When I bought my minivan, I refused to buy it from my local dealership. The reason? The local sales rep added no value to my sales transaction. He was satisfied in having me or a rep from another dealership do all of the work in research and haggling, and then saying, “Well, I’ll meet that price.”
“No, sir, you won’t,” I replied.
I then proceeded to tell him that I was repulsed by his belief that I was required to buy from him. As I packed up my notebook of research and pricing, he asked, “What do I need to do to earn your business?”
My final words were, “That’s just it, earn it. You did no work and your price is no different.” And I went and bought the Sienna from the rep that took time to really sit down, talk and work with me.
As independent ins-urance professionals, earning is what we do—customer business, customer confidence and customer service.
Proud to be a Texan
For the independent insurance agents in Texas, there is a new resource—InfoCentral (www.iiat.org/info/info.htm)—published and maintained by the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas. Subtitled, “Your Essential Resource for Answering Policy Coverage Questions,” the site is a virtual library of information for agents, CSRs, and reps who need real-time answers in language that a customer can understand.
The site includes policy guides, handbooks, and white papers developed by the IIAT for its members as well as reports on the effects of legislation and regulation on insurance. But what I like most is the side-by-side translation of actual policy language and its “English” equivalent.
One of the ways that insurance professionals provide value to a customer is by translating the arcane into understandable language. The problem is that while we are all fluent in “policy” and “English,” the difficulty comes in fairly and accurately translating between the two. InfoCentral’s staff does a fantastic job of providing a resource that aids in the process, by getting to the nitty-gritty of the policy language, not some cursory summary of the entire line of business.
Second, I like the way that the site is laid out. As a “library” it needs to be easily accessible from a number of different methods. The value that this provides is that it takes the single copies of paper handbooks that used to litter an office and puts them in easy reach of everyone in the office at the same time.
In that library or perusing materials, we all have our own ways of looking for information. Some go by topic, some use the table of contents, and some of us use the index. A good site lets all of us find the information in our own way, because for each one of us that is the quickest way.
Since almost all of us have grown up with the Windows Explorer paradigm, one frame provides us with a drill down menu of folders and page icons. The Explorer method of navigation is comfortable; we know that the little folder means information inside and that clicking on the little “+” sign will drop down the information. This way, no strange navigation tricks to learn or odd organizational hierarchy training required.
Most of the site is organized by lines of business-from Business Auto Policy through Workers’ Compensation-each with sub-categories of Policy Guides and Technical Reports. So if we are not sure exactly what it is we are looking for, drilling down helps us narrow our search. This is especially helpful for trying to answer customers who aren’t totally sure what they need; they just know it has to do with their house, car or business.
Third for me, are the search capabilities. I like the fact that it gives me a powerful search engine that not only will search for exact strings-important for phrases peculiar to insurance-but also fuzzier (synonyms and same sentence) and more defined (search within selected lines of insurance) search strings. The results from the search are listed with links and the corresponding portion of text. Now you can quickly see if the result is what you are looking for rather than having to click and go find out.
Probably the most exciting of the search capabilities is that once you click to go to the page, the page loads with the search string highlighted at the top of the page. No hunting through the page or hitting “Ctrl-F” to find it; it’s easy to see and easy to give an answer. Plus, the “Prev Hit” and “Next Hit” buttons make it easy to work through the search results without having to go “back” each time to the original results page.
Backing it up
Like I said, InfoCentral provides values to its subscribers. The “What’s New” portion is updated weekly. This is nice in that besides giving an explanation of a change, it also provides links to all of the different pages where the changes have occ-urred. This helps the insurance professional get a full grasp of the breadth of the effect that the legislation, code or court could have on their business. It is also backed up with an e-mail alert/newsletter subscription option that is insurance-line specific.
How important is providing value? I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Pat Arnold’s name. She is the Director of Infor-mation Technology for the IIAT and heads up the InfoCentral project. She explained that a site like InfoCentral goes beyond agents and would be a great resource for other insurance professionals as well. For example, adjusters coming into Texas to assess claims could use InfoCentral to quickly access some of the peculiarities of Texas insurance policies.
The other reason I mention her name is that she becomes a good point of contact for other state organizations and professional affiliations that are looking to do the same. To paraphrase Arnold, customers want agents to be able to provide them all the advice and information an agent can give, in order to help them with decisions that will affect their lives and jobs.
It’s called value. We pride ourselves in providing that to our customers and we know that our success is based on providing value. It’s time that we hold our professional affiliations accountable in the same way.