By Carl Maerz
FIVE STEPS TO MORE REFERRALS
Avoiding the “awkward ask”
Your clients love you and are willing to tell others how great you are. Now it’s time to encourage them to take the next step of recommending you to others. Don’t let those referrals die on the vine!
Success begins by understanding how people refer their local agent today, and where the prospects are searching for these recommendations. From here, you can thoughtfully plan out and execute a strategy to inspire clients to refer you at the right time to maximize their impact.
As for the myth, for decades traditional sales literature has told us to ask clients straight up for referrals—to get over the inherent awkwardness and request names to call. There are even amusing sales scripts to stand behind, like, “Because I’ve done such an excellent job, would you mind providing me the names of five friends I can call? Here’s a notepad and pencil; can you get me their phone number and fax while you’re at it?”
Don’t let those referrals die on the vine! This begins by understanding how people refer their local agent today, and where the prospects are searching for these recommendations.
I’m convinced that someone somewhere is reading this shaking their head. The “awkward ask” has worked for them in the past. Yes, the awkward ask does work sometimes. And there’s something to be said about taking the chance and making the ask. This strategy is better than no strategy at all—it’s even worse to sit back and wait for referrals to come in on their own. Luckily, there’s a way to actively collect referrals without uncomfortably asking for them. To make things simple, I’ve broken down the strategy into five bite-sized steps for easy consumption.
Step one—Find the clients who are willing to refer you. It should be no secret that when a client refers you, they’re pleased with the job you’re doing. At any given time, you have lots of happy clients. But you also have some who are unimpressed and others who, well, aren’t too thrilled with your service. The last thing you want to do is encourage one of your upset clients to refer you to others.
By implementing the Net Promoter Score (NPS) in your agency, you’ll have a much better idea of who your best clients are (your promoters), so you know whom to communicate with to inspire positive recommendations. The NPS breaks clients down into promoters, passives and detractors. Without knowing who your loyal clients are, you’re shooting blind when it comes to scoring more referrals.
Step two—Generate more promoters. The NPS also provides you with an aggregate score that is easily trackable over time. A higher score means that a greater percentage of clients are willing to refer you, whereas a lower score indicates fewer clients trust you enough to care for their friends and family.
At Rocket Referrals we’ve studied written feedback from millions of people on why they’re happy with their insurance agent. We’ve also looked at the reasons why people are upset with or feel disconnected from their agent. Based on the feedback, and after studying best practices from agents all across the United States, here are the most important things you can do to increase your NPS and thus increase your pool of clients who are willing to recommend you:
Send more relationship-focused communication. Your clients picked you as their agent because of the personal relationship and individual service you provide. Otherwise they would have signed up with one of the direct carriers. But after their new client onboarding, that warm and fuzzy feeling they got from you may fade over time. They forget how personable you were and begin to feel disconnected. This can be prevented by planning at least two thoughtful interactions with the client each year without trying to sell them anything, e.g., birthday and holiday cards. The more personal and thoughtful the communication, the more effective it will be.
Send relevant educational content. As an insurance agent, it’s your responsibility to consistently advise your clients with relevant information about insurance. Look to segment audiences based on demographics and policies and send them several emails over the course of a year to keep your agency top of mind. It reinforces the belief that you’re still actively looking out for them.
Return phone calls and emails. The easiest way to upset clients is by failing to get back to them. If client requests keep falling between the cracks, look to implement better systems and accountability with your staff.
Learn from feedback to make macro-level improvements. By implementing the NPS you will gain tons of valuable feedback in the form of written comments. Address these issues individually when they come in, but also learn from them as a whole. Discover positive and negative trends in your agency and look to implement steps to address them proactively.
Step three—Inspire your promoters to refer you personally. This is a traditional referral—when someone tells a friend or family member how great their insurance agent is, and how they should consider checking them out. This type of referral usually occurs naturally in discussion when the opportunity presents itself. For example, when someone complains about how bad their direct provider has been, a friend responds with, “Yeah, well, my agent is awesome; you should give them a call.”
You want to increase the chances that your clients will step up and refer you at times like this. This happens by creating moments with your clients that are worth talking about with others. At Rocket Referrals we recommend sending handwritten loyalty cards to promoters. The purpose is to provide a client (one who is willing or likely to refer the agency) with an unexpected positive experience they can share with friends and family.
Step four—Make it easy for your promoters to refer you publicly. Keep in mind that personal referrals are very effective, but an agent may miss out on opportunities by focusing on them alone. For starters, according to a 2019 study by OnePoll in collaboration with Evite, the average American has about 16 friends. No matter how happy and vocal a promoter is, they still have a limited number of people they can refer personally. Also, it’s very unlikely that there will be many opportunities to refer a group of friends, because insurance is not a topic that comes up that often and in the age of COVID-19 we are getting together less often.
When someone decides to refer their insurance agent, they don’t need to have someone who needs insurance in mind. Instead, they can provide a referral publicly in the form of a testimonial or online review. Today, upwards of 90% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Therefore, online recommendations are nearly as effective, yet they reach a much broader audience.
It comes down to timing. A happy client may be willing to refer their agent but just doesn’t have anyone in mind to refer. Asking the client to write a review or testimonial, lets them share their story right away, and it will remain visible to whomever cares to view it. Similarly, people searching for insurance are more likely to turn to the internet than their friends for a recommendation—especially today, when 97% of consumers use online media to shop locally.
Asking for testimonials and online reviews needs to be done thoughtfully and methodically, while also maintaining authenticity. In other words, written feedback can be solicited from existing clients, but the comments must also feel natural to those reading them—as if they wrote it on their own accord. The overall impact of reviews and testimonials depends on when and how the agent requests them. Rather than collecting a bunch all at once, spread them out to maximize their relevance over time. Remember that having a high number of reviews will catch a prospect’s attention, but it’s the accompanying feedback that ultimately matters most.
Step five—Thank your clients for referring you. It is important to thank your clients for recommending you, whether they wrote you a testimonial or an online review or referred someone directly. People like to feel appreciated and noticed when they offer their support. A surprise thank you card is best, instead of offering incentives for referring. After all, people refer their friends and family to help them, not for a few bucks.
It’s all about continually showing your clients the value you bring as their insurance agent and making it easy for them to recommend you on their terms. By implementing these steps you’re well on your way not only to winning more referrals, but also to increasing client retention in the process.
Carl Maerz is the co-founder of Rocket Referrals, an automated communication strategy that helps agencies improve their referrals, retention, reviews and relationships. He aims to help local agencies leverage their advantages over direct carriers by replacing common industrial myths with relevant and practical advice. Contact Carl at firstname.lastname@example.org.