How You’ve Lost Your Attention Span and How to Get it Back

I lost my attention span.  I bet yours is gone too, and it’s hurting your business more than you realize.  I will prove it to you. But all hope is not lost.  I will show you how to get it back.

 

Last year, 18 years after I stepped out of my last official class in grad school, I decided to go back to school.  Well kind of.  I signed up for the CPCU designation.  This is an insurance designation that consists of 8 self study courses; followed up by an exam at an approved testing center.  It really is graduate level work.

How hard could it be?  I’ve been in the insurance industry all my professional career, and was always an excellent student.

I’ll never forget sitting down the first night to that large text book.  I opened up to Chapter 1, with highlighter and pen in hand.  I had a study guide nearby that guided me through the chapters with questions to reinforce the material.

I started reading, and my brain interrupted.  “Hey, I wonder what the weather will be tomorrow.” 

I pick up my phone, open the weather app, glance at the weather, then the weather of my hometown, then the weather of my in-laws, then the weather in Paris, then the weather in Ireland.

“Oh no, I have to start studying again!!”

Skim page 2.  Answer a question about insurance company financing.

“Hmm, financing, money, how much money did the most recent super-hero movie make?  What new movies are coming out this week? I bet YouTube has trailers.”

Pick up phone, go to YouTube, watch 15 minutes of movie trailers.

“What am I doing, I have to study!”

Page 3.

“Wonder what’s going on with my friends?”

Pick up phone, go to Facebook, thirty minutes later and I am in full self-flagellation mode.

“I can’t belief myself I can focus.”

Go to home computer, google “how to focus”

An hour later, I start yawning, realize it’s bedtime and kick myself for spending two hours studying but only getting 3 pages in.  Something had to change.

Why I think it happened?

You can probably guess.  I think it’s a combination of spending some much time trying to multi-task, and the pinging of our digital world.

Even writing this post, I got interrupted, but it set me down a path where I ended up back on my computer surfing the Starbucks website entering starcodes (long story).

Multi-tasking is a myth (even for women).

Psychologists and brain researchers have learned that humans can’t multi-task.1

It may feel like it but what you are really doing is switching your attention from one task to the next.  You are only doing it very quickly.   You are splitting your attention and giving neither task full focus.

For some tasks this may be fine, such as folding laundry and watching TV, but to most meaningful activities require much more concentration.  To really learn to excel at a task, full attention is required.

Digital devices have rewired the brain.

Especially social media.  Social media captures attention like a drug.  Sparks of information enter the brain, and before you have time to settle into boredom with an item, another sliver of tasty information appears.  It’s like a never-ending buffet for attention.  The visual stimulation plus the fear of missing out grabs your mind and holds on.  This isn’t hyperbole, even though it sounds like I’m describing the mind of an addict looking for his next fix.

Be attentive to the next time you pick up your phone when it pings you with a visual or auditory alert.  You don’t just look at the one item, you will search for more, and keep searching until something stops you.  You lose a sense of time.

Think about the times you’ve got caught in a loop of YouTube videos.  You watch one after another after another, then you look at your clock.  What seemed like 10-15 minutes may have been 30 minutes to an hour.

It’s almost like you can’t help yourself.

Former Facebook executive Sean Parker has recently said, “It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,”2

On top of the brain candy aspect of digital media, there is the fear of missing out.  Believe it or not, this has been identified as such a problem, there is an actual acronymn for it–FOMO.  Sadly, there is a wikipedia page that describes this condition.

Researcher define it as  “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent” 3

It’s not just other’s experiences that capture our minds, but information that if you knew it would change your life.  And if you don’t know it, your life may be poorer for it.

Why it matters in business?

1. Time Management

We only have so much attention to give each day.  It is easy to drift into meaningless activities that rob us from achieving our goals.  Your goal may be to set X appointments before the day is done, and you need energy and attention to complete that task.

2. Focus on Your Customer

If you are selling, you must focus deeply on the customer.  Your mind can’t wander when you are looking for ways to help and sell your product.  Focusing on the other person helps with memory, and will uncover needs they have for your product.

3. Problem Solving

You need time and attention and creativity for most business problems.  This could be crafting a product for your customer or creating a new marketing strategy.  It could be thinking through a presentation you need to deliver.  Or how to handle staffing and employee issues.

4. Brainstorming

You need to brainstorm to constantly improve, but it’s hard when you can’t focus.  There are times you need to carve out a slice of time just to think about your business.  What are your goals?  Where are you succeeding?  Where are you failing?  Working out these questions takes time and focus and mental energy that can’t be drained away by a distracting lifestyle.

What did I do to get it back?

First, I set my phone far away from me when I studied.  And when it had to be close because of expected calls, I turned it over and out of sight, so I couldn’t see any visual notifications.  The buzzer was off and only the ringer on for important calls.

Second, I went on a social media fast.  I fasted from Facebook for 30 days.  For the first couple days, it was painful, and made me realize I was addicted.  I can’t tell you how many times, I caught myself opening a tab on the browser beginning to type, f…a…c…, then I came to my senses and stopped.  Eventually it got easier and I forgot.  I really believe my brain changed, and attention started returning.

Third, I started working in concentrated blocks of time.  This began with studying, but then I used the method for regular work.  I would work for 20 mins, stop, walk around, go to the bathroom, get a drink then come back to the task at hand.  I wouldn’t let myself go longer than a 10 minute break, and I avoided surfing the web.

