|Benchmark survey: How agents want to be treated|
During the PIA Company Benchmark Survey when PIA asked members what’s important to them in a company relationship, their answers underlined the role of personal communications in successful business transactions. This article looks at members’ answers in the closely related areas of company service and, more broadly, how companies treat their agents.
“I expect the companies I represent to treat me as I treat my customers: fair, efficient, honest and as [somebody] important,” one PIA member said in response to the survey. This viewpoint is reflected in the high “importance” ratings agents assign to a company’s communication and responsiveness.
Earlier articles on the Company Benchmark Survey looked at company relationship criteria in claims (ranked most important to agents overall), technology and underwriting. Now we’ll look at service and agency relations. Three of these items ranked among the top-10 items in overall importance when agents evaluate a company.
Third in the survey’s overall rankings (out of 35 items) was whether a company “resolves issues quickly.” Said one agent: “It’s a sad commentary, but true. It is very frustrating to be unable to speak with a person and solve a problem in a timely manner.” In the past, agent comments on PIA’s Company Performance Survey often single out slow response time, lack of call-backs and similar lapses at a carrier. These sometimes are felt not simply as an annoyance, but as lack of respect.
Nearly identical in importance, and fourth overall, is whether a company “communicates clearly, honestly.” Agents can take bad news: they much prefer hearing it straight over being in the dark (or worse). “Number one criterion is trust,” one agent commented. “Can we trust our reps to tell us the truth? Do they know the truth?” Most agents can name instances where companies earned their loyalty, even through some very tough times, by keeping them in the loop through clear, accurate information about what was happening.
Sixth in overall importance is whether a company “listens, responds to agents.” Interest and interaction are the necessary complements to out-going communication, which agents want to be clear and honest. Does a company promote a culture where its people really listen and hear what agents are saying? Does it show by its response that people in decision-making roles understood and reflected on the agent’s input? Or, is the communication all one-sided?
Here are some relevant survey items, in order of importance to agents. They are ranked according to how many people rated them a 10 (the highest “importance” rating). This number is followed by the number of 10s as a percent of the item’s total scores:
*This means a go-to person for service issues. As reported in the earlier article on underwriting, having a go-to underwriter is rated a “10” by 54 percent of agents.
Parting thoughts. Accuracy (“few errors”) is surely important—it’s a “10” to nearly half of all agents. But getting answers and corrections executed quickly is even more important. Also, the quality of day-to-day contacts with front-line service and underwriting staff matters more to agents than having a pipeline to a carrier’s top management.
But, the clarity and accuracy of the company’s message—that needs to be crafted and communicated from the very highest levels throughout the whole organization. Only a well-run organization will ensure everyone with agent contact stays fully informed and consistent in their message—a message borne out by the company’s actual conduct in the marketplace.
Company Benchmark Survey. The survey asked agents to rate 35 separate company performance criteria. Using a 1-to-10 scale, 456 respondents scored each item, according to its importance in evaluating their relationship with a company. The 35 items included the 16 standard items used in PIA’s Company Performance Survey, and results helped reshape this popular annual study. This year’s Company Performance Survey results will be announced in the October 2009 PIA magazine.-Kiehl
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