It’s a breezy Friday afternoon and you’re getting ready to head out for a beautiful weekend. Your clients are taken care of, your tasks for the week are done, and your inbox is empty. Life is good. And then it comes – a notice from an insurance carrier that you have been removed as an agent of record for a client. You stare at it dumbfounded, not sure what’s going on. You’d just seen this client a few months ago and everything seemed fine, and now they’ve decided to replace you without so much as a word of why? All of a sudden, a cash flow you expected to be permanent is gone.
This situation has likely happened to every group benefits advisor around. And it’s never the client you expect to leave – it’s always a client request that comes out of nowhere. After all, if you expected it, you probably would have been doubling down on the effort to keep the client around!
So once that AOR change email hits your inbox, what do you do next?
Step 1: Don’t panic or react too quickly
The first step is that you should do nothing right away. That is, don’t react immediately. The last thing you want to do is something you’ll regret. As Donald, one of Finaeo’s co-founders put it, “I’ve seen guys call the client as soon as they received the notice and yell at them over the phone – ‘we just set you up, what’s your problem?’” This is never a good response to a situation, especially one that is client-facing. For one, you’re not just ending a relationship in this situation, you’re razing it to the ground. And you’re insuring that if the client is the talkative kind, lots of potential clients may hear about this poor behavior.
Insurance can be a very small industry and your reputation matters. In other words, you always want to be professional. And, because an AOR is often a shock, this generally translates to “take some time to cool off and think things through.” Don’t immediately dive into action – even if the action is positive like trying to save the client (as opposed to negative like calling him or her out), you need to be more cool and detached before you do anything.
You also may have a bit of time. While some insurance carriers may immediately remove you as your client’s agent of record, many insurers will have a 5-10 day grace period where you can get a rescinding AOR order from the client. This gives you plenty of time to act.
Step 2: Is This a Client You Want to Save?
There’s a concept in behavioral economics called loss aversion. To quote Wikipedia on the topic:
“Loss aversion refers to the tendency for people to strongly prefer avoiding losses than acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are as much as twice as psychologically powerful as gains. Loss aversion was first convincingly demonstrated by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.”
In other words, you would suffer more if you lost $100 while running errands, than you would enjoy if you found $100 on the ground. This inherent bias affects us all, but it is also something that you can objectively reduce the effects of – it just takes some rational work. I bring this up because, often, when you lose a client, your first reaction is to want to win him or her back. And, most of the time, this is probably a good reaction to have. However, there are instances where a client is a net loss overall, and losing him or her is actually a net positive. You feel terrible about losing the client because you’re averse to loss, but maybe you should be happy instead with what you’ve gained in terms of servicing time this client would otherwise take up.
So, how do you tell? Well, first off, hopefully you’ve been keeping track of the value of your clients (for a very thorough guide, check out my three part series on the metrics that matter here). Even if you haven’t and don’t have the time to do so, you can do some basic analytical work. First off, figure out how much time the client takes to service. Some clients are easy – you see them a few times a year, they call you once in awhile with a problem, and that’s it. Others are difficult – they may take up a good proportion of your time, want to understand every little thing, constantly have service desires / complaints, and just eat away at your time. You may not even be aware of whether this is a difficult client or not – if you have an admin assistant who takes care of client requests or a team that deals with client support & success, you may never know how much time a particular client takes. So make sure you find out. Ask around the office and find out if this client is a disproportionate time sink relative to the revenue he or she generates. Figure out whether the client is worth saving.
Generally, a client that isn’t worth much in revenue but takes up a lot of time won’t be the kind of client you want back anyway. If so, let them go and spend your newly freed time getting better clients. On the other hand, a client who takes less time but provides good cash flow is worth at least an attempt at getting back, as well as relationship maintenance if possible. Sometimes, there may be other factors worth considering. An influencer client who has sent you a good amount of referral work may be worth saving, even if he or she does take up a substantial chunk of time without being a big income generating unit.