Fourth, I set daily goals.  These are big life changing goals, but small manageable tasks that will eventually help me hit those big items.  Write 500 words per day.  Create a list of prospect.  Craft a marketing email for a new promotion. Submit an expense report.  Nothing big, but bigger than my normal to-do lists.  The rule of thumb here are items that take longer than 15 minutes.  Those are the items that get lost in my attention.  I can crank through those quick two-minute email tasks all day long, but don’t ever accomplish any of the big stuff that will really make a difference long-term.

Attention and focus is a fight, and thinking of it in terms of a battle has changed my approach and added a little bit of success.

Business Blogging that Actually Gets You Business

Does your business have an active blog?

There are only two reasons to blog.  Create valuable content for your customers or attract more customers to your agency.

Let’s talk about attracting customers to your agency.  The way content attracts people to your agency site is primarily through SEO or Social Media marketing.

Here’s the bad news blogging about auto and home insurance info. It won’t help your SEO.  Trying to compete with Progressive and Geico online around the keywords “auto insurance” is difficult.

You can compete locally for terms like “auto” & “home” insurance and win, but you will need become an SEO expert or willing to spend money on someone to do it for you.  They exist, and surprisingly you can win this way.  The negative with SEO is that it is harder to target the demographics you want.  SEO on terms like auto and home cast a wide net having pull into fish you don’t want.  You’ll capture good customers, but there will be a lot you will throw back.

If you want to dominate your insurance market through SEO, there are topics that will help you win.

So what should you blog about that will attract attention to your business?

  1. Think Niche.  What are the items your agency has specialized in?  Boats, Motorcycles, Rental Property, Restaurants, Convenient Stores, Niche Manufacturers.  Think about the questions customers ask you.
  2. Think Local.  No matter what you write about.  Localize it.  Identify your geographic business area and include that in your content.  It might be the city you live in.  It might be the region you target for a commercial niche.

Here are some ideas:

1.Specialty Lines.  Granted you won’t make much money selling $200 cycle policies, but the customer traffic this segment can drive to your agency can be huge.  You won’t only sell a motorcycle policy, you will ask about home, auto, umbrella, etc.  Boats, Motorcycles, Classic Cars fit this niche.  Write about local clubs or festivals and share socially and you will get traffic.

2. Rental Property.  The average property investors think they know property insurance, but they don’t.  There are multiple ways they leave themselves exposed.  Think of all those conversations you’ve had with friends and relatives that have a rental property or two.  There is no way they are fully protected.  For many, property investment is their retirement, and they exposing that nest egg.  You can get very local here.  I guarantee there are parts of your city or region that are prime area for investors.  Identifying those areas and the potential risks are beneficial to all your customers.

3. Jewelry.  Save this for those special times of years, like Valentines and Christmas.  Most people don’t have enough coverage for their jewelry or other items. Partner up with a local jeweler and use them to help write the article.  The joint effort will help SEO if you link each other and both share socially.

4. Umbrellas.  No one understands this.  Talk about what it covers and why people need it.  Use humor, don’t get stuck in the insurance weeds.  Give people just enough info to understand it and need it.

5. Commercial Niches.  If one of these items has more potential than the other, this is it.  No one does this.  Try this: Google the handful of niches you insure or know a little about.  You will not find many articles out there helping those business understand their insurance needs.  If you do, they won’t be in your market.  No one does this.  Using this topic to write, creates more opportunity than just  SEO power for your site.  You can use this content with associations and trade organizations.

One agent I work with reached out to an association in a niche she writes business.  She asked if they ever needed content for their own site or newsletter.  They said yes.  She wrote a couple articles about insurance and their business.  The association published it and not only linked back to the agent’s site, but provided their phone number and email.  Instant authority.  Instant credibility.  Instant leads

So how do you do this?

Think of all the questions customers ask you in these niches.  Think about all the gaps you’ve surprised people in discovering.  Those are your topics.  

Create articles around these topics using keywords you research through Google Keyword Tool.  Look for the ways customers search on their topics and the way they ask questions.  Those phrases need to be part of your titles and peppered inside your writing.  

If you need content, your companies probably have a handful of articles they don’t mind you taking and editing.

Warning.  You will sit down to write, especially if you are new and you will doubt.   You will see yourself as an imposter.  You are.  But don’t worry about it.  You know more than your clients.  In fact, you know a lot.  If all you’ve done in this business is taken your insurance class and exam, you know more than 90% of the world about insurance.  You don’t have to be an expert, just be helpful.

Think like a customer and what will help them in their life and business.  Use that info to generate localized content.  Make it shareable, and you will start seeing more opportunities to spread your agency’s message to your market.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

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Should You Use Internet Sales Leads?

Internet Leads are a valuable tool for Personal Lines Growth, but not for everyone.    Read on and learn why you should consider adding them to your marketing toolkit.

What are Internet Leads?

internet leads

By Internet leads, I mean purchased leads, not leads generated by your online marketing, whether that be through SEO, Email Marketing, Social Media, etc.

There are several companies in the market that sell Internet leads.  NetQuote is the granddaddy of them all, but over time more and more competitors have entered the field of play.

Here’s how they work.  A customer clicks on a link for a quote.  Rarely, are these quoting engines but information gathering tools.  In a sense they are click-bait, gathering data that can be distributed to multiple companies and other lead aggregators.  Those leads are then sold back out to agents and companies.

To get a sense of how they work and what kind of information they collect, you should run an experiment and try it yourself.

I did.

