Anyone who knows me would vouch that I am a man who speaks the truth. So when I was asked to provide my opinions on customer loyalty with worksite products, I decided it is time we (the selling agents and the insurance companies) accept the truth: There is no customer loyalty with worksite products. You must accept the fact that consumers are not loyal to any agent or any insurance carrier. Loyalty can only be found in the eyes of the beholder.
I was recruited into this business 25 years ago by answering a blind newspaper advertisement seeking a “sports-minded sales executive.”
I wanted to sell sporting goods, and boy, was I disappointed when I realized I had been reeled in to sell supplemental insurance products consisting of cancer, disability, dental and life insurance.
But the recruiting guy illustrated the big income numbers I could earn doing a minimum number of sales per week and told me about a novel wealth-maker called renewal commissions.
My thinking was I only had to make the sale once, and every month the insured or group paid their premium I would get a piece of the action. Sweet!
But the enthusiastic recruiter failed to mention the most relevant part of the success equation: The key to achieving my anticipated level of income would be derived solely from my customers loyalty in renewing their policies with me. And that factor depended largely on the insurance companys level of customer service, or lack thereof, over which I had no control.
During the early growth years of my agency, I would scrutinize my monthly policy reports (sales) against the insurance companys paid commission report (earnings) and by quick comparison could detect who had missed a premium payment. I would telephone them to ask why they had not paid their premium, and then I would mediate the problem. Many supposedly canceled policies came back because I cared enough to call them, find out what had happened or just to see if they were still satisfied with the policy.
I had, in short, sold them. Our client-agent relationship was strong from face-to-face encounters. I truly cared about their insurance needs, and they maintained a certain affinity for me as their quickly accessible agent.
But fast forward my sales career to 2004, and today I see multiple insurers, each with various policy reports. Quite honestly, while I do still read them religiously, I would be at a loss to tell how accurate they are in determining if someone had not paid their premium last month. There are many more scenarios that could result if I telephoned a policyholder with the alarming news they had missed a premium payment when it could, in fact, be my own misinterpretation of data. So today I am totally dependent on the insurance carrier to notify me when a customers loyalty has weakened.
Worksite marketing is no longer the “us and them” sales situation. We are seeing a barrage of outreach campaigns competing for insurance dollars. Future policyholders and existing policyholders are being targeted daily with enticing television commercials, insurance quotes online and even unsolicited pop-ups on their computers. Through advances in media, the once impersonal insurance companies are gaining entry to worksites that have become virtually inaccessible to flesh-and-blood agents. For the enlightened consumer of today, the image of the insurance company itself can make or break policyholder loyalty.
Somewhere over the years, the customer relationship has shifted to the public image of the insurance carrier itself. So the insurance company of today plays a more relevant role than ever in retaining its, and our, customers loyalty.
With the implementation of new privacy regulations, I am now very limited as an agent in assisting my clients with filing an insurance claim. For maintaining customer loyalty, I have no choice now but to rely on the insurance carriers ability to keep my policyholders satisfied. Prompt handling of claims is paramount. Back-shop paperwork must be flawless. Support system to the field force must be beyond reproach. For in todays market, the new-breed, informed consumers are deciding which companynot which agent or which productto align with for life. They are shopping for an insurance company that earns their loyalty. And it is their choice.
Remember that an insurance contract is a bilateral agreement between the insurance company and the policyholder. Our role as agents is to act as the middleman between those two players. It is our duty to make sure both sides play fair in dealing with one another in the execution of their written contact. And in everyday business situations, we must balance masterfully our loyalty to the insurance carrier against our loyalty to our customer.
It is truly a daily tightrope act. So I guess my being lured into worksite as a “sports minded sales executive” was fairly accurate after all.
is president of Benoit & Associates, a worksite benefits agency in Kenner, La. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].
Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 25, 2004. Copyright 2004 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.