Step 3: Call the client
Okay, so you’ve taken some time to cool off and done the math. This is a valuable client (rats!). Now you need to have an uncomfortable phone conversation. There are two main reasons to call the client. One, to find out what happened and potentially try to bring them back. Two, to be a professional and potentially salvage a relationship that may be valuable one day in the future.
Turning to the first reason, you will occasionally find clients who didn’t mean to cancel. To quote Donald once more:
“More than once, I’ve had a client who submitted an agent of record letter without even realizing it. They were talking to another advisor and thought they were signing a quote request or just some paperwork to work with that advisor to get them other options. They didn’t realize they were terminating our service agreement.”
If that’s the case, great! As long as you stay calm and friendly while explaining the situation, your client will come back to you. Plus, it gives a great opportunity to engage the client on how you stand out in servicing them, when you can provide the quotes they were looking for as well.
Now, if a client did decide to switch and knew full well what he or she was doing, you’re probably not going to convince them to take you back. It’s worth trying, but once people make a decision to switch, they’re often adamant. However, most clients will still take a phone call with you, if only for the sake of professional courtesy. A good use of this call, then, is to dig in and figure out where you could have performed a little bit better. Is there a learnable moment here for future clients? Assuming this was a good client, it is always worthwhile to maintain the relationship anyway. Don’t harbor ill will towards the person and stay positive. Likewise, if you had relationships with other people in the company, especially work towards maintaining those. The danger and opportunity of group benefits is that people switch careers. Owners change hands, CFOs leave for new companies, and HR managers move to their next opportunity. This causes the danger of losing a big group when you’re caught unaware, but it also means that maintaining these relationships could help you spread into numerous other organizations when people inevitably move.
This means that you should continue to treat these people as well as you would any client. Keep tabs on them, catch up with them occasionally, and stay close. They are pre-qualified, high-value prospects. As soon as they switch roles, you may be able to open up a completely new opportunity through this relationship. And they already know you – your job is to make sure they don’t forget you exist when they eventually embark on the next step of their careers.
Step 4: In the Future, Be Proactive
As mentioned at the beginning, there isn’t a single insurance advisor who hasn’t been hit by an AOR change notice at some point in his or her career. Often, a client will leave not based on anything you did and you can drive yourself into a tizzy trying to figure it out. It happens to everyone. However, what happens if AOR changes are occurring regularly? What should you be doing to reduce them in the future? First off, figure out the root cause. Is it that you’re failing to service clients? Are you failing at client success or support? If so, start building out the processes to minimize this in the future (read more about success versus support here).
As mentioned above, however, the nature of group benefits is that people move on from one organization to the next. What if the root cause is simply that your internal advocates keep switching organizations and catching you off guard? Great group advisors know how to minimize this sort of disruption (and no, it doesn’t involve sabotaging the careers of your internal advocates). Generally, great advisors focus on two things. First, they spread their relationship building throughout an organization. They don’t just deal with the head of HR, but also the owner, the CFO, the next-most senior HR person, and so on. This creates a buffer – even if the main point of contact is gone, the others in the organization will keep you in mind and keep the organization working with you.
Second, great advisors are proactive with their clients. This means that they often know in advance before an advocate leaves. After all, in more senior positions, career switches usually take a fair bit of time to occur. With regular touch points, you can often find out that your advocate is leaving before they have left and arrange to be put in touch with their replacement ASAP. Even if your advocate never mentions it to you, cursory checkups of their LinkedIn can alert you to a job change soon after it happens, giving you enough time to get re-engaged with the organization before the new person decides to re-evaluate their group benefits package.
Overall, then, if you find that you are getting too many AORs, you need to focus on being more proactive with your clients.
In the end, every advisor loses clients. Every single one of them. So if this is happening to you, don’t take it personally. However, figure out if there are ways to mitigate and minimize the number of people you lose. At the core, this is all about relationships. Build and maintain strong client relationships throughout important organizations and stay on top of these relationships. Doing so will minimize how often you are blindsided by an AOR change request.