After seeing a ridiculous amount of commercials for the General, Mr. Shaquille Oneal convinced me to go online and get a quote with them.  I was pretty sure the General did not write in my state, so I wanted to see what would happen.

I entered all my information, and was told they couldn’t quote me.  They mentioned they had other companies who could give me a rate.  I accepted, and within minutes, I got an email from an Insurance company providing a quote.  Then within 30 minutes, I received a phone call from an agent trying to sell me a policy.  I was honest with the agent and explained what I was doing.  We talked a couple minutes about his business, and I wished him luck.

Over the next couple months, I received multiple emails and a couple more phone calls from other agents and companies soliciting my business.

Who should use them?

Buying Internet Leads are not for everyone.  However, if you’ve never used them, it might be worth a 30 day experiment.  Make sure you have the capacity to handle the activity they could generate.

If you are a new agency, without good lead flow, they a great tool to add to your marketing.  If you have new producers in your agency, and you are trying to generate activity for them, they work.  My experience with agencies that have been successful with them is that they are temporary.  Some use them to kickstart production and activity, and others use them seasonally.  When other marketing efforts are not bringing opportunities, they can prime the sales pump.  They are also good for sales training.  It’s easy to use them to help a new producer learn to communicate and sell over the phone.  Also it helps them create followup systems for future sales.

8 Tips For Using Internet Leads

1. Don’t be cheap.  Be willing to spend as much money as your budget allows.  Lead quality is in direct proportion to how much you spend.  Cheap leads are usually dead or poor quality customers.  The quickest way to find out how much to spend is to determine how much a customer is worth to you.  This will give you your maximum amount you want to spend on the lead.  For example, let’s say a customer is worth $100 to you.  Assume you will close 10% of the leads coming into the agency.  The max amount you would spend would be $10 per lead.

2. Target Leads.  Choose your demographic as specific as possible.  Most companies allow you multiple options for demographic choice, such as zip, age, income, etc.  It all depends on your market and what you are looking for.  The agent I know that uses them best will only buy home leads.  His theory is that if they have a home they have a car, and he plans on cross-selling.  This way he is paying for one lead but gets two.

3. Make someone responsible.  Someone in the agency needs to own the leads.  If not, they fall through the cracks.  They get ignored, and not pursued with enthusiasm.  Also if you have one person managing and responding to the leads it becomes much easier to track results.

4. Respond Quickly.  If there is a golden rule to internet leads, this is it.  You must respond quickly, instantaneously, lightning fast, no hesitation, drop everything else.  If you can’t do it, don’t buy them.  Remember, you aren’t the only one getting the leads.  Multiple agents and company call centers are getting the leads.  The most responsive wins over the most competitive.  If you get in first you have a huge advantage.  If you wait too long, the customer could have purchased or become disinterested.  These leads could come at anytime including evenings and weekends.  You must respond.

5. Sell It.  When you call you are not just selling your rate, you are selling yourself.  If you are an independent agent, there is a good chance one of your carriers is more competitive than the price the customer has today.  The fact they are shopping is a good indication that something is wrong.  The advantage the captive writer has is the ability quote the person on the phone and give them a rate on the spot.  Only having one company makes this easy.

With comparative raters, an independent can do this as well.  You may not be 100% accurate, but no one is in the beginning.  Don’t worry about it, do your best.  There are reports to be ran and more questions to ask.  The goal here is to sell your agency.

Again you are not the only call they are going to get.  Use this to your advantage, especially if you responded quickly and are the first to quote.

Somewhere in your call with the customer use a script like this:

“When you entered your info online, it got sent to multiple agents that will probably starting calling you, so be prepared.  Here’s what I can do for you.  I will do the shopping for you and quote you through X number of companies.  When they call, let them know you already had someone do the work for you.”

I learned this from an agent friend. This tactic immediately increased his close rate.

6. Create Loyalty.  Congrats!  You converted the lead to a customer.  Warning! Internet customers typically are a greater danger for leaving you at renewal.  You didn’t get them through a relationship.  They may not want one.  You are a just a transaction for them.  You have to change that.  These are customers you need to touch a lot during their first renewal.  Send thank you notes, birthday cards, holiday cards, etc.  Make sure they are getting emails from regularly that first year.  Make them feel a part of your agency family.  No matter how you do it, whether through calls, mail, email, social media, etc; make sure to touch them multiple times that first year.

7. Follow-Up.  You didn’t sell it, but don’t let the lead die.  Two things have probably happened.  You didn’t reach the customer or didn’t sell it.

Call them 7 times before you give up.  Send an email or postcard if you never made contact.  If you have their xdate, put them in your followup system to contact before their next renewal.

If you didn’t convert them, do the same.  Put them in your followup, and don’t give up until they buy or tell you to leave them alone.

8. Track Results.  Like your other marketing activities, you must track it.  This is the only way you will know if you are getting your money’s worth.  Are you making more than you are spending?  Are you losing money on them?  Are you breaking even?  Do you have one salesperson doing better with them than another?  Does one vendor have better quality leads than another?  It’s tedious, but you will be much more effective with your marketing time and dollars.

If you’ve used internet leads before, what’s your experience?

Be Productive,

Theron

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8 Ways to Market to Realtors & Lenders

Marketing for personal lines has become increasingly harder over the years.

Customers squashed telemarketing sales.  Fewer people have land lines, so it is harder to find a person’s number.  Many go unlisted, and this makes them hidden.  Many people will just not answer the phone if they don’t recognize the number.

Door to door is really not cost effective because of the return on investment.

