10 Tips For Renewal Retention

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Follow these guidelines — and watch your retention rate (and bottom line) grow.

Much has been said and written about the costs of acquiring new business. These costs are so high that it’s essential to retain the business already on your books. An improvement in your account-retention ratio can have a dramatic effect on your bottom line, and your planning initiatives should address this.

Here are 10 tips to improve your retention ratio:

1. Visit the client before each renewal and perform a risk-management survey.

A survey allows you to identify new or changed exposures, and provides a terrific opportunity to get feedback from the client. You can use it to discuss other lines and to cross-sell Life, Disability, and Health coverage. A personal inspection of the premises might make you aware of a risk that the insured did not deem important enough to tell you about.

The on-premise survey enables you to do a far better, more complete renewal proposal. You might even be able to determine which of your competitors want to write the account and what sort of information they were given to formulate a quote. If they are basing a quote on your old policies, then any changes you find on the survey will be missing in their proposal — making it harder for them to compete with your more timely quote.

On-premise surveys provide an opportunity to discuss future plans with clients and possibly to talk to their CPA or attorney. You might also be able to review any contracts and leases or policies related to other activities. This puts you in the driver’s seat — you’re in control.

2. Conduct an annual sit-down review of all coverage and recommendations with the client.

In other words, conduct a proposal/coverage summary meeting. After completing the risk-management review described in step 1, go back to your office and put together a proposal that will allow you to sell the renewal to your client when you deliver it.

The proposal should be up to date, with no waiting for other alternatives (in most cases). You should even be able to take a renewal binder and a statement with you. If you’ve done your job well, you should land the renewal on this visit. Your competitor will usually not be able to use price as a selling point — unless your pricing is extremely high, a fact you would have recognized before the meeting.

The review of coverage (in the form of a proposal and coverage summary) will incorporate all the items discussed and agreed to in your earlier risk-management survey.

3. Keep cross-selling and developing the total account. As mentioned earlier, landing a new account costs you more than adding coverage to an existing account. You aren’t being pushy by developing the account — it’s what the client expects you to do.

This allows even further bonding with the client, making it difficult for them to move business to a competitor. By writing all lines, including Life, Health, and Disability, you are, in effect, the source the client goes to in all cases. And what’s the alternative? If you don’t have all of your client’s coverage, another agency has the same chance that you do to take over the account.

Controlling the entire account lets the client know that you’re a one-stop servicing agency — which is bound to improve your credibility and increase your clients’ confidence in you.

As an example of the process, let’s say that you write Workers Comp for a client, and that someone else writes the Health insurance. If the competitor writes P/C lines, you’re vulnerable. Handling Health, the competitor knows the number of employees, what they do, and the payroll. If you write both lines, however, your competitor can work only with whatever the client gives them.

Account development also applies to the area you already control (we hope!): the P/C side of the account. Picture a client who invested in a sophisticated automation system, and whose business depends on the system. Make sure a system breakdown is covered. A Property form might cover a few perils, or you might even have a policy with some limited breakdown coverage — but you need to see that the coverage is complete. Very broad breakdown policies are available. Imagine how impressed and grateful your client would be if you covered even one small loss! This is the kind of account development that you should be doing all of the time.

4. Send promotional mailings regularly to your client.

Even if clients don’t need coverage now, they might need it at some point. Regular mailings do more than advertise; they keep your agency’s name in the forefront of clients’ minds. By keeping those reminders coming, you’ll be the first one they think of when they decide to investigate additional insurance.

Life salespeople have a good technique: They hand-write a note on the mailing piece and sign it. This personalizes an otherwise cold piece of advertising and tells clients that the salesperson is looking out for them!

5. Stay in regular contact with the client, via telephone, mail, and personal visits.

Even if you don’t get to see the client, talk to someone in their office. Establishing rapport with their staff is important, since most Commercial clients have their calls screened and mail prioritized. You want your messages to be at the top of the pile. Train your CSRs and support people to maintain the same rapport with client staff people. Send birthday cards, business anniversary cards, flowers for new location openings, and so on.

