ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

If you want to know, ask your customers

A few insurance agencies are now regularly surveying their customers to evaluate the agency's performance and to establish the goals of the agency through the specific needs and perceptions of the clients. At this point, we estimate that no more than a few hundred insurance agents have entered this process on a regular basis. Most insurance agents are still 'missing the boat' when it comes to addressing their clients' needs.

Do your clients think that you are contacting them too much, or not enough?

Do your clients believe that you are representing their needs, your own, or the insurance companies'?

Do your clients feel that your agency provides them value for their money, or do they feel that all insurance agents are alike?

Do your clients believe that you are working for them, or for the insurance companies?

Do your clients feel that your staff is competent, or do they believe that if they don't talk to the agent, their needs will not be met?

The answer to these and many other questions determine the long term success or failure of insurance agencies. But most agents answer these questions themselves, certain that they KNOW what their clients think or believe. When we survey these agents we find that many of them lose 10-15% of their clients each year. Maybe they don't know as much about their clients as they thought (or as they used to know when they were in closer touch with them)!

It has been our contention that no one speaks better for the client than the client himself. We recognize that most agencies are comprised of two types of clients; ones who must have insurance, don't really care from where and from whom they buy it, and for whom any contact with insurance entities are a tribulation and a bother because they feel that insurance companies don't provide them value for their money -- and the prime customers, who understand the need for insurance and would like the most competent and best representation that they can get in order to get the most value for their insurance dollars. Do you know of any other category of customers but these?

The first category of customer will probably not answer a survey unless they have something negative to report. However, your primary customers are the ones with whom your agency has established a relationship. They will respond to genuine surveys designed to improve your service to them. If you want to know how you are performing as an agency or what they would like you to do to service them better, they will certainly tell you.

Agency Consulting Group, Inc. conducts more Customer Satisfaction Surveys each year for agents throughout the United States. The results are surprising in a variety of ways. When we ask the agents to identify their expectations of answers from their clients, they have been proven dead wrong 50% of the time. That means that one-half of the activities performed by agencies in the United States to better serve their customers don't meet the customers' desired service needs.

The traditional Customer Satisfaction Surveys have centered around the customers' prioritization of agency activities and their evaluation of the agency's performance. However, we have now been approached to ask some different questions, as well. We are now asking customers whether they want more or less contacts, whether they would prefer to be contacted by mail, phone or in person, and about which types of products they would like more information. This is a much more specific set of questions designed for a different purpose than the evaluation questions. The evaluatory survey is best done by a third party and anonymously. We neither ask the client to identify himself nor do the responses go to the agency, itself. No one likes to provide criticism, constructive or otherwise if they feel that the recipient has some influence or control over the respondent. We have found that customers feel much more comfortable responding to critical, evaluatory questions if their identities are not know. However, the directed part of the survey is done on a different page and on a response card format to include the client's name. In this way, if the client expresses specific contact desires or product desires, the agency can conform to them specifically. While the Evaluation portion of the survey is calculated on the scores of all responses, the Directed portion of the survey promotes individual attention to clients based on their needs and desires for service.

The results of the surveys have changed agency's entire Plans to conform to the needs of their clients, rather than to the agency's perception of those needs. Of course, there are still many agents who claim that the customers don't know what should be most important for them from the standpoint of insurance. This feeling is knows as the "Parent Syndrome." We feel that we know what's best for our children by virtue of our experience versus theirs. However, unlike our children, our clients have the option of moving to another agency if your opinion of excellent customer service differs substantially from theirs. So if their estimate of excellent service differs from yours, you have two options. First, you can conform your service levels to those considered excellent by your client base. Or, you can spend time and money educating your customers about why your priorities of service should be important to them, as well. If you are not willing to spend the time and money re-educating your customers and you are not willing to change your priorities to theirs, be prepared to lose your customers as they find other avenues of insurance representation that better suit their perceived needs. By the way, their reasons for leaving you will never reflect differences of opinion regarding service levels. However, if you feel that you provide excellent service, good products and competitive prices to your clients and they still feel the need to seek competition each year "to keep you on your toes", that's an indicator that they do not perceive sufficient added value to your service to maintain an exclusive relationship with you.

If you would like to explore a Customer Satisfaction Survey in 1997, please call Agency Consulting Group, Inc. at 800-779-2430 for further information.