Providing quality service, always an important business practice, is essential in today’s environment, where individual customers and business clients are searching for ways to better manage personal finances and streamline operating expenses. A commitment to customer service is especially vital for health insurance sales professionals who are responsible for not only keeping a promise to policyholders, but also offering quality products that add value to an employer’s business.

For insurance agents and brokers alike, customer service is key to gaining and retaining business, particularly during an economic downturn. Because insurance is an intangible good–the purchase decision is based upon life events that have yet to occur–establishing oneself as a benefits solution provider is a must for agents and brokers in the current economy.

Today, more consumers are seeking to safeguard their ability to earn an income against an unexpected health event. Likewise, employers want to avoid losing quality workers and need a cost-efficient way to bolster their benefits package to help them recruit and retain employees. Because of these economic pressures, clients and their workforce are more likely to consider voluntary insurance as an attractive worksite benefit that can help them contain costs.

This, in turn, presents a great opportunity for brokers to include voluntary benefits in their portfolio. Not only can voluntary benefits help brokers to diversify their offerings and generate a new revenue source, these products also provide a great service to clients by addressing financial needs during a time when employees and employers need it most.

Agents who sell voluntary products share a common goal with brokers. They both want to strengthen client relationships while sustaining their sales operation during tough economic times. This shared goal can lead to a mutually beneficial partnership, creating enhanced service for clients. When identifying a voluntary benefits partner, brokers should consider the following: (1) the brand; (2) valued-added products; and (3) infrastructure.

A trusted brand

The first step in providing quality service is to build and maintain trust with the client. When selecting a voluntary benefits partner, look for companies that are well-known for their strong and trusted brand. A company that has established itself as a respected leader within the worksite market will more likely be committed to maintaining that reputation by providing quality customer service. Including products from a top-rated insurer within your portfolio communicates to your clients that you have their best interest in mind.

Value-adding products

Select a voluntary benefits partner that offers innovative products that can be customized to meet varying employee and employer needs. Voluntary insurance products like short-term disability can be a valuable financial planning tool for employees who have inadequate savings but who want to protect their family’s income against an expensive illness or injury. They can also help meet the benefits package needs for clients, such as hospital employers, that have ongoing recruitment and retention concerns because of frequent staff shortages.

An Aflac-commissioned survey conducted by Strategy One in July 2008 revealed that 86% of nurses say a hospital’s benefit package is one of the most important factors they consider when determining where they choose to work. And more than half report they would switch jobs solely based on an employer’s benefits. Three-quarters of the 250 registered nurses surveyed said they would prefer to work for an employer that provides voluntary insurance policies, including insurance for short-term disability. Additionally, 87% of the nurses polled believe voluntary insurance is an important factor when evaluating a current or potential employer.

Infrastructure is fundamental

In addition to offering the right products and having a trusted name, look for a voluntary benefits partner that has the appropriate infrastructure in place to support ongoing quality service to your clients. Collaborating with a voluntary insurance company that has an organizational structure, including top-notch enrollment solutions, enhanced processes that produce operational efficiencies and a dedicated team responsible for managing customer service, will help strengthen your client relationships.

During challenging economic times when customers are carefully reevaluating their finances, brokers and agents have a unique opportunity to serve as a solutions provider in an even greater capacity than usual. Becoming more of an advocate for your clients will not only assist in sustaining your sales operation during an economic downturn. It will also better equip you to provide the quality service necessary to help employees safeguard their families and business owners protect their companies.

Ron Agypt is a vice president of broker sales at Aflac, Columbus, Ga. He can be reached at ragypt@aflac.com