How an insurance broker can piss off its customers in 4 short paragraphs

It’s that time of year again… when the broker that handles my house insurance pisses me off by sending me a letter reminding me of what bad customer service is.

The letter reads:

Dear Aaron:

Re: Policy xxxxxxxxxxxx

I am pleased to offer renewal of your policy which presently expires on April 15, 2011. The information I have on file would suggest coverage of at least $xxxxxxxx on your dwelling this year. Based on this amount, the premium for renewal is $xxxx.

You currently have $xxxx sewer back up coverage. If you have installed a sump pump and back flow value you are eligible to increase this limit. Please call me at your convenience to discuss this.

I recommend that you review your current policy, taking note that there are limits of insurance for unscheduled items such as jewellery, furs, bikes, stamp and coin collections, etc.

xxxxx is a full service insurance office insuring homes, cottages, apartments, condominiums, boats and motors, aircraft and all classes of business as well as AUTOPAC and TRAVEL insurance.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely

xxxxxxxx

We are now on the web. Visit us online at xxx.xxxxxxxxxxx.xxx

Let’s ignore the grammatical errors in the letter and the redundancies in the PS.

Here are some of the problems I have with this letter:

  1. In paragraph 1, they start out with the amount that I owe. Boom. Like a slap in the face. The way it’s positioned reminds me that our relationship is based on money. I am just a policy payment to them. (That may be true for many businesses, but customers don’t want to feel that way).
  2. In paragraph 2 and paragraph 3, they remind me of how they are limiting coverage. After they’ve asked for my money. :(
  3. In paragraph 4, they tell me they are a “full service” company and then they list their products. After reminding me how much I am paying them and telling me how much they are limiting my coverage, this 4th paragraph is a too-little, too-late attempt to get me to buy more coverage from them.

It’s really not the letter itself that pisses me off, I guess. Rather, it’s what this letter stands for: I don’t actually feel like a customer. I am a policy and an annual policy payment.

They shouldn’t be surprised that I have absolutely no loyalty to them. They have done nothing to win my loyalty. And I’m sure I’m not alone. This isn’t a problem with this specific broker alone; it’s a problem that is common in the insurance industry.

Here’s what I would recommend if they wanted to know how to keep me as a customer:

  • Start the letter by telling me that I’m a valued customer.
  • Rather than just sending me an invoice disguised as a letter, why not send me a real letter (a friendly one) with an invoice. Separate the pain and use the letter to make me feel special.
  • Remind me about what I am getting. Insurance is one of those tricky sales because you pay but don’t actually see the benefit until something bad happens. However, that coverage is still a tangible, quantifiable thing and it should be highlighted in the letter so it feels like I actually “got something” for my money. (Got something other than “screwed”, which is how a lot of people feel when they pay for insurance).
  • I understand that you are probably required by law to mention coverage limits. However, this can be done in a nicer way, and it doesn’t have to take up 2 of your 4-paragraphs. (If you take my earlier advice and send an invoice with the letter, include it on the invoice).
  • Send some free information. There’s a lot of info out there and, as a homeowner, I would love to know more. Maybe send me something that not only benefits me but could also benefit you down the road. For example, why not send a few helpful how-to brochures produced in conjunction with a local home improvement store about how to improve the value of my home. (Heck, why not throw in a coupon for 25% off a can of paint?) I end up with some ideas to make my home better, and next year you can talk to me about how my higher-valued home needs more insurance.
  • If you are going to limit my coverage, at least tell me what I can do about it. I’m sure there are extension policies that can be purchased for all of the fur coats I own (or whatever). Or, if I’m worried that my fur coats might not be covered, why not suggest a fur storage place in town (and set up a reciprocal customer agreement with kickbacks) where my fur coats will be safe and insured. (BTW, I don’t actually own any fur coats. That’s not how I roll).