Disseminate customer surveys and questionnaires asking clients to rate your services. Follow up when anything negative is mentioned. Find out what prompted the negative comment, and correct it as quickly as possible. After a period of time, follow up to see how you’re doing again.

With the advanced capabilities of most automation systems, surveys are easy and inexpensive to administer and track — not to mention a wonderful form of advertising.

6. Send clients topical information.

Insurance companies are always publishing newsletters, handbooks, pamphlets about legislation, risk management, and safety, and other informational materials. Most of these are free. Order a supply from a carrier and distribute them to your clients in person or by mail. At the same time, discuss any exposures they might have or schedule an engineering audit by the carrier, to save the client some anxious moments regarding compliance. Who knows, you might even write some new coverage as a result of the visit!

Of course, the same principle applies to e-communications: promotions, informational newsletters, etc.

7. Let clients know about new developments that might affect their operations.

Many current events affect the insurance industry.

Send copies of some of this material to your clients. You might even consider doing a seminar or workshop on the subject for selected clients or groups of clients. Some call this “seminar selling;” whatever it’s called, this is a form of communication that tells the client that you’re a professional and a leader in your field — and that your agency reflects this leadership.

8. Hire and develop “people people.”

People skills include nurturing, bonding, empathy, and advocacy. Any relationship you have with a client should be pleasant and display professionalism, service, and concern. You as an agency principal should expect no less than this from your staff. This means talking to — not down to — clients, and projecting a friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable image.

Although this takes time, it costs very little, and the benefit to the agency is phenomenal. Along with that, it helps convey that you’re the only insurance source the client needs.

Business planning should address this. Personal skills should be a part of every job description and employee-evaluation process. Good performance should be rewarded; average performance should prompt coaching and monitoring; and incorrigible below-average performance should trigger probation and eventually dismissal. Consider doing a seminar or workshop for employees on the subject of putting a smile in their voices and written communications.

Attitude is catching. It contributes to the positive morale that’s essential to your agency’s success.

9. Take a special interest in all claims.

This is the most golden of all opportunities. Your service should be at its best when a client suffers a loss — which is why the client bought the insurance in the first place! The loss is traumatic enough; don’t contribute to the trauma by failing to do something.

Since it’s difficult to guess which claimants are likely to be most distressed, assume that they all are: if not the specific client, then the client’s employees.

This makes your goal easy to define. Walk claimants through the claims process. Tell them what to expect: that you will not be doing the actual claim adjustment, but will still be assisting them all the way.

Unfortunately, many clients report the claim directly to the company, and problems have already escalated by the time the agency finds out about it. Sometimes the agency doesn’t learn about a botched claim until losing the renewal.

If you can get clients to report all claims to the agency, give them advice and empathy from the start — and enter the claim into your automation system to track it. Fax the claim to the carrier, get a claim number and the name of the adjuster who will be handling it, and describe the client’s frame of mind and sense of urgency to the adjuster. Having done that, send a card telling the client what to expect and advising them to call if they don’t hear from the adjuster in a reasonable time.

Follow up periodically. Once the claim is closed, send a postage-paid survey reply card asking for the client to evaluate both the company’s and the agency’s service. Follow up any negative responses with a personal call or visit by agency personnel.

Think of all of the natural disasters that have struck over the past couple of years: hurricane Katrina, floods in Oregon, California’s fires, mudslides, and earthquakes. Entire communities were traumatized, presenting an opportunity for savvy agencies to shine!

10. Take every opportunity to refer other business contacts to your clients and let them know you’re doing it.

This tip speaks for itself. Put clients in touch with each other for their mutual business interests. In effect, you’re creating your own affinity group, bonding them to you and helping the advocacy process to your benefit. The possibilities are enormous.

Ken Buehler can be reached at Buehler Communication Group, 103 Wyoming Autumn, Rio Rancho, NM 87124, (505) 891-9109, (505)292-8000, fax (505) 345-9511, e-mail krbuehler@msn.com.
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