Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Honest Truth About Insurance In Nevada

Nancy Orrick, our Nevada field marketing representative, is retiring this week, with Gary Gerber taking over her responsibilities, thus adding them to Arizona which was already his domain.

The occasion is a perfect opportunity to clear up some common misconceptions about insurance in Nevada. Despite the reputation of the state in general and Las Vegas in particular, personal lines there are the same as they are in the other forty-nine states. Honest.

Here are some incorrect, albeit popularly held beliefs about Nevada insurance:

  • A new policyholder does not indicate acceptance of terms by scraping their first premium on the table.

  • Deductible limits are not determined by what number comes up on a roulette wheel in the agent's office.

  • Auto claims adjusters do not indicate whether a car involved in an accident can be repaired by checking either the "know when to hold 'em" or "know when to fold 'em" box on their report.

  • There is no option to double down any given discount in return for one more renewal.

  • The number of payments per policy term is not referred to as Fever Five. Or Easy Six. Or Hard Four. Et cetera.

What we do have in Nevada are great agents selling quality home, dwelling fire and auto coverage at a competitive price.

But no slot machines. Honest.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Of The People, By The People

Need to set this one up a bit.

This past weekend, I spent time with some fifty thousand plus of my closest, most personal friends in Fontana, California at Auto Club Speedway. Reason? NASCAR was in town.

A bit of education about NASCAR for the stock car racing neophytes out there. In the sport, there are three main series. The main one is the Sprint Cup Series. The one for trucks is the Camping World Truck Series. And the one that is one level below the Sprint Cup Series is sponsored by some other insurance provider that shall not be named.

Saturday's race was the Stater Bros 300 (Stater Bros is a grocery store chain in southern California). The race was the second one of the season for the insurance provider that shall not be named series. Among its participants were Mrs. Paul Hospenthal, better known as Danica Patrick.

As in most every other auto racing series, each NASCAR race starts with the wave of a green flag. A recent tradition in NASCAR is for the flag to be waved by someone such as the race sponsor, a celebrity or variation thereof. Saturday's race was no exception, with the green flag being waved by former eBay president and CEO Meg Whitman. Ms. Whitman is presently running for governor.

For some reason known to... well, someone in her political opponents staff, Ms. Whitman's choice of outerwear was declared as a sign of her being disconnected from the populace in general and NASCAR fans in particular. Seems it's some high price designer thing. Burberry, as I recall, was the name.

Given that when I hear the term Burberry I immediately think of a chilly small edible fruit -- by the way, did you know the banana, tomato and watermelon are all considered to be berries? -- the comments meant nothing to me. It's true that at a NASCAR race the only designer jacket usually seen is one with sponsor logos embroidered on most every square inch of available space. But does it make a difference? No, not really. It's a non-issue. Her and the other candidates position on things like jobs, taxes, education, public services... those are issues. What kind of coat someone is wearing? Not so much. Except at Talladega, where if it's not a Dale Earnhardt Jr. jacket you're guaranteed to hear about it.

All of which leads to this point, it having nothing to do with politics.

The point of attending a NASCAR race isn't what you wear. It's being there, sharing in the common joy of watching the race. Superficialities don't matter. What does matter is, again, being there.

Rather like insurance, if you think about it.

What matters isn't whether an insurer has a cute ad campaign or snazzy logo. It's whether it takes care of its customers when they need he company to be there for them.

It doesn't matter what kind of jacket the person waving the green flag wears.

It's whether they wave the flag.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Danica Patrick And The Difference Between Image And Reality

No, this isn't turning into an auto racing blog. However, an illustration from the world of motorsports is in order.

Earlier today, your intrepid blogger lent his dulcet tones to a weekly NASCAR radio program, discussing this past weekend's season-opening races at Daytona International Speedway. One of the weekend highlights, if not the highlight, was the appearance of Danica Patrick in her first NASCAR event. Unfortunately, her day was cut short when she was caught up in a wreck she had no part in creating. Such are the fortunes of racing.

