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Building relationships is foundation of client-centered insurance model

Building relationships is foundation of client-centered insurance model

Talking to your insurance broker about how to protect your business or your home can seem like a game of Twenty Questions.

You start with the general statement: “I need coverage.”

Then your broker asks what, exactly, do you need to protect? What’s your risk tolerance? Are you willing to trade a higher deductible for a lower premium? Do you know what the law requires for your industry or your private property?

Quizzing is how agents and brokers work to make a buying experience more customer-focused.

Brian Allen

“You almost have to sit back and realize that insurance is [a] necessary evil that not everyone loves but everyone needs,” said Brian Allen, commercial insurance consultant with Walsh Duffield Companies, Inc. “How [can] we make it the most enjoyable experience for the consumer?”

Allen acknowledged the challenge of achieving that goal, particularly during the pandemic when many business owners feared for their livelihoods. But as with the rest of business and personal life, COVID-19 accelerated transformations in the insurance business.

Some area agents and brokers say they focus less on the transaction of selling a policy and more on building a relationship that puts the client at the center and makes the broker a resource to support the customer’s needs.

Carriers are contributing to the trend with fewer one-size-fits-all policies that agents and brokers further tailor to the client’s needs.

“It’s a lot of questions back and forth on our end,” said Jacob Sanabria, personal lines team leader at Brown & Brown. “ It’s walking clients through different coverages, explaining to them what the coverage actually covers and taking a look at what they currently have versus what maybe they actually need, which could be two different things completely.”

Insurance isn’t usually taught in school. Most people learn it on the fly, and the lessons can be hard. Local agents said carriers are in the process of simplifying some language in their policies, but jargon remains and it’s not part of everyday conversation.

Jacob Sanabria Brown

“Insurers’ carriers are certainly taking that into consideration and trying when creating policy language to make it so [one] doesn’t require a PhD to go through and understand what the coverage language is saying,” Sanabria said.

He said carriers are using technology to provide support, such as guiding clients through a process to determine whether filing a claim is appropriate. But brokers still find themselves giving most of the explanations.

“It’s very important to ask the questions, go through the time to cover the actual policy coverages that you’re proposing,” Sanabria said. “That’s where you start to get those questions answered and get a little more engagement.”

“When there’s buy-in and they start asking questions, that’s always a good thing. It shows that even though they may not know a lot on the topic, when you can kind of put it to them and give them examples of what each covers, they become a lot more engaged in that conversation.”

Rob Ryan

Rob Ryan is director of sales for Paychex Insurance Agency, which, he said, is focused on teaching clients about its lines of health and benefits, and property and casualty. The company said the goal is to simplify the administrative aspects of business so owners can focus on getting the job done.

“I think our clients are very responsive to that approach,” Ryan said.

His team teaches what he called “pulling levers” when building a plan. He gave health insurance as an example.

“People don’t generally understand that I can increase my co-payment, increase my deductible, decrease my out of pocket expense,” he said. “Those levers, when we ask the questions, start to help them custom build that plan at a price point that they feel comfortable with.”

The response from clients often is, “‘Well I didn’t understand that was an option that I could make to custom fit my company,”’ Ryan said.

Part of the education is the understanding that needs change, and a policy purchased years ago may not be suitable now.

“What we try to do is not wait for the small business owner to figure it out,” Ryan said. “We try to proactively reach out to them and say you should really review your coverage. Are you over insured? Underinsured? What’s your price point?”

He also said his team helps clients understand compliance and make sure they meet regulations.

A big part of the customer-centered philosophy is in what happens after the sale.

Tarek EldaherBrokers have access to the same carriers, “so you have to differentiate yourself and the services that you provide to the customer,” said Tarek Eldaher, commercial lines sales leader at Brown & Brown.

Eldaher said the level of service has changed in the 12 years he’s been in the business. “That means how can they access their broker, whether through technology or directly. That’s critically important. Do they have a claims department on staff? Do they have somebody that reviews construction contracts for individuals? You can go out and buy insurance, but what value-added services does your broker give you so that not only is the price important, but what else are you getting to help support that risk management program?”

Insurance companies are starting to position themselves as resources to business owners and can provide trainings in topics such as ergonomic analysis and other workplace safety practices, loss control and human resource services. Because most people won’t have a claim, brokers want to help their clients do more than just spend money on a premium and not get anything in return.

“If you can change that experience for the customer — where you can make sure that they’re getting everything that they need — you can be checking in on them throughout the year … they can look at you like a true valuable member of their team,” Allen said. “That’s when you start flipping the mindset of insurance (from) ‘it’s a drag’ versus ‘I’m getting a lot of value from my insurance program.’”

Patti Singer is a freelance writer in Rochester. Contact her at [email protected]