From the August 2011 issue of American Agent & Broker • Subscribe!

Words of Wisdom

Learn how to effectively use the power of communication

Everyone knows that communication is an important part of any business, but many agents don’t seem to realize how crucial it is in building and maintaining their own agencies. We’ll first look at external communications to clients and then examine other types of communications in a future issue.

How you communicate to your clients says worlds about who you are: your philosophy and attitude; your capability; and your service orientation. All aspects of communication play a part in delivering these kinds of messages: appearance, language, timeliness, completeness and consistency.

Related: Read Lieberman's "Smart Agency Processes".

Appearance

Every time you initiate a written communication to a client, you have a choice. Should it be an email? A mailed memo? A mailed formal letter? Of course the choice can vary depending on the subject matter, but be aware that your choice says something about your attitude concerning formality versus informality.

Once having made that choice, what quality paper will you use? If you think it doesn’t matter, just consider the additional money one carrier (Chubb) spends in its communications with its policyholders. Its bills and other items are all on expensive, high-quality semi-glossy paper. That choice conveys class and is consistent with its target market segment: the more affluent insurance buyer.

Equally important is the use of color. It’s more costly but it enhances interest in what you have to say and sends a message to your clients that you’re a quality shop. Again, Chubb uses a multi-color, attention-grabbing "stripe" on every homeowners’ policy and endorsement it sends to policyholders.

Related: Read "A Disciplined Approach" by Philip Lieberman.

Don’t forget to look at fonts. Times New Roman, a popular font used for business letters, is a serif font—that is, the letters have "feet." This compares with a font such as Arial, which is a sans serif font—the letters have no feet. What’s the difference? Try them both on your word processor and you will see how Times New Roman presents an old-fashioned, traditional appearance (some would say "stuffy," others would say "authoritative") compared with Arial, which conveys modernity and a clean appearance. Either one is OK, but you should decide which font more accurately reflects your agency and who you are.

We tend to save money on envelopes because we don’t know if our clients will even see them, but they are important, too. Will the color used on the letterhead be repeated on the envelope? Should you use window envelopes for memos or letters, or does the more time-consuming addressed envelope convey a more important tone? These are all your decisions to make but don’t let them just happen by default.

Finally, keep it short and simple. If your letter exceeds one page, you need to condense it.

Language

The language you use in your communications is probably the most important aspect of how you’re perceived by the recipient. Is your message written clearly so that the reader will easily comprehend it? While it is true that you may write (and speak) differently to different people, envision your reader’s background and position as you write and modify your language accordingly.

Related: Read Philip Lieberman's "Adminstration Angst".

Would you rather convey a formal tone in your communication, or is an informal, more conversational tone more to your liking? It is true that the tone can vary based on the subject—you might not want to be warm and fuzzy in terminating a client relationship as opposed to welcoming a new client. However, you should adopt an agency-wide general rule regarding formality versus informality in your dealings with clients. It will convey a great deal about what kind of agency you are.

Just as your language conveys a lot about who you are, it also conveys quite pointedly how you feel about your clients as people. A formal, stuffy communication may subconsciously cause your client to believe he or she is just a number dealing with a bureaucracy.

It is easier, in these days of automation, to have a consistent communication tone. Take some time to write or review your template letters that are input into your agency management system or word processor to be sure that consistency is achieved. (See "Improving the Language of Your Communication" for a sample letter with corrections marked. Then click here to see the improved letter.)

Next time we’ll take a look at more examples of how to use language to convey how you want customers to view your agency and what other factors to keep in mind in your everyday communications.

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