Danica Patrick
To say that Danica's appearance generated far more attention than is the norm for the race in question is a severe understatement. Television ratings were through the roof; the race was far better attended than is usually the case, and her souvenir merchandise trailer at the track was far and away the busiest of all the drivers. For at least one day, Daytona became Danica-tona.

While Danica has garnered more than a little criticism for flaunting her looks as a means of gaining attention, there are other aspects of her life and work that warrant praise from all sides. One is how she has inspired more than a handful of young woman the past few years into believing they can pursue their dreams, even in fields traditionally considered off-limits such as auto racing. She is a gifted, skilled race car driver more than able to compete at any level. Finally, Danica is using her position as a public figure known by even those who have no interest whatsoever in motorsports to bring attention to an issue dear to her own heart. Namely, the pursuit of a cure for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), also known as emphysema.

Long story short: image and reality often have little in common.

Which ties into the insurance industry as a whole and CSE in particular.

Last week, I spoke on the phone with one of our customers. Several months ago she had been in a bad car accident. Her auto insurance was through us. During the conversation, she marveled time and again at how the Claims adjuster who handled her case answered her phone calls, took care of every issue, and even recovered, then sent to her, a music CD that was in the insured's car stereo at the time of the accident. It was a pleasant conversation to say the least!

Sometimes, in a world where seemingly every bit of news about anyone and anything connected with insurance focuses on the negative, it's good to know there are acknowledgments when we do what we're supposed to do; namely, take care of our customers when they need us. It won't change everyone's perception of us as an industry, for some will choose to believe the bad no matter what. However, as in the case of Danica Patrick, image and reality often have little in common.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stormy Weather

It's been a touch amusing from this perch on the left coast watching Washington DC grind to an absolute standstill, buried underneath a snowstorm.

Of course, it'd be a lot less amusing if we weren't having the mudslide issues down in southern California...

Anyway, if we're going to have stormy weather, a little Lena Horne will make it more bearable:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Toyota and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

In 1972, childrens book author Judith Viorst wrote her most popular book, namely Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Told in first person, it starts out:

I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

You'll have to forgive the executives at Toyota if they feel like this has become their biography.

What just a few weeks ago was one of if not the most trusted auto manufacturer in terms of quality has suffered hit after hit. First there was the problem with sticking accelerators, originally incorrectly diagnosed as their getting caught up with floor mats. Now, braking problems on Toyota's pride and joy the Prius have been made known. The recalls are mounting, the lawsuits are flying fast and furious, and when a car manufacturer is constantly the lead story on the evening news for all the wrong reasons it belies the notion that all publicity is good publicity. Toyota used to be able to boast it never took any bailout money. Now, it's its customers who are bailing out, fearful their car will simultaneously develop a stuck throttle and brake failure.

Regaining public trust once lost is a difficult proposition for any enterprise. In the auto world, the problems suffered by the original Chevrolet Corvair being built without a front anti-roll bar and the Ford Pinto's penchant for exploding in rear-end collisions due to inadequate protection against the gas tank rupturing in rear-end collisions haunted GM and Ford for years. Toyota has a very, very long way to go in restoring its reputation. It's not an impossible task, but it definitely won't be easy.

That all said, can you imagine what it'd be like for an insurance provider or agency to regain lost trust? Yeoww. It'd make cat herding seem like a breeze.

We all have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. Let's all resolve to make sure they don't turn into the kind of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days where executives from Toyota are calling to offer sympathy!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Johnny Make Believe And The Art Of Treating People As People

Picking up from yesterday:

The veteran Dutch rock band Golden Earring, best known for the songs "Radar Love" and "Twilight Zone", has released some thirty plus albums since 1965 when its first one hit the record bins. On one of the bands more recent efforts, there was a song titled "Johnny Make Believe" which was a hit in Holland but not here. It tells the story of an individual who lived a wasted life, realizing only at its end the error of his ways. Might not sound like the stuff for pop radio, but it's a quite catchy tune.

Unlike the fictitious Johnny, no one is going to gather for the purpose of singing our praises if we throw ourselves away. It's over the top to compare the scenario laid out in the song to how we need to first sell ourselves to someone before we can sell him or her anything, including a policy. However, there are lessons that can be drawn from these lyrics.

