Choose customers and golf buddies wisely

By | August 20, 2007

I figure my life is about half over, Lord willing. The first half was nice. I missed the ‘Nam draft, yet was old enough to appreciate The Beatles and some truly original rock ‘n roll. Despite the dearth of, ahem, enforceable laws to protect teens in the 1970s, I navigated high school and college. I even survived A Flock of Seagulls and the New York City two-martini lunch in the 1980s. The last century was darn good, with marriage to a nice Florida girl (go Gators) followed by the birth a couple of apparently well-behaved daughters. In 1999, at age 40, I was finished working for “The Man,” and opened a marketing firm. Unable to contain my excitement, Insurance is Fun! (www.insuranceisfun.com) soon followed.

All together now: “We don’t care about your life story, Peter.”

Please indulge me, dear IJsters–this will make sense.

As I started my own agency (not an independent insurance agency, but a service firm nonetheless), I had an epiphany. In the first half of life, I worked with a lot of smart people, especially in New York and Washington, DC. Some of these folks were nice; some were not. I didn’t expect any different. Sometimes you feel you’ve got to work with, or for, people who are a pain in the keester. You figure you can learn something from them–after all, they’re really well educated and intelligent and they didn’t get to a position of authority without some talent, right? You need to suck it up and deal with it. Business is tough, and working with tough people is the way it goes.

Not for me. Not anymore.
Today, I work with people who are smart and nice. I don’t work for people who are obnoxious, rude and condescending to me or my folks. Or ones who are habitually late in paying or won’t return calls. Or people who lie or try to manipulate you.

When you surround yourself with decent people, work and life just seem easier. Every time you pick up the phone, you actually can smile. Nice.

Have you adopted a policy like this in your firm? Have you adopted it for yourself? Do you agree it makes sense?

When it comes to that most-important game of insurance–I’m talking golf, not reading ISO updates to the CGL policy–you simply must enforce this policy.

Why? If you’re like most independent agents, you live on the edge with several clients–probably some big commercial accounts with whom you golf from time to time. On the course, these people are a mess. You want to cringe. They constantly curse, throw their golf clubs on a bad strike, comment on your swing, never fix divots, tell you how much money they make, cheat (themselves), gab on the cell phone during your backswing, blame the world for their problems, and tinkle in all the wrong places. (Hopefully, I’m not describing you.)

These customers are not customers. They’re embarrassments to you and your firm. Chances are they torment your employees when you’re not looking.

As insurance agents, you must deal with the public. That’s a challenge in any business, for sure. But you must weed out the bad apples. Don’t put up with them just because you figure you have to. Is the commission ultimately worth keeping them on the books when you factor in employee suffering?

It’s time for some action
Form your foursomes wisely. If you really don’t want to spend four-plus hours with someone on the golf course, chances are he or she shouldn’t be a client in the first place.

Second, be careful who you decide to call a new client. Don’t chase money; chase honest, savvy, decent people.

Next, let the service staff “fire” at least one nasty client each year. (Drunken plumbers come to mind.) You can even have a meeting where you all discuss who you’d like to fire–now that would be a meeting no one misses! You can write these customers a letter–tell them you don’t think you can make them happy or serve them properly going forward but that you’d like to help them continue their coverage by providing names of some local State Farm agents. Or, if these clients behave like cavemen, you can direct them to the Geico caveman for insurance.

Finally, avoid hiring or keeping prima dona producers and surly receptionists. Trust me.

If you’re the boss at your firm, cultivate this no-jerks policy among employees and clients. Your firm will be more profitable. If there is any singular thing you can do that’s more powerful to help your brand, I have yet to see it.

It’s not really about golf or insurance. It’s life. And life’s too short.

Peter van Aartrijk (peter@Aartrijk.com) has worked with independent agents and brokers on marketing challenges for 25 years. He also serves as Chief Fun Officer and columnist at Insurance is Fun (www.insuranceisfun.com), from which this article is adapted.

About Peter van Aartrijk

A former corporate communications executive and journalist, Peter van Aartrijk has worked with independent agents, brokers and carriers for decades on marketing-communications challenges. He is CEO of insurance marketing firm Aartrijk. He serves on the board of directors of the Insurance Marketing & Communications Association (www.imcanet.com), and he is the author of The Powers, a branding guidebook available at Amazon and bn.com. Email: peter@Aartrijk.com. More from Peter van Aartrijk

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Insurance Journal West August 20, 2007
August 20, 2007
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