Comment: Intermediaries – are you hiding your light under a bushel?

How many health insurance and protection intermediaries actually explain to their clients just what their role entails?

Reading through the short-listed entries for this year’s health insurance awards, I am reminded of the sterling work that good intermediaries undertake on behalf of their clients. But I wonder how many of you actually explain to your clients just what your role entails?

"Market review" to an ill-informed compensation and benefits manager may mean – "a quick phone call to their insurance cronies". We know, of course, that a comprehensive review can involve a great deal of time and effort, with additional stress coming in to play where timescales are tight. Informing and pleasing all stakeholders in the buying company, along with acknowledging the provider’s need to balance profit and the costs involved with efficient service delivery can be a tricky tightrope to negotiate.

I have seen many renewal reports which could compete with an encyclopaedia for length and complexity. Very few clients read these in detail. The buyer will glance over your methodology, maybe scan the scheme review then cut straight to the chase for renewal terms and benefits schedule. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t provide a comprehensive renewal document, it is a vital record for both you and your client and serves as a useful reference point throughout the year. But you mustn’t assume that the decision maker will read or even necessarily understand all the juicy titbits that you lay before them.

I had a very painful reminder of this when I was a fairly new account manager many years ago. I was advising my client that I had applied several different weightings to calculate the risk for the scheme moving forward. She was (and still is) a highly numerate and intelligent woman but I had wrongly assumed that she understood what I was talking about. After a highly frustrating hour of misunderstanding and basically going round in circles – this confident and competent reward director burst into tears! I can safely say that was the single worst moment of my professional career. I then took just a few minutes going back to basics, fully explaining all the methodologies applied and we reached a bloodless truce and agreed renewal terms.

So the lesson from this traumatic meeting was: never assume your client understands your reasoning, never assume that they have had a chance to read, let alone comprehend everything that you send them and always take the time to explain the good work that you do on their behalf.

This doesn’t mean that you should be condescending or patronising, but it does mean that one of the golden rules of communication must always apply – "check understanding at each stage of the discussion". And part of that process should be to ensure that your client realises how you apply your skill and knowledge on their behalf.

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