There are more than 280 million pages on the Internet dedicated to the topic of improving customer loyalty. Trust me — I’ve read a healthy portion of them. And after 20 years in the business of helping companies win and retain customers, I find it amazing how many of these tomes of advice should be filed under “fiction.”

Don’t even get me started on the shelves and shelves of books that claim to have the magic formula or surefire system you need to “exceed customer expectations” and “create exceptional customer experiences.” Their systems have more to do with selling books than helping you sell insurance. The fact is, in today’s economy, the last thing you need is feel-good mythology. The good news is that, with a little dose of reality, you have everything you need to win and secure lifetime clients.

Myth #1: Technology will save you
If you’re like most modern insurance agents, technology has become an essential part of your practice. From being ultra-available via your cell phone and email to managing policies back at the office, you rely on electronics to get the job done. So it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that the more technology you inject into your business, the more successful you’ll be.

Technology itself isn’t what enables you to better serve your clients, though. Consider something simple, such as converting to electronic files. Simple, you say? That’s right — it should have been simple. What made it difficult was that you had to alter your way of doing business to fit the new technology. You had to adapt to the technology rather than having the technology adapt to you.

Simply having technology doesn’t help you better serve your clients. Sometimes, it can make it harder. Yes, your files are computerized. But did the switch make you faster, friendlier, more efficient, and more productive? Ask yourself these questions right now: Do you have to work around your technology to effectively serve your clients? Do your technological inefficiencies hinder your ability to build a proactive dialog with your clients? Unless your technology is helping you serve clients faster, more efficiently, and with a higher level of personalized service, get rid of it.

Myth #2: Satisfied customers stay with us
Research has shown that a whopping 80 percent of customers who leave one provider to go to the competition claimed to be “satisfied” with the former provider. The lesson here is that you cannot depend on satisfaction to create and retain loyal clients. They need and deserve more from you.

So how do you give it to them? By allowing yourself to be vulnerable in your relationship with them, and by asking the questions you don’t necessarily want to hear the answers to. When you acknowledge to your clients that you know you’re not perfect, and you genuinely want to hear their complaints as well as their praise, you build a much stronger and deeper bond than any satisfaction survey could ever provide. So forget the service surveys and instead, seek out information and criticism from your clients. The very act of creating that dialogue goes a long way in creating loyalty rather than just satisfaction.

Myth #3: You have to exceed expectations to create loyalty
In actuality, most clients would be thrilled if you clearly set their expectations and then met them when, where, and how you said you would. Assuming you offer competitively priced policies and high-quality, you don’t need to exceed anything. Clients simply want to be able to trust you and trust your ability to keep your word. When you are upfront and honest about what your clients can expect — and what they can’t expect — they are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Consistently meeting expectations also protects you when a client has an issue. If you have a trusting relationship, your clients are 40 percent more likely to stay loyal and forgive you when you make the occasional, inevitable blunder.

Myth #4: More capital and more people equal better service
You could have a million people on staff and a bottomless bankroll, but that would only amplify the mistakes you’re making, not remedy them. Whether you’re a one-person shop or a large agency, you have all you need to drive improvements in customer loyalty right now. The simplest way to do this is to “shop” your agency from a client’s perspective. Imagine you just moved into town. What’s it like to look for an agent? To reach you? To use your product or service? To register a complaint or get additional information? You can learn a lot by doing this exercise honestly and often. If you have trouble being objective, ask a trusted friend to “shop” your agency for you — and by all means, ask your clients, too.

But don’t stop there. If you have a team of people working in your agency, it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day tactics and forget to keep your people focused. Engaging everyone in the cause of creating client loyalty is the fastest and most cost-effective way to increase your bottom line.

When everyone is allowed to participate in providing solutions and ideas, the brainpower of your entire organization is accessed and energized. Not only do you get better ideas that tend to be easier to implement, but you also spread accountability and responsibility throughout the organization.

Myth #5: Poor performers aren’t so bad… are they?
There’s always one. You had high hopes when you hired them. The chemistry seemed right, and they seemed to know enough about the job. Then, one day, you realized that diamond in the rough is actually driving your clients away. The easy solution is to put your poor performer in the back room. Keep them busy with… well, busy work. Problem solved. The thing is, though, it’s not.

Sure, you’ve kept the problem away from your clients. But what about the rest of your team — the not-so-poor performers and the flat-out customer service stars? Want to know what the research says? It says that, in a team of five, one poor performer can bring the overall productivity down by more than 40 percent. And high performers tend to leave you because they don’t get enough time or training. Think about that for a minute. If you’re spending all your time with your poor performer, you have a 76 percent higher chance of losing your best performers. For the sake of your customers, your best performers and your business don’t let poor performers linger. So fire them. A little hit to your pride now will save you a lot of headaches down the road.

As you can see, everything you may have heard about customer service is actually untrue. When you can sit down and take an honest look at how your actions and habits are truly affecting your practice and your clients, only then can you start to better serve your book of business and build success for years to come.

Cindy Solomon is the founder and president of Solomon & Associates Inc., a customer loyalty and sales consultancy. She can be reached at cindy@cindysolomon.com.