Change starts at the beginning
The problems with commodity selling
The insurance agent owning the company sold the business to a larger company several years ago. The personal touch quickly went away; we could not tell you the name of anyone working at the new company. It was the opportunity to look for a new insurance agent.
The search online for local companies produced a sizable list of possibilities. Expectedly, there would little expectation of contacting an agent over the weekend. Each of the local agents had varying ways of being contacted; complete online forms, call and leave a voice mail or write an email.
Of the several that were contacted, the most memorable (for the wrong reason) was the agent who responded by email within an hour. The message was simple; fill out the attached three pages about your current policy and the agent would call after you return the form.
Instead of completing the form, the email that we sent stated that we were looking for an agent; not just a quote. The agent responded in his email that he also preferred a “customer relationship”. He further stated that unfortunately Progressive, Geico and General insurance had ruined the industry and turned everything into commodity buying.
To narrow down the inquiries of those just looking for a quick price quote, the agent resorted to requiring completing of the form. Further disappointment occurred when he then asked to see our current policy. Instead of asking questions about us and what we thought we would need in an insurance policy, the agent just wanted to look at what we had previously purchased.
We see the agent’s attempt to get past a quick quote. However, it also appears this agent is willing to get into the commodity game, and only hopes that a potential customer that is wanting a relationship will find him. I am not sure how completing the form would get someone to a relationship as the form seems like a contradiction to what he wants to be.
The lesson learned from this personal experience is one that is appropriate for our businesses. If we are going to build a business based upon a relationship with our customer, the relationship should start at the very beginning. It is not up to the customer to prove themselves to us; it is our responsibility to prove ourselves to our customers.
So, what would a relationship be? The relationship would start with learning about the customer; understanding about their business and listening to the buyer. There is often a sizable difference between what the customer wants and what the customer needs.
This is where we come in as a customer centric business. The item a customer is currently buying may be the best choice for them, but we have to make the effort to investigate its usage and see if we can offer the customer something more in tune with their needs. It may be something with a different cost as well as it could be something that better serves their needs.
Unfortunately for us, if everything the customer buys from us is the same as what they last bought we can be thrown into a price competition. We then have to find something that will distinguish us from a competitor; be it a competitor that has a salesperson or a faceless online business.
We must have hours, services, return policies, delivery services or other points of distinction for our customer to see us as different from any and all competitions. These distinctive differences must be present and visible from the beginning of the interaction with each customer.
Our industry has not been relegated to being a commodity as much as the insurance industry has. However, commodity continues to encroach on many aspects of our businesses and lives.
Borrowing a phrase that should be a reminder to all of us; he who becomes a commodity last is the winner.