Direct-mail still works, but you need to a lot of it, as well as time and money to get your copy just right.

Email marketing is amazing, but for it to work without becoming a spammer, you have to capture emails from current customers, prospects, and potential lead sources.

One method that has a low barrier to entry, but can generate almost instant returns is marketing to lenders and realtors.

When a customer buys a home, he is more likely to allow his insurance to be shopped.  To find and interact with those customers, you have to get to those involved in the transaction.

Realtors and lenders are the perfect people to insert you into that transaction.

This is not a secret anymore.  I would bet these businesses sees more insurance agents today than they did 10 years ago.

It’s not impossible to stand out among this lead-source, but it takes a little more thought and strategy than it used to.

1. Think like a glass rep.  Every week your agency gets 1 or more glass reps soliciting business from you.  I am sure there are a couple of these vendors that you really use, and encourage your customers to use.  But why?  Why are there some vendors that you use and others you don’t?  Think through this question.  It will help you develop a strategy to improve your own marketing with realtors and lenders. The good ones are consistent marketers.  Someone in your office needs to be that person.   Print out a 5 mile radius map of your agency and all the realtor and lending offices within that scope.  List them out, then make a plan to consistently visit these offices.

For example, maybe you can only spare one day a week to this type of marketing.  Grab you list, start from the top, and start visiting.  See as many as possible in the time you allotted yourself.  Check each off, and make notes.  Next week pick up where you left off and do the same.  Eventually you will get to the bottom of your list.  Maybe it will take you a month or two, but once you reach the bottom start over.

Being a consistent face and voice in their business will help you understand them, and allow them to be comfortable with you.  I guarantee that many of your competitors make one or two visits, then quit, when no business starts flowing.

2.  Leave- Behinds.  These don’t have to be complicated, but are markers of visit.  They are footprints and clues you were there.  It can be as simple as a business card.  The only problem with cards is that they are easily thrown away.  Notepads are great because they get used, and if they are sticky get posted around an office.  Pens tend to hang around as well.  Food and candy jars are always appreciated.  If it’s your first visit, take their card and then email them a followup note after you get back in the office.

3.  Ask for business.  Of course you are going to do this.  But most people ask for it in the future: “When you have something you are trying to close, please give us a shot at quoting it.”  Add the present.  “When you have something, we’d be happy to quote it for you.  Are you working on something now I can look at for you?  Is there something I can take back to the office, and get you an answer today?”  I worked at an agency where we did a lot of this type of marketing, and when we started asking for something now and not in the future, we often walked out with quotes in hand.  Sometimes all you need is a chance to generate future streams of business.

4.  Find the right person.  Knowing the decision maker is one of the keys to sales.  It is no different here.  Someone in the office you are visiting has enormous influence, and can usher you into that position of influence as well.  The secret is knowing them.  This can be difficult to discern on a first visit.  Once you figure it out, begin a relationship of trust.  This will allow you to create a mutually beneficial partnership going forward.

5.  Be a sponsor.  Lenders and Realtors are sales organizations.  They do regular sales meetings, sometimes weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.  Ask to sponsor their meetings with food or giveaways.  Most will let you speak for 5 to 10 minutes if you are bringing something to the meeting.  This is something most insurance companies will comp for you as well.

6.  Find a need and meet it.  This one takes time, and you will rarely discover on the first visit.  You need to build trust and find the right people to talk with.  But every organizations has needs.  These are the gaps and struggles inside their business.  It could be anything from sales training, access to information, marketing relationships, etc.  Over time look for these needs and get creative on how to help them.  One agency I know found a smaller realty office that was trying to grow.  Their marketing wasn’t great, but they were trying hard.  The agent partnered with them for a trade show, splitting time and booth cost.  You can bet the agency got the majority of their leads.

7. Pay for it.  Agents are scared to do this, but every day they pay for radio spots, direct mail, yellow page ads, internet leads, telemarketing leads, xdate sheets, etc.  It’s the same thing.  The only thing you need to worry about is not making the payments contingent upon selling the business.  Most if not all Departments of Insurance outlaw this.

I’ve seen two effective ways agents have done this successfully.  First they pay a dollar amount per lead.  You have to run some ROI calculations to determine your maximum spend; based on close rates, average revenue, average retention, etc.  Also it needs to be attractive enough to make a difference as well.  This works.  The other is to do contests.  Within an office, give a gift card of a substantial amount to the realtor or loan officer that sends the most leads in a month.

Make sure you stress they need to be a qualified lead.  You don’t want to get a name and number, call the customer, and have them act surprised at your attempt to quote their business.  I know some agencies require a list of information to make the quote valid.

8.  Lunch & Learns.  This strategy is highly effective at getting you in front of groups.  Realtors and Lenders give misinformation about insurance to consumers all the time.  Be an expert and give them information they can use with their customers regarding insurance for their property.  You are not trying to make them an expert, but it empower them with a couple accurate talking points.   Plus if you are providing lunch, most people will give you the courtesy to listen for a while.

Before you reinvent the wheel, grab a company person’s wallet and their powerpoint library. This is an easy spend for most company folks.  They may even throw in gift cards for a drawing.  Also, they might have presentation already created about property insurance.  This saves you some time.  Gather the business cards of everyone there, and send them a followup note, if you really want to impress.

If you networked with other agents for any length of time, this strategy is one frequently mentioned as a personal lines growth driver.  It may feel like everyone is doing it, but I promise few are doing it well.  Schedule your marketing, be consistent, ask for opportunities, and repeat.