That’s what I would suggest for the letter. Now here’s what I would suggest in general if they ever asked about how to make me a loyal customer:

  • If you want to win my loyalty, you need to remind me over and over why I’m a customer. It’s NOT because you’re “a full service insurance company”. Rather, it’s because I think my house is awesome and I want to protect it.
  • Pick up the phone and give me a call a couple of times through the year. Touch base. Keep it friendly. Ask about the wife and the business. When I mention that I’m traveling to the UK, it’s okay to casually mention that you have travel insurance. But keep those offers casual and relevant. There’s a reason that, in the past 7 years I’ve had my house insurance with you, I have never EVER thought of asking you to provide my life insurance or business insurance. It never crossed my mind
  • Send something a couple of times a year. Nothing extravagant. Flowers. A card. A calendar. A fridge magnet. Even information is nice (and probably costs you less but would be more highly valued by me if it were carefully chosen). I don’t mean that this should be all about free gifts; rather, I’m trying to suggest that you add value and remind me that I’m more than a policy. (You could have sent a bottle of sparkling non-alcoholic wine when I first bought my house insurance from them, by the way).

Every day on TV we see commercials for insurance companies who are battling with each other over price. Each one claims to offer lower prices than the last. There’s a reason that they are fighting about price. It’s because everything else about their companies are so similar and they haven’t been able to differentiate themselves in any other way. This is true not only for insurance companies but for the brokers who sell their policies.

And to my insurance company: The check is in the mail. But it could be the last.

Read More

Just read: ‘Building a Successful Food Blog’ at Inc Magazine

In this Inc. Magazine interview by writer Clarissa Cruz, food blogger Deb Perelmen answers questions about what it takes to blog and how she grew her food blog into a (nearly) full-time career.

The recipe for building a successful blog is passion + dedication + time + consistency. A valuable lesson for any brand that wants to blog.

Read the interview here: Building a Successful Food Blog.

Read More

How to transition from a struggling bricks-and-mortar business to a successful online business

In a recent issue of Clickbank’s ezine GetRichClick, I read a great article about two business partners who owned a gym. Facing industry pressure to lower prices, they slowly transitioned their offline bricks-and-mortar business to an online one… a very successful online business.

Starting with a small product and relying on organic search (instead of pay-per-click), they built a large list. Although the target markets were similar between their gym and their online business, they had to build an entirely new sales funnel. They focused on the right things and eventually achieved a point in their business where they could sell the gym and focus entirely on their online business.

From this article, I’ve distilled some useful tips about transitioning from bricks-and-mortar to online:

  • Start slowly with an idea that has some synergies with your existing business.
  • Leverage the brand equity you already have and work to build additional online equity.
  • Create a new sales funnel, run it parallel to your existing bricks-and-mortar sales funnel.
  • Work hard, be consistent, and stick with it.
  • Build a list.
  • Get others to start selling for you (via affiliate relationships).

Read the full article here: Super Affiliate Shares Business Roadmap

Read More

I eat at Marcello’s and you should too

A key part of every business’ sales funnel should include a transformation from customer to evangelist.

A customer is a contact who buys from your business. An evangelist is a customer who tells others about your business. Although the cash flow goal of your sales funnel is to acquire customers, one of the profitability goals of your sales funnel should be generate lots and lots of evangelists.

So, what does a business evangelist look like?

I want to tell you about an example of business evangelism from my own life.

I have a client whose office is downtown and sometimes I do work for this client at their office. Since they are located right in the heart of downtown, I like trying out different places for lunch. During my lunchtime exploration, I found a restaurant called Marcello’s Deli & Market that I have absolutely fell in love with.

The atmosphere is European (which appeals to me), there is a wide selection of food (which is nice for variety), there are some delicious AND healthy choices (I’m trying to eat right), and the value is surprising (hey, who doesn’t love a deal?).

