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 Lawrence Ian Geller
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We are all being bombarded by promotional materials asserting that major financial institutions now believe that their customers (or at least those who they would like to be customers) will receive service as a part of their dealings. One major institution is even claiming to have changed, in an attempt to get back some of the customers who have left in the past few years because of the poor quality of that institution's service (I was one of them).

To my mind all of this advertising is just that, advertising. It is an attempt to persuade customers, on an emotional level of something which may or may not be real, without any substance to back it up.

Customer service is a slogan to many large institutions. They will strive to provide service, and if they fail because of their size, or because of financial constraints which reduce the size of their labour pool, or because of an ingrained employee culture which allows employees to believe that their needs are more important than those of their customers, well that is hardly the fault of the institution.

We, on the other hand, make our livings not because of our size (few insurance agents have more than one office, let alone a national network), but because we do provide service to our clients. We don't make them stand in line. We don't charge a fee for every little thing. We anticipate our clients' needs and often provide far more than even the most demanding client requires, without being asked.

We meet with everyone who wants to discuss their financial situation. We make suggestions. We discuss alternatives. We don't just tout the flavour of the day. We take a long-term approach to our clients' needs. This often means that we make suggestions that clients decline to act on.

Just try to get even that level of service in a branch where you have to wait in a line up.

We monitor our clients' coverages and savings individually. We try to review them with the clients at least annually, whether or not the client asks for a review. We contact the clients. Only occasionally do they have to call us more than once.

We act for the clients, not for the insurers, no matter what any relevant legislation says. And the clients know it without our telling them. Customers know who branch employees of financial institutions work for. And they certainly have no question who's interests those employees look after. When was the last time one of those employees went to bat for you with their head office?

When was the last time you went to bat for one of your clients?

All of this comes down to the difference between a customer and a client. We always know who is paying us. There is no question in our minds that the loss of even one client is a major loss. The loss of that client because of a lack of service would be the worst thing for us.

We understand that referrals are our most important source of work. We understand that most referrals to new clients come because we have exceeded our clients' expectations of us.

While many of us advertise, we understand that that is for name recognition and that it is seldom a major source of income for us.

We make our clients one at a time.

None of our clients walk out because they have to wait.

We have no monopoly on service. It is possible that, in time, the level of service which we provide will become the norm.

But we have a right to be proud of what we do. We have been providing this level of service for as long as anyone in our profession can remember. It is not a gimmick for us. It is not a slogan, it is an integral part of the way each and every insurance agent in the country works.

As the amount of advertising containing claims that anyone can do what we do, for less, increases (and it will) don't be intimidated. No institution which requires four branch people for every one who talks to a "customer" will be able to meet those claims.

Barry Rebuck of Imperial Life always reminds me of the saying "TANSTAAFL", There Ain't No Such thing As A Free Lunch. You get what you pay for.

With us a client pays for our individual attention to their business, not for clerical staff.

With us a client pays for someone to make educated suggestions tailored to their individual needs, not for "off the shelf, this is just right for everyone" clerical sales.

With us a client pays for someone to answer their questions without reservation, in writing, quickly, not for the attitude that we so often encounter when we ask a question of an employee of a major financial institution.

With us a client pays for accountability, not for the attitude that "we are always right because we are        ".

And the cost to the client? The client buys the product and we get paid. There are no ongoing service fees, there are no hidden extra costs.

We do have the right to be proud of what we do and the way that we do it. It is unlikely that we will ever have any competition at these levels, no matter what advertising we see.

What this means is that we cannot expect to sell insurance at every interview. What we do expect is the following:

  1. in the first interview, to enter into discussions with the prospect with regard to their needs, desires and current plans (current coverages in force and wills, agreements, etc.);
  2. in the second interview, to present recommendations resulting from the first interview and research completed in the interim. This will require a great deal of thought between the first and second meetings, not the least of which will be the writing of a comprehensive report;
  3. in the third interview, the completion of applications to be submitted; and
  4. in the fourth interview, the delivery of the policy(ies) and presentation of a report summarizing coverages placed, and additional recommendations made, but not yet acted upon. For those who expect to make sales in the first interview, stay away from the professional market.

For those who like the challenge of presenting thorough work to clients, on an ongoing basis, this may be somewhere for you to begin to prospect.

Professionals, as I have already said, are generally sceptics. They are also generally better educated and more accustomed to thinking problems through. Because of this it is very difficult to sell to them based upon emotion. In fact, an emotional approach will often alienate professional prospects. What they do like is full substantiation. If you say something to them, be prepared to put it in writing, and to back it up with third party documentation. They may not challenge your information every time, but they will, in most cases, check it out before buying anything.

So be prepared for:

  1. more work than with many other "target markets";
  2. a longer sales process;
  3. more ongoing service;
  4. a clientele with rapidly increasing incomes, and decreasing amounts of time to spend;
  5. a very faithful clientele, once you have earned their respect (and can keep it); and
  6. more competition than in many other markets.

But it is very satisfying to believe that you too are a professional.

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