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Client Still Best Served by Advice over Search

One of my favorite quotes from W.C. Fields is: “I was miserable when I lost my corkscrew. I had to survive for a week on only food and water.”

Right now, surviving has never been more important – for you and your clients.

The property and casualty world has seen such a dramatic and important series of changes in recent years – the most notable being the rise of the online quote and service center. Although this constitutes a real “disrupter” to the traditional carriers, the reality is that these companies often provide sound products at lower prices. The consumer is stronger when diversity exists. Now, even the traditional brick-and-mortar agencies have learned to adapt to 24/7 online quotes and service.

Who can argue that the world of P/C is not better served with more competitors who forced a conventional industry to change to a new world? Although we may never know their names or situations, just imagine back to the mid-1990s and the executives who sat around ornate conference tables and scoffed at the possibility that Geico or Progressive could become formidable players in the industry.

So will life agents be similarly disrupted by the savvy marketing skills of those who eroded the market share of the large P/C carriers? Let’s look at the life insurance industry today. 

You can find online quotes for a wide array of life products, and it is worth taking 30 minutes to look at some of the sites where products and carriers are compared in depth. Having this competitive intelligence is what smart agents must do if they want to understand the mindset of potential clients.

Thus far, a decade of aggressive online quote and service providers suggests a modest to low impact from these companies. Research conducted by The American College, LIMRA and other organizations shows the abiding and strong appeal of term products as opposed to whole life and hybrid products, mostly because of affordability. However, when you have the opportunity to speak with a client who has already “scouted” the web for “cheaper” products, here are a few questions to ask in order to help elevate your professionalism and sales:

  1. Do you know the credentials of the agent you spoke with on the phone? Do they have any designations from an accredited institution?
  2. Did you ask the agent if they will provide a photo so that you have a reference point? (Most online/service center agents refuse to do this.)
  3. Did you ask the agent if they have any pending complaints or issues with their state insurance commissioner or Better Business Bureau?
  4. Did you ask the agent what the cash value of the policy will be at the end of the term period? (Many clients will be genuinely surprised by this answer, validating that some have absolutely no idea what they are buying, other than perceived peace of mind.)
  5. Did you ask the agent for references in your hometown with names and numbers? (Listen carefully to their answer, which is typically: “We cannot do that because of privacy policies.”  A great come-back response for you may be: “With a local agent such as me, you will see me at church or find me at Starbucks or the Rotary Club. I live here, my kids were raised here. That access, when you need it, makes a real difference.”)
  6. Did you ask the agent about their client retention rate? (Again, listen carefully. The agent may not fully understand the question because retention was mentioned only during their orientation. You may have to explain to the client why client retention speaks volumes as to policy satisfaction and personal attention.)
  7. Did you ask the agent who will present the check to the survivors in the event of death and how long would it take for this to be processed? 

The power of an ethical, client-centric practice begins and ends with the fact that you are known, visible, engaged in your community, and ready to help every client at every stage in their need for financial and insurance products. No one has the capacity to present this case more effectively than you. 

Here’s your homework: call some of these companies and try asking a few of these seven questions. I suspect you will be able to identify at least seven more great questions. Then consider sharing your findings with those who work in your agency.

Like you, I order products online and love a bargain. Like you, I’ll shop competitively to try to maximize savings. But there are a few products – and you sell one of them – that buying on the web can never, ever take the place of buying from a professional who cares. Be proud of it. Do your research – and prosper! 

Larry Barton, Ph.D., CAP, is president, chief executive officer and holder of the O. Alfred Granum Chair in Management at The American College, Bryn Mawr, Pa. Contact him at [email protected].


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