, and it is happening “at a very slow pace.”

This article first appeared in the November 2002 edition of Registered e-Report, an online publication of National Underwriter Life & Health.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, January 20, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.