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Customers You Don’t Want

One of the hallmarks of marketing is developing a profile of an ideal customer.

You pick the customer or niche that fits your business model, and then you keep that niche in mind when you craft any marketing strategy or customer facing material.  This helps immensely when brainstorming new lead sources or marketing ideas.  An image of the ideal customer informs how you design your website, business cards, trade-shows, brochures, etc.  When you understand this person fully, and take action on that information, you become a better marketer than your competitors.

This became clear on school field trip.  I chaperoned a trip to a radio station.  This was a radio conglomerate with multiple brands and channels stuffed inside their building.  Each channel had their own booth and office.  One was talk radio, another country, today’s hits, classic rock, etc.  In each booth, printed in large letters on the wall was a list of characteristics of their target demographic.

DJ’s, salespeople, and decision makers could not avoid this sheet when performing their daily actions.

Agencies have this list as well.  Most don’t have it posted, but the owner knows it, and sometimes the staff.  It’s a great idea to get this out of your head and distribute it throughout your organization.

While knowing your ideal customer is critical, what might be equally important is understanding the “Customer You Don’t Want”.

bad customers
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What does that person look like, and what do you do to avoid them?

Here some identifiers to help brainstorm this person:

  • Time-wasters. Write down the qualities of a customer that is a time waster. He never offers any opportunity for revenue activity, but demands attention more than normal.
  • Late-payer.  You chase him each month to give you money to keep their policy in force.
  • Frequent claimant.  They call in a claim too regularly, or are always asking “what-if” claims questions.  Alarm bells ring in your head, suspicious of their potential next move.
  • Billing questioner.  They pay their bills on time, but have questions every month related to the accounting breakdown of their bill.
  • Endorsement happy.  Every month they are doing something different to their policy; new cars, new drivers, change in coverage, etc.
  • Grumpy & Angry.  This one ruins the mood of every person in your office.  Every interaction is negative, and you can’t believe they stick around.
  • Bad Demographics.  Not red-lining, but identifying areas outside your scope of business.  if someone contacts you about their homeowners and they live in another hundreds of miles away they might not be the best customers.  Million dollar homes are attractive to write, but you might not have the markets for this and trying to fit a square peg in a round hole could generate more work than it’s worth.

There is no doubt that a few of these customers are part of being an insurance agent.   Some even have very good reasons to retain as clients.

By identifying them, they give you an opportunity to minimize their influence inside the agency.

If you are an owner, I bet you have a blacklist.  Does your staff know it?  What do you do in your agency to minimize the bad customer?

Why You Don’t Want Treat All Customers Equally

After weeks of studying customer service studies and talking with agents about their best practices, I stumbled upon an article in Sales & Marketing Management titled “Delighting Customers Doesn’t Pay”.  The basic premise is that customer satisfaction doesn’t always correlate with customer loyalty, and as business people we can give the concept of delighting customer an inordinate amount of energy.  

This seems to be slightly disturbing.bad customer service

Anyone who has spent time in the sales and service business often live by the phrase the customer is always right, but is he?  Is there a time you want to nix customer service? Is something else more important that trying to delight every person that comes in contact with your business.

It pays to know your customer and know yourself.

Think about Wal-Mart vs. Nordstrom.  Stories abound about Nordstrom going above and beyond in the pursuit of delighting their customers.  On the other hand, you have Wal-Mart, and rarely do you feel delight when leaving their stores.  Yet both are extremely successful around what they do.

The difference is that they know their customer and know themselves.  Wal-Mart’s goal is to bring products to consumers at the cheapest possible prices or in their words: “Saving people money so they can live better”.  Having a good experience in their stores is defined by paying less than you would at other businesses.

Nordstorm’s goal is to bring high quality products to customers creating an experience of luxury and excellence.

The key to both these businesses is knowing who they are, and part of the way you know that is by defining your target market.  We have discussed this before.  This can be difficult to determine but it becomes part of what defines you as a business and a brand in your community.

Have you done this?  Do you know what your ideal customer looks like?

If you are having trouble defining who that customer is, go negative.

Make a list of people you don’t like doing business with or who you don’t want to do business with.  You will soon find that you are narrowing the scope of your customer really quickly, but will often find that there are people in that list that are making it into your business and frustrating you and your staff.  It is time to put some stop signs in place against those you define as customer vampires draining the life from your agency.

Here’s a tool that I picked up from Michael Hyatt’s site:

customer service

This chart will begin to help you refine who your ideal customers are, allowing you to create action steps around each type, so that you can provide appropriate levels of delight and service.

Let’s take each one from the lowest priority to the highest.

Priority 4:  Low Profit/High Maintenance.  These are your dogs.  In our world of insurance, these are the people who generate the least amount of revenue for you, but create an awful lot of work.  They are never happy.  They call with billing questions constantly.  They are forever making changes to their policies, and in return offer very little back.  In the trade for value, you give way more value than they do.

Priority 3:   High Profit/High Maintenance.  These may really be the vampires inside your business.  They generate a higher amount of revenue for you, but they are hard to deal with, and drive your staff crazy. You secretly think about dumping them as a client, but the benefits they bring keep you holding on, suffering whatever abuse they continue to inflict upon you.  You remember the friend with the bad girlfriend (or boyfriend) they kept around for the status and benefits, but everyone was screaming: “Dump them!”

This one is very hard, but it is worth making a list of these folks and the value they bring to your business.  You may not let them all go, but force yourself to determine whether the abuse they offer is really worth the value you receive from them.

