It’s not you. It’s me.

We all have “good” customers and “bad” customers.

We all know who they are. We know what they sound like. We know what their behaviors look like.

Especially when things don’t go as planned.

I hear our agency partners often talk of their worst customers.

“They’re too expensive.”

“They don’t get us.”

“They’re rude to my staff.”

“They’re just price-shopping, they don’t value an agent.”

 

Those aren’t statements of favoritism. Those are statements of alignment.

And when I ask the question, “So what do you do about them?”, I’ll typically hear things such as:

“I hope they cancel.”

“I wish they’d go to another agent.”

“I’m hoping they get non-renewed.”

 

We’re No Different

We too have customers (agency partners) who don’t get us or don’t value us.

It happens.

We either have a flaw in our process for acquiring new customers or we have a flaw in how we manage our customers over time.

Or both.

Either way, we have to own it. We’re accountable for the relationships we have with our customers.

Which is why we too have to think about those situations and our agency partners.

Who is our ideal customer? What do they sound like? How do they behave toward us?

Especially when things don’t go as planned.

When we embarked on our "indie agent" movement, we initially defined the "indie agent", i.e. our ideal partner, this way, as being:

  • Fiercely independent yet cooperative
  • Tech-savvy
  • Community-focused
  • Strategic
  • Future focused & growth-oriented
  • Hyper-learner
  • Sells on value & relationships
  • Passionate for the independent channel

For the marketing minds in the room, these qualities or characteristics start to inform our target market and serves as the basis for our content strategy.

But recently, my team and I spent time together defining our ideal customer. But this time I challenged them with this question:

“How would you characterize our “ideal customer”? Describe the behaviors/tone/attitude of those agents that are great to work with – be specific. Conversely, describe the behaviors/tone/attitude of those agents who you’d like to “fire” if you could."

So, removing names and faces, we spent time describing the behaviors of our ideal and not-so-ideal customer, and here’s some of what they came up with:

Our ideal agency partners …

Value our partnership. They understand our model and know how we fit in their agency and know the value we bring to them.

Are open to new ways of doing business, are forward-thinking, are excited to be in the insurance industry.

Answer the phone with a smile, even if they aren’t happy with something that happened or how something was handled.

Give us feedback, good or bad, without a negative attitude. They are genuinely trying to make us better, or make something easier or more efficient.

Are Proactive, Accountable, Responsive, Trusting, Negotiable, Effective and Resourceful (creatively spells “PARTNER”).

Work with us instead of against us. They are open and up front with us on accounts by providing timely, accurate and complete information and all of the things we need to get an account reviewed or quoted.

Are appreciative and reasonable with their expectations of us.

Ask before jumping to conclusions.

Are friendly and don’t behave as superior or demanding.

Ask questions when they don’t understand instead of just ignoring a problem.

Take advantage of all that we have to offer (Insurance, E&O, Ask Nicely, Community Portal, Producer Development Academy).

Are respectful, both over email and over the phone.

Are accountable, take on an advisory role to their clients, and are willing to learn and receive advice.

They are trusting and collaborative.

They treat us with respect and are responsive to our requests.

know that we are partners with them, they treat us with respect, listen, ask questions to get to know us.

They will do anything they can to help me to do my job better.

Are coachable, personable, and have a friendly demeanor.

Communicates and sets expectations. 

Gives us sufficient time to do our jobs so we both succeed.

Want to grow with us and stay with us, because we help and they enjoy doing business with us. 

 

So, to summarize, our ideal agency partner is trusting, honest, respectful and has integrity. They value teamwork, transparency, learning, leadership, entrepreneurship and accountability.

Interesting.

Those are exactly our core and performance values, that define our culture. Those are the very value and behaviors we expect of ourselves. And those are the very values and behaviors to which we hire and fire our staff.

 

On the flip side, our not-so-ideal agency partners ...

Have bad or negative communication skills, never get back to us.

Get upset when we don’t understand something and are not willing to help work through the issue.

Have a negative attitude.

Believe they are always right and never wrong. 

Lack empathy and are quick to blame.

Think of us as a last resort. 

Don’t give us a chance to do our job. 

Are rude and disrespectful when the slightest error occurs.

Constantly ask for special treatment.

Are stubborn, are unwilling to learn or listen, and are arrogant.

Do not treat us with respect (tone in emails and phone calls),

They treat us like a transaction and want everything “asap”.

Are non-responsive to requests for information.

Are passive aggressive and show no appreciation in what we are doing, no matter what we are working on for them.

Interesting.

So, to summarize, those are in direct conflict with our core and performance values, that define our culture.

In fact, if we saw those same behaviors in any of our teammates, we'd let them go. 

No questions asked.

 

Misalignment with a customer is a killer 

It sounds and feels counter intuitive, to need to get rid of a customer. After all, isn't the goal to acquire and retain as many customers as you can?

No. The goal is to acquire and retain as many of the right customers as you can. 

We can't be all things to all people. Nor will everyone value what we do for independent agents.

No harm, no foul.

But keeping bad customers can take a toll on your team, and especially your high performers. 

No different than keeping a toxic employee on your team. They kill your team culture. 

And as leaders, we need to take necessary action to correct the situation. 

Leadership is about doing the hard things. Sometimes, about doing what you don't want to do. So when your team identifies toxic behaviors, be it by a fellow employee or a customer, they expect corrective action.

They need corrective action.

Otherwise you'll lose them.

So, having an ideal customer, for us, is not about revenue, profitability, volume or any other typical metric we often hear about.

It’s about alignment. Cultural alignment.

In our culture, we don’t tolerate behaviors not consistent with our values because the cost to teamwork is too high. Those who consistently demonstrate living our values are those who get rewarded and promoted. Those who don’t are let go.

And, now, not only do we hire and fire our employees based on cultural fit; we hire and fire our agency partners based on cultural fit, too.

 


 Chad Eddy, MBA, is the CEO at Indium. He has more than 25 years of multifaceted, multi-industry experience. In addition to serving independent agents, Chad is passionate about spending time with his family, playing and watching hockey, listening to good music, reading, and raising money for cystic fibrosis research.