From the April 2012 issue of American Agent & Broker •Subscribe!

Energize Client Relationships

Four simple rules can keep you on track for good client communication

In previous columns, we’ve looked at how client relationships are a result of how your agency communicates and daily management processes. Now we want to take those interactions to the next level—to create good agency management by energizing and improving client relationships.

Success can be boiled down to four simple rules:

1. Don’t fall into the complaint trap. Clients may say, “I never hear from my broker unless he wants something from me.” Be proactive and find a reason to make a call, write a memo or send an email, even if it’s really nothing more than keeping in touch. Try to schedule midterm visits for commercial accounts. Practice sound management and check up on what’s happening in clients’ businesses—and it’s an opportune time to them know what’s going on in the marketplace or to set the stage for renewal meetings 3 or 4 months later. 

2. Avoid the “what have you done for me lately” syndrome. Most of us have made it a habit to compare clients’ renewal premiums to expiring premiums. We do this year after year. But by adopting this behavior, we focus on the short term rather than demonstrating long-term value. 

This approach can work against you. Throughout the soft market, renewal premiums often were lower than expiring premiums, but the marketplace is beginning to show moderate rate/price increases. A renewal-to-expiring price comparison may not reflect well on what you have accomplished for your client. 

Related: Read the previous column by Philip Lieberman "Non-Client Communication."

It is worth the effort to establish a value approach to your agency services and communicate it to your clients. See a sample agency letter and value-added graph. 

It isn’t difficult to produce this kind of display and keep it current. The graph derives from the information below.

Each year, you can update the information in Excel and display a new chart for the client, demonstrating your long-term value. 

3. Use your resources to impress your clients. An earlier article, “A Disciplined Approach,” mentioned the use of a claims kit. This is a folder or jacket in which to put various documents: general liability claim report, automobile claim report, directions on how different types of claims should be reported, etc. 

Related: Read earlier columns by Philip Lieberman about client communication "Words of Wisdom, Part 2" and "Words of Wisdom, Part 3."

As part of your first meeting with new clients, before they ever have claims, deliver the claims kits and talk about what they should do in the event of a claim. This lets the clients know you are available when something happens. Schedule a special meeting with new clients, attended by the claims representatives, to deliver that message. And when the account renews, do it again. 

Related: Read the article "Smart Agency Processes" by Philip Lieberman.

4. Use your phone system and voice mail wisely. Ensure that your clients’ initial communications with your office always happen smoothly.

  • Many agencies use an automated attendant to answer incoming calls, but while I understand the considerations of cost and efficiency behind that method, automated calls have become overused and inconveniencing. If you want to communicate the idea of a warm, caring agency, employ a live receptionist to answer and direct calls. Receptionists also can perform other tasks during quiet times. Train that person for attitude, friendliness and personalization, because his or her voice is the first one clients hear. 
  • Some agencies use a group pick-up arrangement. When a call is directed to an employee’s desk, anyone in the department can answer that call if that person is temporarily unavailable. 
  • Set an agency goal to return every phone call within a set number of hours, not days, in order to deliver extraordinary service. 
  • Each employee should have a daily message on his or her voice mail, identifying the date and how communication can be established. A generic message is not as effective in delivering the agency’s personalized, caring attitude. 
  • Finally, have an effective protocol for both planned and unplanned absences so voice mail messages in an individual’s mailbox don’t remain unanswered.

There are many facets to energizing client relationships, but focusing on these ideas will go a long way toward reinforcing good processes and effective communication. June’s column will focus on yet another idea: the customer satisfaction survey.

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