Priority 2:  Low Profit/Low Maintenance.  This customer doesn’t generate a lot of value for the agency, but they are so easy to work with and create very little friction in the office that you are willing to write this type of customer all day long.  Even though they don’t pay much, a lot of them become valuable because they create so little work for you.

Priority 1:  High Profit/Low Maintenance.  This customer has a high return on investment.  They generate a greater than average revenue per customer, are happy, pleasant, and create very little work with your staff.  They send referrals and never get petty or bog the office down with weird policy or billing questions.

How Do Implement This in Your Business?

  • Evaluate Current Book:  You have already been doing this.  As you have been reading through the list of priority customers, I guarantee that certain people have been coming to mind, and several you may have thought about dumping.  I bet your staff could do the same thing very quickly.

Determine what your average revenue per customer is.  Don’t get to complicated here.  Your management system can tell you average premium per customer, just use that rather than trying to parse out the individual commission rates per client.  If you can do that great, but it won’t dramatically impact your end list.

Who is below average and who is above it?  Who is in the top quarter?  Who is in the bottom?

Now you know the high and low profit customers.  Go through each one and determine who are the high and low maintenance customers.  This may be a job for your staff.  They interact with them the most, and if there is abuse, they probably take it.  

  • Create a Customer profile:  You will soon notice patterns and qualities.  Start listing out the characteristics that fits those buckets in your agency.  What does a Priority 1, 2, 3, & 4 look like in your agency.
  • Create Pre-Qualifying Strategies:  Now that you know what to look for, craft a list of pre-qualifying markers and questions to help you determine what bucket a customer fits into.  If during your initial interview with the customer, you see they are 3’s or 4’s, you begin to pass and send them down the road.
  • Align Your Sales & Marketing:  Ultimately, this will help with sales and marketing.  You have become really clear on the customers you want.  Now you can target your marketing to them.  You can learn what they like and don’t and where they are then intentionally begin building your agency with customers that fit you and your goals.

Songwriter Ed Sheeran said, “I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”

Or simply, like your mama said, “You can’t please everybody all the time.”, BUT you can choose who you want to please and build your agency around that.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

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Can You Measure Customer Service?

measure customer serviceYou have defined what good service is for your agency. You spent the time cranking out a service statement that all your people understand. The owners know it, the sales people know it, the service staff knows it, even the bookkeeper knows it. You plastered it on everyone’s desk, the break room, and the bathroom stalls. It is your mantra.

Weeks go by and you are beginning to wonder if anyone remembers your service pep rally. Are the slogans and statements shadows in people’s memory? Everyone signed onto your ideas, the staff helped you craft the philosophy, but how do you keep everyone on track with it?

You don’t want your service philosophy to become background static in everyone’s work lives.

Is there anything you can do to track your service activity and whether it is effective and reaching the goals you have set for your agency?

I think you can. In fact, I have seen it done.  Here’s three simple ways to measure customer service.

1. Metrics.   Are there numbers you can look at to see what is happening in the service department? Yes. There are two specific metrics your management systems should be able to tell you.

Retention. If retention is dropping, something is happening from the service side of the house. Yes, there could be other reasons such as company pricing or new stringent underwriting guidelines, but if you see this drop then it should be an indicator that something is going and customers are not happy.

Make sure you track this on a rolling twelve month basis, and track policies not written premium. Written premium can be deceptive because of rate activity, but you can not hide behind lost policies. If grabbing retention data is hard, the next best thing is to track cancelled policies. This one is simple and can be done monthly.

Referrals. If people are sending you customers, then something in your office is working. Now granted you may have great pricing, but I bet your people skills have more to do with it. You have a created a great experience for someone and they want to share it with a friend. Finding someway to begin tracking customer referrals. Most management systems have a “source” field that you can track where business is coming from.

[warning: for numbers geeks] Here’s a metric, I learned years ago that really helps with trend. Line graphing helps, but this one is tricky and can be revealing. It’s called the 3 vs. 12. Take the last rolling 3 months and compare to the last rolling 12 months. The percentage of change will eliminate anomaly months, and levels things out so you don’t start panicking if you have a bad month. [Analytic talk complete]

2. Mystery Shopping. You may bristle a little when you hear this. You may even worry that this will turn you into some crazed micro-manager with an office full of people whispering “service nazi” behind your back. Don’t worry. This doesn’t have to be crazy, but I promise it works.

Contact friends or customers and ask them to call in requesting a potential change to their policy. School them on questions and what to look for. For example, mystery customer #1 calls because they are looking at a new Honda Odyssey and wants to know what it will do to rate, and do they really need rental and what is that loan/lease gap coverage the car dealer mentioned. Mystery Customer #2 calls because they are considering an umbrella, but doesn’t really know what it is and how it works. These are simple things to do. Let your people know that you are doing them.

3. Surveys. Over the years, how many surveys have you mailed out to customers? How many did you get back? Probably not many, and if you got anything back it was only from the angry customers. This makes it look like you have big problems, because you don’t hear from the good ones.

Put yourself in their shoes. Do you like surveys? Be honest, don’t you just look at the 1-10 scale and check 8’s or 9’s on everything, if you do it all.

Use email surveys. You can create free surveys online at surveymonkey.com. If you search in Google you can find other options as well. Limit the survey to 3 questions. Make sure at least one question is open-ended and doesn’t generate a one word answer. Try to make them creative and occasionally ask about other places they get good service, so you get a sense of what they expect and what they like. This will let you tweak your own processes to exceed customer expectations.