I go there quite frequently when I’m working at my client’s office. If that’s all I did, I’d be a customer (and they have lots of those). But I’m so much more:

  • I “check in” on Foursquare every time I’m there. Apparently I’ve checked so often that I have locked up the Mayorship pretty easily, but it’s also become a running joke among several of my friends when I go (and I definitely hear about it when I go somewhere else instead!)
  • When other people in my client’s office are going there for lunch, they invite me along. Apparently, in their office, my name has become synonymous with Marcello’s!
  • As well I talk this place up as frequently as I can to whoever will listen. It usually comes up in conversation when a colleague who is going downtown will be looking for a lunch place. I’ve convinced several people to try it out the next time they are downtown.
  • Lastly, I’ve brought 2 other people there to try out the Marcello’s experience and one happy colleague has eaten there a couple of times with me and even sought it out in another city when he was traveling.

As a very active and unabashed evangelist, I have moved several contacts through a type of sales funnel for Marcello’s. The rewards I get for this are (1) Marcello’s stays in business, and (2) my friends and colleagues have a positive experience when they go for lunch. (I want to be “that guy” — the one who recommends a great place to eat that others might not think of, but which surprises everyone).

If you run a business, generating an army of eager evangelists should be a goal. It is far more profitable to have highly credible word-of-mouth marketing than paying for ads and fliers.

Depending on what you sell, you can help your customers become evangelists by using social media tools (to start, create a Facebook page, get a Twitter account, and register on Foursquare), hosting exclusive “customer only” events, offering invite-a-friend discounts, and more. Make it easy to talk about and share your business with someone else so your customers can excitedly (and succinctly) tell others.

If you provide value and empower your evangelists, they’ll move people through your sales funnel on your behalf.

(And by the way, if you’re ever in these Canadian cities, be sure to try out Marcello’s!)

Read More

Your marketplace is changing. Are you keeping up?

A friend of mine observed that I tend to change my brand a lot: Longtime readers will know that I’ve shifted various aspects of my blog and my brand over the years.

The reason for this continuous shift isn’t a lack of definition about who I am or what I do; it’s not because I have nothing better to do; it’s not because I’m addicted to change. Rather, I’m constantly testing and experimenting. Here are some of the things I’m always testing:

Content

  • Content value: what do I like to talk about?
  • Content potential: What services do I offer and how do I communicate value in line with those services?
  • Content impact: What gets read, clicked, backlinked, and commented on?
  • Site stickiness: How long do people stay?

Marketing effectiveness

  • SEO: Where am I showing up in search engines?
  • Sales funnel: How am I doing at each stage in my sales funnel? Is my funnel full and is everything moving along? the way it should be?
  • Sales results: How are my proposals doing?
  • Niche markets: Am I reaching my potential customers?
  • Longevity: Am I keeping up with industry and buyer shifts?

Technical/User-experience

  • Page load speeds: Do pages load quickly?
  • Error messages: Are people actually seeing my content?

I haven’t picked these items randomly, and they’re just a sampling of a larger group of things I’m paying attention to in my business. But these are all — for one reason or another — factors that have my attention. And although I’m not slavishly pouring over stats and code every day, I do devote time to those elements. I figure, if I get these things right, I’m most of the way there.

And here’s why I do this: I want to get and keep customers, but I also realize that the marketplace is always shifting. We can’t stay the same because the world will pass us by. Business owners need to stay on top of the trends in their industry (trends that they and competitors are experiencing, which will influence how they deliver their products or services) and in the marketplace (trends that customers are experiencing, such as buying habits).

That’s why I seem like I’m always tweaking my brand. Yes, it drives down the consistency of my message. That is a risk. However, I think there is a significant upside as well: I’m not likely going to “age out” of my marketplace. And, I’ve worked hard to keep my finger on the pulse of the market so I know where it’s going.

You would do well to make your own informal list of things to track. Start with an overall idea of what your industry is all about and what your marketplace is demanding. Then, start thinking about what your marketplace will be demanding next week or next year and experiment today with some small brand shifts.

Read More