Email, text, apps, messengers, and social media are all great ways for independent agents to communicate with customers. In fact, digital channels are actually the preferred means of communication for 27 percent of customers, says Colm Hebblethwaite at Marketing Tech News.
But there are limitations. For independent agents especially, a crucial aspect of building customer relationships is putting in meaningful time in real life. Coupled with that, there’s a growing demand for customer-centricity, says customer acquisition solutions provider V12 Data. Customers want agents to understand their personal situation to ensure they get the coverage they need.
To meet this demand, agents should focus on maintaining relationships that extend beyond digital mediums and be as personable as possible. And a big part of this is going offline and implementing one-on-one techniques.
Here are 10 practical tips agents can leverage to encourage more of those personable moments.
Encourage Customer Input
Listening to customers is crucial to developing thriving relationships, marketing manager Kristina Javier Cisnero writes. People will inevitably have opinions on how you can improve insurance products, promotions and the overall customer experience. Encouraging customer input shows that you value their opinion and want to retain them for the long haul. But customers sometimes need a little guidance.
“Most customers are not very good at describing exactly the features they want but are quite good at articulating the underlying wants and needs and the problems they are encountering with today’s products and services,” explains the team at management consulting firm, Great Prairie Group. “Understanding this reality makes a big difference in how to approach innovation and the ultimate market results.”
It’s an independent agent’s job to develop an efficient framework for obtaining feedback. This can be as simple as asking a customer what you could improve on at the end of a conversation. Or you could ask them to fill out a brief survey before leaving your office.
Customers will inevitably have questions and concerns about their policy or need clarification regarding additional insurance coverage. Customer service solutions provider AnswerFirst says being available 24/7 isn’t just good for business, it will soon become a requirement.
One of the reasons that immediacy is so important to customers is simply that they’re busy. The team at Custom Business Software notes that 71 percent of customers say valuing their time is the most important part of customer service. This means that availability is essential to building and maintaining customers relationships. Customers need to know they can reach you quickly and easily.
Of course, 24/7 availability simply isn’t always feasible; however, you should respond to customer inquiries as quickly as possible. This shows that you value their time and are committed to creating a great customer experience. During hours that you are not available, a chatbox can give customers the immediacy they crave and at least some of the answers they’re looking for.
Pick Up the Phone
When ordering a pizza, digital communication is sufficient. But making a more complex and significant purchase, such as buying homeowners insurance, often requires the personal touch, says Gregg Johnson, CEO of Invoca, an AI-powered call tracking and analytics platform.
He references a Google study that found, 61 percent of mobile users call a business when making a purchase. Customers say they prefer making a call rather than communicating online because they’re looking for a quick answer (59 percent) or want to talk with a real person (57 percent).
With customers often having a plethora of questions about coverage, it’s important that they’re able to speak with you over the phone. Besides the convenience factor, it enables a one-on-one interaction where you’re able to really get to know your customers.
Have Face-to-Face Meetings
This brings us to our next point. Traditional face-to-face meetings can take your interactions to a whole new level.
Lois Leonard at QuickBooks says in-person meetings are essential for building trust. Customers get to physically see you, read your body language, hear your tone of voice and get a feel for your personality. It also allows you to show customers how you can help them achieve their insurance goals and why buying coverage from you is a good idea.
Face-to-face interaction is cited by a large majority of business travelers as being an integral part of building and maintaining strong relationships with their customers, entrepreneur and business advisor Chelsea Segal writes. Additionally, more than half of those businesses are increasing in-person meetings with their customers compared to past years.
This personal touch can really help your brand stand out from the competition when virtual communication has largely become the norm. And while it may not be feasible to meet with every single customer, making time for face-to-face meetings with at least some can pay dividends.
Participate in Local Events
Getting involved in the community is important for many local businesses, including independent agents. Many of the customers you’re trying to reach are likely those in and around your city, so it only makes sense that you’ll want to get plugged in locally. Ann Smarty of Internet Marketing Ninjas suggests attending local festivals, county fairs, career days, as well as local school events in your city.
Being locally active provides you with opportunities to generate quality leads and build exposure, plus it’s ideal for making authentic connections. Beyond that, it can help you hone your networking skills, which can be especially important when you are meeting other small business owners.
“Practice your elevator pitch over and over until you have it down cold,” says small business expert Rieva Lesonsky. “Likewise, be sure to listen and observe how others present themselves, both verbally and non-verbally, and learn what works and what doesn’t.”
Host Your Own Events
Sometimes, rather than waiting for events to pop up in your area, you can take the initiative and host your own. The local nature of independent agencies means community should be a point of emphasis, explains Adrian Jans at Agency Revolution. Being the one to get the ball rolling can pave the way for building new relationships and maintaining existing ones.
Jans says McClain Insurance, an agency based in Everett, Washington, is a great example of how to make active community involvement part of their company. Events they’ve hosted include:
- Stuff the Bus charity. The company provides space for this annual charity which provides school supplies for local children in need.
- Cinema Under the Stars event. The company hosts free outdoor family movie viewings in the summer.
- Defensive driver training class. The company offers defensive driver training that can lead to a discount auto insurance coverage.
Send a Note
When’s the last time you got something nice in the post? Marketing specialist Renata Sandor says a great way to improve existing customer relationships is to send a note by regular mail.
Saying something as simple as, “Hi, Linda, I’d just like to say thank you for your business over the years. I really value you as a customer,” is often all it takes. It’s all about creating that personal connection through a conventional medium that’s now underutilized.
As Sandor points out, sending a note has become somewhat of a dying art and can catch people off guard (in a good way).
Congratulate Customers on Personal Milestones
Maybe one of your customers just celebrated one of their children getting married. Or maybe they recently retired, or it’s their birthday.
Whatever the occasion, marketing professional Heidi Cohen writes that personal milestones are the perfect time to send well-wishes. Not many people expect this from insurance agents, which makes it a great way to strengthen relationships.
An added plus is that it creates upselling opportunities. For instance, if someone just retired, you might subtly mention healthcare coverage for retirees that meets their specific needs.
Seek Out Communication in Everyday Life
You’re likely to encounter customers at some point when you serve a local customer base. Maybe it’s at a school function. Maybe it’s at a Chamber of Commerce event. Or maybe it’s one of those serendipitous moments when you run into someone in the grocery store and chat briefly.
These are all golden opportunities for furthering relationships and are situations agents should actively seek, not shy away from.
Act as an Advisor
Independent agents need to remember how important peace of mind is to their customers. They have to reassure their customers that they’ll be adequately covered in their time of need — and that there’s someone there to support them as they sort things out, Sam Fleming at Property Casualty 360 writes. It goes deeper than that too, he adds. A big part of being a great agent knowing the policyholder’s values well, and that comes from connecting with them in a meaningful way.
This approach is critical from a relationship-building standpoint, but it will also increase your retention rate and lead to referrals.
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