Here are some sample questions: Would you refer your friends to us? Are answers to your questions clear and helpful? What drives you crazy about dealing with service people?

So what do you think? If you are serious about taking your service to the next level, measuring it is really the only way you can enforce and improve your standards.

Measuring service activity will keep your service standards from becoming a nice platitude. It will make it real and tangible in your office.

Are there other ways, you have measured your service performance?

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

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How Do You Create Customer Service Goals?

medium_4929302647One big secret to creating your own brand of great customer service is to give it a goal.

It needs a target, a finish line, an image of perfection to strive toward.

Without some tangible goal, it just flounders around like some amorphous amoeba.  You can’t pick it up and look at it because it slides through your fingers. You can’t describe because it’s always shifting and changing and only broad adjectives will work.

If you give it a goal, if there are real images of the perfect customer interaction, then you have done something truly different. You have separated yourself from most businesses. You have branded yourself and you are on the path to create a different experience for your clients.

So where do you start. Let’s start with the experience you want to create for your customers

* Customer Experience: Spend some time thinking through great customer experiences you have had. They are probably few and far between. Get your staff involved, but don’t call a meeting. Give everyone a couple of days to turn in examples of great experiences they had with various businesses and what made them great. If people are struggling then have them write out the bad ones and what made those miserable. Sometimes it is just easier to know what to avoid than what to do and add.

Recently I had a great experience with a local body shop.

Unfortunately we had a handful of minor dings that needed repaired. Of course, I asked around to find someone good and fair. First this place was beautiful as body shops go. Everything was clean, and all the employees were in perfect uniforms. They didn’t talk down to me or treat me like I was stupid (because I am, knowing nothing about cars). They gave me options on fixing the damage. They gave me a time frame for completion and an estimate on price.

So the day came to take the car into the shop, and by day’s end the phone was ringing letting me know it was complete. We drove over to the shop, and there it was, no scratches, clean and shiny. Surprisingly they completely cleaned out the interior of the vehicle as well (impressive). I walked in the office to settle up, expecting the price to be a good 10% higher than they said. Of course, I thought, they found something wrong or ran into some roadblock that cost a little more money. No, no, no, it was actually less than quoted. Only by a dollar, but it was still less. We drove away happy.

On the other hand, I battled it out with a phone company recently, receiving nothing but poor service at every turn. I will spare the gory details, but I decided to change phone companies to lower some of my bills. I called and got everything setup to start. They told me it would be a week before they could make the changes, which didn’t bother me. I hung up the phone, and crossed my fingers. A day later, I had questions and thought I would ask about my order. I called back, and it took several folks before they could find it. Then I began getting different answers about whether my number would be changed. One said no, the other said yes. One did some magic button pressing and placed me on hold. Someone transferred me to the division that would get it straight, yet they couldn’t. Eventually I cancelled the order, willing to pay more with my current carrier, just because of the hassle and incompetence.

I guarantee you have had similar good and bad experiences. Spend some time collecting stores and deciding what made them good and bad and how you could apply them in forms of do’s and dont’s within your own agency.

* Agency Behaviors: After you begin to collate your experiences into a workable list, turn them into true agency behaviors that everyone can accomplish:

smiles while on the phone, don’t let the phone ring more than twice, call backs in less than 12 hours, birthday cards for all customers, proposals emailed to customers within 2 hours, etc.

Make sure they match the things that you and your people value in your own experiences. During this exercise, you can even ask every customer about their own good and bad experiences. You and your staff may value different behaviors than your customers, and ultimately it is about them.

* Service Outcomes: List out real outcomes of the service experience you want to create. What does a satisfied customer look like. Define their experience after talking with you.

Then determine what impact will this have on the agency: increase in policy counts, increase referrals, improved retention, etc.

Make things as tangible as possible so they can be evaluated for effectiveness.

After you finish this exercise you should have a clear picture of what “great customer service” means, and you have created a target for your office.

It is tangible and something everyone can grab and hold. Communicate it to the agency and even your customers. Review periodically. Don’t be afraid to be creative and even a little weird. Throw in some random surprises that you would like to do for people.

Establishing customer service goals creates a tangible brand that your people and customers can embrace with delight.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

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Does Customer Service Really Matter In Your Business?

Customer Service Everyone says they have it and it’s the key that sets them apart.  Ask an insurance agent or any small business what makes them different from another business, and you know what they will say: “Great customer service”.  I don’t think I work with one agency that doesn’t claim to have great customer service, and I agree, most do.  But is that really a differentiator, does it really set you apart, if everyone else claims to have it.

Maybe.

Let’s talk about what really “great customer service” means, because I believe this may not be what we think.

Why is it important to your agency?  This may sound like a stupid question, but it’s worth considering, because service can easily become a mundane part of the agency.  It’s easy to let this part run on auto pilot, while you worry about where to find accounts, pay the bills, deal with HR issues, worry about the building, etc.

Consider this:  your service people are the face of your agency.  Very few people in your office talk with your customers as much as the service people do.  While the salespeople may be out hunting, the service people are creating impressions by the hundreds of every week with current customers, vendors, and company people.

Whether people continue to do business with you or not is often based on the relationship they establish with your service staff.

If there is stress in your office, if your people are negative and grumpy, if working conditions are miserable that will be communicated to your customers.

