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The Burning Question

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Reigning Cats or Dogs

I’ve long believed that you can talk to a dog, but a cat just won’t listen. In that scratchy black and white film shown every Christmas it isn’t the silhouette of a Siamese standing vigil over its owner’s grave as the credits roll: it’s Lassie.

No one truly owns a cat. It’s why I prefer dogs. They are faithful, quick to forgive, and, never underestimate this: they love you.

Which brings me to an awkward question. Are your customers’ canine, or feline?

I suspect, phrasing this as carefully as I can, that you have plenty of dogs. But, I also suspect you’re finding it harder to command their loyalty.

Considering the competitiveness of the insurance market this is hardly surprising. Behind every flashy, extravagantly resourced advert, and each new business telephone line, is Cruella de Vil offering juicy, bone shaped inducements, to prise your trusty old friends away from the warmth of your hearth.

In the space of an irritating jingle they’ll offer more treats than you can throw a stick at. They want your dogs and don’t much care how they get them.

I take more than a passing interest in the marketing exploits of the multi-international-gigantic-on-the-inter-webby-and-telly companies and how they operate. And I have a sneaking suspicion that actually, they don’t really care if they pet-nap cats or dogs.

One multi-name-changing-entity is boasting that 64,000 came back to them recently. I don’t know about you but losing 64,000 furry friends amounts to animal cruelty in my book.

The promiscuity multi-international-gigantic-on-the-inter-webby-and-telly companies display in acquiring customers is mind-boggling. The fact they are so indiscriminate can work to your advantage, if you think about it logically. Given it’s the quantity not the quality that drives them, why not sacrifice your cats to them?

We already know that cats are customers that are happy to be fed by a neighbour if the treat is marginally better than they find at home. Cats are not loyal by nature so it doesn’t much matter how you treat them: you’re going to lose them anyway.

OK, that all sounds very logical, but how do you divide your menagerie between canine and feline. Tricky. In fact, almost impossible. The answer is: don’t. Treat them all equally well. You might turn some cats into dogs.

Now you need to invest in some old fashioned dog training. And that is all about reinforcing good behaviour and rewarding it. To remain loyal dogs obviously need to be looked after well, but most importantly, they need to feel loved. It’s worth the effort because a neglected dog soon picks up the habits of a cat.

The good news is that it doesn’t cost a fortune to keep your dogs happy. You simply need to talk to them regularly. Communication is the key.

But, alas, this is often where even the most responsible owners fall down. A renewal notice is not a communication. However you dress it up, it’s a bill (my last one didn’t even offer thanks for my custom). Sending out policies stapled to new business letters authored ten years ago is not communication.

Communication is engaging your customers in a regular dialogue. It’s about creating goodwill and developing trust. One of the great ironies of the insurance industry is that at a business-to-business level goodwill and trust is so engrained it’s almost second nature. Yet at the consumer level, it often gets little attention.

I suspect this is due to the intangibility of trust and goodwill. They’re not like a conversion rate, or renewal retention rate. You can’t give them a line in a spreadsheet. They’re notoriously difficult to quantify, making them hard to measure, but they are remarkably easy to spot when you lose them.

Plenty of practical steps can be taken by a business to develop trust and goodwill. They don’t have to cost a mint, but they do need some thought.

From your office window, you look out as an insurance broker. The view from the other side looking in isn’t the same. Customers see, at best, a fuzzy concept that might be useful if something bad happens. Most equate what they’re looking at as paperwork stuffed in a drawer.

If you want to create a dialogue with your customers, you would do well to bear that in mind. Communication only works if there is understanding at both ends. Like throwing a dog a stick. Train him properly and he will instinctively bring it back to you.

This article was written by Mike Millard, one of our Directors, and originally appeared in Insurance People in 2010.