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

Words of Wisdom, Part 3

Keep communication flowing with new client letters and newsletters

No letter is more important than your first one after you’ve met with a prospective new client for the first time. See Example 1 for an approach that might be a little different than the ordinary "thanks for your time" letter.

In this rather short letter, you will have transmitted several messages:

  1. Thank you for giving me your time
  2. Your investment of time will pay off
  3. We need to set a specific date to present the results
  4. Description of the process and timing
  5. Here’s how your investment of time is going to pay off.

That’s a lot to communicate in a short letter and it sets a confident tone.

Related: Read the previous columns in this series by Philip Lieberman "Words of Wisdom" and "Words of Wisdom, Part 2."

Let’s say that you have been successful in capturing the account, you’ve delivered the binders and collected your deposit. Now another crucial communication moment arises: your first letter to your new client. Check out Example 2.

Here again, there are many messages being delivered, but by far the most important one is "personalization." In today’s world of point and click and voice mail purgatory, you must establish and emphasize the personal connection between your agency and your client at every possible transaction point. This letter emphasizes that in a forthright and honest way.

Related: Read another column by Phlip Lieberman "Smart Agency Processes."

The other important point is the relationship between the producer and the account manager (or client service representative). In too many agencies, the pressure of writing new business results in the producer disappearing from the scene after the initial sale, leaving all communication with the client to the account manager. This letter attempts to shape the client’s perception as to the functions that the account manager and claims people will perform, yet underscores the personal and ongoing relationship with the producer.

There are several other principles to keep in mind when reviewing your agency’s communications strategies with clients:

  1. Timeliness. If your letter or memo isn’t timely—if it’s late going out but the information needs to be in the client’s hands—acknowledge that fact in the body of the letter. A phrase such as, "I wanted to get this information to you earlier but was prevented from doing so" gets the point across.
  2. Completeness. Verbosity is often the enemy of clarity. Edit your communications so they conform to the "one-page rule"—if you can’t say it in one page, then you probably need a different form of communication.
  3. Consistency. Use your agency management system to standardize your communications to clients. Most systems allow for customization, so write your template to keep the message short and to the point, while not sounding canned. It also is an ideal E&O claim prevention tool.
  4. Training. Not everyone in your agency is an author. Language skills vary, especially among younger employees, and you need to have periodic training sessions to help level the field of capability. Templates are important, but lots of communication is verbal, not written, and not everything that a client needs to know can be reduced to a standardized letter. Those training sessions should highlight awareness of the impact that communications can have on clients’ perceptions and the importance of personalization.

Newsletters

Newsletters are another important form of communication, and there are some pretty slick products available in today’s environment. If you are considering this kind of client communication option, there are a few points to consider:

  1. Newsletters produced in-house have the advantage of immediacy, personalization and desired frequency. You can say exactly when and what you want to say to your clients. But these advantages are counterbalanced by the fact that they are time-consuming (unless you keep it really simple or have a large agency) and they impose another deadline on everyone.
  2. Outsourced newsletters are beautifully done, making a professional appearance which, the purveyors tell us, adds to our agency’s perceived stature. But they also can appear canned and are expensive. The expense may be worth it, but that is an individual decision made by each agency owner.

We have been dealing exclusively with client correspondence over the past several months, because clients are the ultimate target of an agency’s operations. But in my next column, we’ll talk about another important aspect of communications: how we interact with carriers, especially underwriters, and how we connect internally at the agency with one another.

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