We all know this is true.  Think about the times you have to call your cable or phone company.  The monotone, robotic, depressing sounds that come from the receiver tell you those people are miserable, and if you can escape from doing business with them you will.

How about visits to the DMV?  Depressing!  It’s not the customers that drive the misery.  It’s the people behind the counter.  They are bored or discontented and their attitude produces a fog of depression in every corner of the office.

Not only are your service people the face of the agency, but they have the power to create and shape the culture of the office.  The sales people are usually gone, but the service people are always there and how they interact and shapes the atmosphere in the office.

One of the quickest ways to begin to change the culture of the agency is to affect attitudes of the people talking with your customers.

I see this all the time.  My regular trips to ABC Insurance are tense and unhappy.  There are whispers and gossiping, then one day I walk in the door and attitudes are dramatically changed.  There is energy.  People are smiling.  No complaints.  What has happened?  The customers are the same, the owners are the same, the office hasn’t been redecorated.  After putting on my detective hat and asking a few questions, I discover “Suzie Q” left last week for another job.

One sour soul poisoned the agency culture, but once she left, the attitudes turned on a dime.

So great service is important.  No one would argue the point, and having great service people not only impacts customers, but infects your whole operation.

Is it enough?  I don’t think so.  It’s has become so understood, especially for the local business, that good service is the baseline.

It is necessary, but to become really great there is more.  Figuring out ways to create customer loyalty and enhancing their experience with you will really set you apart.  Very few shops don’t neglect phone timeliness and are educated enough to generate sufficient answers, but do the customers have a unique experience?

Be Productive,

 

Theron Mathis

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How To Improve the #1 Reason People Buy From You

improve likable

What’s the number #1 reason that customers give for purchasing from someone? 

It’s not price or convenience. 

It’s likability.

Think about your own purchases.  Have you ever seen a car you liked, interacted with a sales person, but couldn’t pull the trigger?  Something about the salesperson was distasteful.  You couldn’t put your finger on it, but you didn’t like him.

Or remember the trip to your local electronic store to buy a new computer or TV.  Some young smarmy guy saunters beside you, spilling product knowledge all over you, but never listening, kind of creeping you out.  You couldn’t do it.  You walked.

I’ve written on creating marketing strategies to drive people into your business, but all the marketing savvy is worthless if your personality turns off the customer when he arrives at your door.

Can you become more likable?

Yes.

And it doesn’t matter where you are on the likability scale, this is one area where we can constantly improve.  In fact, start this exercise by asking people you trust to be honest where you rank on the likable scale from 1 to 10.  Then you know where to go, and how to improve.

Here are some tips:

1.  Them Not You. Focus on the other person.  Don’t spill out your expertise or knowledge on to them.  Ask questions about them (and not with the intention of them asking the same thing back).  Act interested, and followup with more questions.

2.  Build Rapport.  Rapport is not always easy, but the quickest way to build rapport is to look for commonality.  When you meet someone or go into their home or office, begin looking or asking for areas of commonality.  Look for those pictures of kids, sports team logos, hints about hobbies, anything that you can grab onto.  Maybe you are not interested in some of those things.  They don’t know that, and remember it’s not about you, it’s about them.

3.  Humor.  Laughing with a person creates likability almost instantly.  Sometimes the best thing to laugh at is yourself.  Especially if you find yourself nervous in a social interaction.  If you forget something or misspeak, you can laugh about it, and make the other person laugh as well.  Collecting funny stories or remembering humorous experiences from your life to pepper conversation is one way to improve.

Years ago I walked into an insurance agent’s office, and could tell he was on a difficult call with a customer.  I didn’t know the man well, and was a little nervous about the conversation. He hung up the phone in frustration, and before jumping into my spiel, I asked about the call.  He related the story of a customer misunderstanding something that should have been simple.

I laughed and told him a similar story from my own experience with a funny ending: a customer calling to remove his car from his policy—the blue one (oh, with a gold stripe).

Then we both laughed and the interaction opened up into a positive outcome.

4.  Smile.  This works even on the phone, and has become trite advice these days.  I have even seen mirrors propped next to people’s phone saying “They can hear your smile.”

But it’s true.

The crazy thing about smiling is that it makes you happier, in turn, becoming infectious to the people you encounter.

Many days, I drag myself out of bed, into the shower, into my car, sitting, waiting to walk into my first appointment, forcing myself into a couple goofy smiles in my car rearview mirror, and instantly I feel a little happier and more energetic.

5. Make Them Comfortable.  Sometimes you may notice, that it is not you that is nervous and unsure, but the customer.  Do what you can to make them comfortable.  Give them a cup of coffee, but them in a comfortable seat.  Walk around with them.  Anything.  Give assurances and set expectations, because they may be scared or worried about something.

6.  Know Their Style.  This one takes practice, but it can help immensely.  Have you come to the place in life that you realize not everyone is like you?  Sad, isn’t it.  The world would be such a better place, but probably incredibly boring if that was true.

There are multiple resources out there on social styles, and most group everyone into one of four quadrants such as Drivers, Amiables, Analytics, or Expressives.  Every resource may use different terms but they are similar.

This doesn’t mean everyone can be so easily pigeon-holed, but we all have dominant traits and these labels help understand how we interact with the world.  Knowing these and then trying to match your style to what you determine is another’s can create a deep sense of likability.

Good news:  We are all likable or we wouldn’t have customers, but becoming more likable can help all your interactions and will help you improve every sales encounter.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

Have you done anything over your career to become more likeable?  Do you have any humorous stories about unlikable sales-people?

 
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