Canadian Underwriter

Editorial: Don’t think of customer needs as burdens

March 28, 2016   by Jeff Pearce

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I hope they don’t still teach Death of a Salesman in high school English—because it sucks. I never understood why we’re supposed to sympathize with Arthur Miller’s hero, Willy Loman, because the shmuck clearly doesn’t face the world as it is, and he won’t change. In the same way, I fail to understand the open hostility, the feeling of betrayal, some brokers have over insurers choosing to go direct. Do you feel you actually “built the brand,” and the brand walked away from you? Or is your grudge about something more?

Look, if Loblaws closes at 10 p.m, where do you get your milk? The corner store that stays open. And if they discount milk by 20 cents or sell that popular new ambrosia-flavored almond milk with genuine shavings of coconut and unicorn horn, members of the Association of Gaelic Greengrocers and Chocolate Bar Shelf Adjusters don’t run into the streets with lit torches like the villagers chasing Frankenstein’s monster. The game ain’t rigged, folks—it’s just you’ve got a Star Wars Monopoly board, and the friends you invited may want to go play Assassin’s Creed on Cheryl’s 42-inch Sony screen.

You’ll find in our Special Report some enlightening research. For instance, two thirds of the brokers surveyed worry about what kind of customers they’ll deal with thanks to the trend of direct innovation. They think a client will use what’s online as a “bargaining tool.” A third of them anticipate “a client will use it to arm themselves with knowledge to speak to the broker, but will not buy anything online.”

I put it to Ed Meiering at Aviva that this is the wrong way to think about the issue, because a broker is treating the customer as a burden. He agreed with me. “I think the reason why brokers answered that way is because a lot of them haven’t invested yet in technology that can help them communicate with customers the way they want to. And so when somebody comes in more informed due to an online experience, they might see that as a different kind of customer.”

And maybe they are. So deal with it. To hell with the model of Willy Loman, the guy famously “riding on a smile and a shoeshine.” For all its excoriating nastiness and lack of political correctness, Alec Baldwin’s “motivational” speech in Glengarry Glen Ross has genuine straight talk for sales people.

“You got the prospects coming in,” Baldwin’s character barks at the poor-performing sales team. “You think they came in to get out of the rain?” And he laughs cruelly at them. “Sitting out there waiting to give you their money! Are you gonna take it?”
Copyright © 2016 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the February 2016 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.