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Communicating with Clients in 2010 - Mixing the Old and the New

(Reprinted from PIA Magazine)

What differentiates your independent insurance agency from the agency down the street? Ask any agent this age-old question and there?s always one resounding answer: Service, service and service.

Good service usually is defined as meeting your clients? needs in a timely manner. Let?s say that most agencies do a decent job processing their insureds? requests. Let?s also say that most agencies are open at reasonable hours and their people are accessible, friendly and knowledgeable. If most agencies are doing these things, it?s pretty hard to differentiate yourself.
Meeting client needs is an important concept. How do we meet our clients? needs? Wait, back up. Have we identified our clients? needs? Ahhh, this is the crux of the situation. We need to communicate effectively with our clients first to determine what they want in order to meet their needs and provide superior service.

People like to receive their communication in different ways and today there are more ways to communicate than ever before. One size does not fit all in the communication game. Thankfully, someone decided to classify people and make this puzzle easier for us to solve.

Looking at clients in terms of generations will help agencies in 2010 and beyond. Each generation has similar qualities and attitudes, learning these qualities will allow us to communicate effectively (and differently) with each generation.

1925-1945?Silent generation. They often are afraid of and skeptical about technology. Most of them prefer good old-fashioned print and the personal phone call.

1946-1964?Baby boomers. They are forced with the dilemma of adapting to new technology out of necessity, while at the same time being old dogs learning new tricks. While most have cell phones, they may be uncomfortable with the varied features that are regularly included in them. Many of these individuals love the Internet and can be found on Facebook checking on their kids or grandkids.

1965-1979?Generation X. They were the early adopters of most technologies. This group grew up on video games. They falsely were labeled the slacker generation because the way they learned, worked and played differed so much from previous generations, due to their use of technology.

1980-2000?Millennials (or Generation Y). They are a unique group of American youth, as they have had access to computers and even the Internet for most or all of their lives. This changes the way they learn and communicate. Millennials multi-task, think in terms of multi-media as opposed to simply text and exchange and process information extremely fast. Millennials seems to favor quantity over quality in terms of communication.

If you want to communicate with your clients or prospects, a multi-pronged communication plan should be the goal for 2010. This plan should be cross-generational.

Let?s take a closer look at various communication methods such as mail, newsletter, radio, phone, newspaper, RSS feeds, blogs and social media.
Snail mail. The standard U.S. postal service delivery still is effective for the silent generation and baby boomers. Make it stand out and quick-to-the-point if you?re targeting Generations X and Y.

The best newsletters are not overwhelming to read, there are pictures, lots of white space and interesting articles that are informative and succinct. Both electronic and paper newsletters should be used. The newsletter should be posted on your Web site, mailed to clients, e-mailed, posted on Facebook and you can notify members via a tweet using Twitter. This multi-pronged approach will hit all your clients.

Radio and television
These outlets still are strong. The important factor here would be to understand the demographic of the station to be sure you are reaching your target audience.

Phone calls and text
Plan to call your baby boomers and the silent generation at least once a year. But you?ll only irritate the Xers and millennials unless you?re texting them.

I know a 25-year-old customer service representative who has a nice little book of business of all her friends and family. She tells me that more than 50 percent of the communication with her clients is done through texting. Her notification to a friend, (plates in c u @ 3) lets the client know that the runner just came back with his plates for his newly registered vehicle and he can come to the office at 3 p.m. to pick them up. This is the service of the future.

No, not every CSR will need a company cell phone to text from because there are services on the Internet that allow you to text someone right from your computer.

Newspaper ads
Xers? newspaper readership is dwindling and millennials don?t read them. Younger generations rely on the Internet to get their news and are building RSS feeds regularly.

RSS feeds
Most commonly translated as ?Really Simple Syndication,? it enables users to get aggregated information from multiple sites they are interested in at one location. We tend to be creatures of habit and look for our information in the same places on a daily or weekly basis.

Most of us have mastered the ?favorites? function in relation to the Internet, you save your favorite Web sites so that it?s a click away instead of having to type in the Web address.
RSS feeds are along the same idea as favorites, think of it as creating your own newspaper. On the Web sites that you check on a regular basis you would click the RSS feed button. Now you have created a place where RSS feeds from your specific Web site interests will feed into on a daily basis. Creating an agency blog that can be fed into people?s RSS feeds will keep your agency in front of the younger generation.

Short for Web log, a blog is a Web page that serves as a publicly accessible personal journal for an individual or business. Typically updated daily, blogs often reflect the personality of the author. Creating a blog for your agency Web site can be work, but well worth it in the long run. Letting your clients know about your blog via e-mail and regular mail will create a readership and allow folks to add your blog to their RSS feed.

Social media
Social media can be defined as software tools that allow groups to generate content and engage in peer-to-peer conversations and exchange of content. We?ve all heard of sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so on.

Facebook is a community with more than 350 million active users, but many businesses use this medium improperly. Think of it as a method to keep in touch with clients, not to sell something.

It?s like going to a cocktail party. You don?t go to a cocktail party with flyers and sales pitches about your business?it?s tacky and boring. Instead you make interesting chitchat with people at the party, trying to connect with others on some human level. Your Facebook posts should be interesting chitchat.

Another analogy for Facebook or Twitter posts (tweets) is the local small business that makes good use of its signage out front. The most memorable are the ones that put snappy comments or witty statements that usually have nothing to do with their business.

I envision the agency of the future as a sharp cutting-edge business that asks each of their clients what is their preferred method of contact. This information would be entered into their agency management system in the customer file. Reports would be run based on this information and communications to clients segmented and acted upon as each client prefers. In 2010 the answer will range from phone, text, e-mail, letter, to the Facebook inbox. Who knows what the answers will be five years from now?
Agents are an agile and flexible group of business people and have always adapted to soft and hard markets, changes in regulations in the industry, competitive and mandatory coverages.

Not that long ago, agencies had file cabinets and handwritten endorsements that were mailed off to the insurance companies. Advances in technology have brought us great agency management systems, upload/download, company interface and so much more.

Changing the way we communicate with our clients and prospects is the next bastion of insurance Darwinism to which me must adapt. You can do it?think of it as the next big adventure. If you don?t want to adapt, you may find yourself on the road to extinction.

June Sousouris is director of sales for Special Agent Inc. in Holbrook, Mass. She has more than 20 years experience in the insurance industry and previously served as vice president of sales & marketing of a large insurance agency. Special Agent ( is a full-featured insurance agency management system used by more than 300 agencies across the country. She can be reached at (800) 842.0450 or

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