Failure to Communicate: Why Agents and Clients Don’t Understand Each Other

Failure to Communicate: Why Agents and Clients Don’t Understand Each Other

We have another interesting survey to consider today, though, unfortunately, one that takes the oft-heard tone of ‘you’re doing it all wrong’.

Insurance industry professionals, with their sisters and brothers in financial advisory, estate planning and other sterling customer-centric fields, often feel that no matter how rhythmic and dexterous their dance, all they ever hear about is the client’s bruised toes; aren’t they ever just happy?

That’s a terrible way to think about customers – there I go doling out more judgement. Aren’t I the one who first led you astray in criticizing them? The survey, revealed in a report from Nationwide Insurance, shows that, in fact, many customers are happy with your service. There’s just a few little things wrong… and there we are, talking about relationships again. Can’t we ever just relax?

Don’t worry, my wise old father – I never complimented him like that when he was alive; he would have smacked me, or worse, looked at me askance – has the solution before you’ve fully grasped the problem.

“It doesn’t matter what the trouble is – solving it is easy. All it takes is hard work.” I heard this advice – just work harder, it’ll be fine – all my life, so you can take it just this once. The trick here, of course, is that you knew it all along.

So what’s eating our clients today? The chief concern, equally worrisome to business owners and individuals, is the current state of economic uncertainty, and we needn’t even mention the cause.

Early signs of economic recovery are appearing, but many nations are still closed to travel and trade, and there’s a long way to go before we regain the normal. Globally, states have racked up enormous debt – beyond the stratospheric levels previously considered acceptable – and a quiet sense of mystery surrounds the matter of paying it off. Some matters are not safely discussed in public, it seems, and yes, this should concern you.

The sharpest issue is the public’s sudden exposure to the assuredness of uncertainty – if a virus can pop out of a bat, spread seemingly on the wind to the far corners of the globe, and make our science look punier than the case of a second-rate ‘50s sci-fi thriller, those bonds can’t really be called secure, can they?

A melodious mantra of customer-centric industries like insurance and personal finance is this: we can help them, if only they’ll listen. The survey findings indicate that our customers have questions and they’re waiting eagerly to hear some answers. Whatever the doldrums elsewhere, for insurance agents, this is shaping into a good time to drum up new business and better serve the valuable clients we have in hand.

First, a scolding. Insurance agents, the study shows, think they’re doing a better job than clients report. While 95% of agents surveyed said they’re always available to help customers, only 79% of clients agreed. More evidence: 91% of agents think they’re able to deliver the lowest prices to clients, while just 74% of the latter agreed. The issue is now becoming clear: these aren’t bad results, as things go, but they reveal a real disconnect that needs addressing.

Here’s what we’d call bad news: 94% of insurance agents polled said they regularly contact their clients. If this notion were true, we’d be doing OK. In fact, just 69% of clients said their agents were contacting them with sufficient frequency. This sounds like trouble.

Customers have plenty to discuss these days. Business owners are worried about disaster coverage, which is unsurprising, given the pounding that nature has administered lately. Succession planning is a hot topic (a favorite on our blog), as is loss control. Indeed, risk management may as well crown itself king these days.

Individual clients want help preparing for retirement; good news that suggests our message – self-reliance, early preparation and committed effort will carry you through – is gaining traction. They also want a clearer understanding of their insurance coverage as well as the full costs of said coverage. We’re concerned about this issue, as it suggests we’re not communicating effectively in those first, vital rounds of contact.

Customers are often unsure how to file claims and what the processing time involved is – vital information for a family in crisis. Many respondents said they need better advice on how much coverage to carry, presumably as their family and financial situations evolve. There’s plenty of opportunity here for an active agent to earn a measure of customer satisfaction and perhaps some new business.

Agents need to take much greater care in explaining things. Never forget that industry language and boilerplate concepts are hieroglyphic-arcane to ordinary folk. Take the time to translate the jargon into plain English. Supplement your marketing tools with basic guides that explain fundamental terminology and concepts to customers.

Earlier in this piece I suggested my father might have laid rough hands on me. He never did any such thing: old school to the core, his ideas ran counter to his time. Handle kids gently, he said; any problem can be fixed with sensible talk and plenty of yard work – I add the latter, empirically derived. He always said I’d make up stories about how he beat me – he thought that was funny, the odd old bird – and I can’t disappoint him now.

I leave you with advice of his, final until the next time he’s mentioned: don’t work long hours; eat a good dinner, hit the hay early, and tomorrow, get up and call your clients – that’s a paraphrase. And yet, as we see from Nationwide’s study, they really are waiting to hear from you.

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