As opposed to Johnny, we are best advised to seek out those who see us as we are long before we're on the brink of shuffling off this mortal coil. Most if not all retailers utilize 'secret shoppers,' employees who visit various stores incognito and act like a regular customer for the purpose of seeing how the employees interact with them. Do they say hello? Is their demeanor friendly? Do they ask if the 'customer' needs any help? If the customer asks for help, what is the response?

There are other bits of information for which the secret shopper looks. Is the store clean? Is it well-stocked? Are things where they belong?

In short, are the employees doing their job?

While hiring someone to secretly audit ourselves obviously isn't an option, we can utilize the same philosophy by inviting a peer to look at us and our organization with a critical eye. For example, how do we interact with both potential and existing clients? Are we using the full spectrum of social media -- e-mail, Facebook, Twitter -- to maintain contact with those who have entrusted us with their business?

Other areas warrant an outside examination. How's our customer service when someone calls? Are we answering the phone promptly? Do we keep hold times to a minimum? Do we speak clearly and professionally? When someone asks a question, do we do everything we can to swiftly provide an accurate answer? Should someone come into the office, does everyone make them feel welcome and important, or like an unwanted interruption to our personal conversations?

Speaking of the office, have someone you trust to be impartial give it a once-over. Does it present a professional appearance? If you have more piles of paper than the average recycling facility scattered about, with the featured design and decor looking like it was put together when the lava lamp was a must have, the answer is no. Is it clean? Are you and those you work with dressed appropriately for the job? If you want to wear a pith helmet, flip-flops, fluorescent orange shorts, purple knee socks and a Twisted Sister t-shirt to work it's entirely your call. That said, you're not exactly giving the impression of someone in command of the insurance world.

In order to sell yourself, you need to exhibit the mannerisms and appearance of one who has something worth the time, expense and effort to acquire. It's not always the easiest thing to carry off. We all have bad days. We need to develop the ability to set that aside -- set ourselves aside, if you will -- and do things right for the purpose of serving the people we've chosen to serve. Sometimes this does require being a bit of a Johnny Make Believe. However, unlike him we're not doing so out of dishonesty. It's for the good of the other person by providing them with a reason to choose a better quality of service. This comes from their working with you to protect their property and family should bad things happen.

It's worth the effort.

P.S. Oh yes -- the song in question:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Providing A Reason To Believe

Earlier this morning, your intrepid blogger went to the funky little town of Benecia to record a voiceover for one of our television ads. It's the one you can see on the front page of our Web site.

Advertising is an interesting medium, one undergoing tremendous change in recent years. In days now gone by, pretty much anything above tacking signs on telephone poles announcing a yard sale involved doing things on a professional level; i.e. buy ad space in your local newspaper or other media, be they regional or national. Now? What once were want ads are now on eBay and/or Craigslist. The selling of products and services has developed into where it now embraces a much more direct approach. Good for sellers and consumers in that the cost of buying ads no longer needs be factored into the selling price or rate charged for services rendered; bad for newspapers and other media in that advertising is the vast majority of their revenue which now is dwindling at an ever increasing rate.

So how does this apply to insurance?

The independent agent today faces a situation not unlike that presently confronting tax preparation services competing against the appeal for consumers to deal with the IRS themselves by using any one of the available software packages designed for such purposes. It's not enough to believe having been around for X number of years automatically guarantees customers will always come to you first. When confronted by a self-service competitor touting both a lower cost and the usually unspoken but nevertheless omnipresent ego stroke of the consumer being more than able to do it all themselves, what's an agent to do?

Selling insurance today involves far more than pitching the appropriate product to potential clients. First and foremost, you have to sell yourself. Certainly matching the appropriate carrier and coverage to the insured's needs remains vital. However, without first successfully closing the deal on being the one the person or people sitting across from you have reason to believe is going to do a better job of taking care of them than they can by handling matters themselves, you'll never get to the point of matching carrier and coverage to client.

So how does one go about this?

Some thoughts about this tomorrow.

In the meanwhile, it's impossible to say "reason to believe" without thinking of the classic song by Tim Hardin as recorded by Rod Stewart: