Building lasting customer relationships has many benefits, including increased revenue, positive word-of-mouth recommendations, and saving on acquisition costs. But how does one build customer relationships that truly last? In this interview series, we’re speaking with CROs and other RevOps professionals who can share their “Top Five Tips For Building Lasting Customer Relationships.” As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Doerman.
Thank you for doing this with us! To begin, can you tell us a bit about your backstory and what brought you to this career path?
I’ve been in sales my entire professional career, starting when I sold advertising for a radio station cluster in Dayton, Ohio after graduating from Asbury University. I jumped into the insurance industry after a friend of mine started his own agency with American Family Insurance (AFI), and the thought of running my own business inspired me to get my insurance licenses and start a scratch agency for AFI myself.
I worked through some momentous and difficult financial times like the market crash and financial crisis of 2008, making it very difficult for small businesses to thrive and survive. I decided to move on to MetLife and started selling property & casualty (P&C) insurance over the phone in a large call center. Success rapidly followed and I went on to become a top salesman countrywide.
The achievements on the P&C division led me to working on MetLife’s Middle Market Life initiative which concentrated on closing the life insurance gap targeting Middle America populations in our country that are typically under-insured, or not insured at all. I helped launch MetLife’s Middle Market Life insurance business and their direct-to-consumer (D2C) life insurance business and with that, I took over a call center team and eventually ran call center operations for MetLife’s US Direct business. After many years at MetLife, I left my position as the Director of US Direct Sales and made the transition to Legal & General America (LGA).
I’ve held several positions in my nearly eight-year tenure with LGA, ranging from account management, heading up sales teams to my current role as Vice President of Digital Distribution & Strategy, where I lead the sales, marketing and strategic operations teams for three of our distribution channels – Direct Marketers, FinTech Partnerships and D2C.
Can you share an interesting or amusing story that has occurred to you in your career so far? What was the lesson or takeaway?
The most powerful and impactful one, and one that keeps me inspired in the life insurance industry, was the first time I delivered a life insurance benefit check to daughter that lost her father. What we do in this industry matters.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? Tell us about it!
At LGA we have been undergoing a complete digital transformation of our business that is focused on digitizing our buying journey to make the process of buying life insurance as simple, easy and accessible as possible for distribution partners and their customers. This is made up of multiple smaller projects that include underwriting innovations, digital application capabilities, and the use of AI and machine learning, that in turn, will build on a better customer experience and greater satisfaction in doing business with us and our team.
What is your experience with building lasting customer relationships?
I’ve been in sales my entire professional career, so building lasting customer relationships has always been something I’m focused on. As I look back, I’ve had some of the same customers at both MetLife and LGA. Even when I came to LGA, customers I dealt with at MetLife were reaching out and asking how they can become partners or do business with us because of the relationships established previously. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the strong relationships I’ve built over my professional career.
In today's fast-paced and constantly evolving landscape, what strategies do you employ to maintain a strong connection with your customers and anticipate their changing needs?
Our biggest strategy is being in constant communication with our customers, and the importance of this cannot be overstated. Honest and transparent communication is something that I pride myself on. Another priority is having regular business meetings with our customers. This serves as a chance for us to sit down and talk about what’s happening in their business and what challenges they’re facing. This is a time for us to showcase our value, which should be helping our customers grow the business and their profits.
Whenever possible, we prefer in-person meetings. The COVID era interrupted our ability to visit in-person and we just weren’t as effective, in my opinion. I’m a firm believer that meeting in-person is more effective than virtual meetings.
Can you discuss the strategies that companies can employ to strike a balance between driving revenue and profitability, and focusing on building customer relationships and loyalty?
These are one and the same to me. If you build strong relationships and earn loyalty by helping customers grow their businesses, they will send you new opportunities. You have to prove yourself first, though. While building trust, credibility and rapport contribute to being sent new business, you have to ask clients for what you want. And if you’re not selected, ask the why, then come up with effective solutions. But it all starts with having those conversations. And, if things aren’t working, having the tough, transparent conversations to get back on-track.
What metrics do you use to evaluate the success of your relationship-building efforts, and how do you identify areas for improvement?
For us, top line volume and profitability of the business are two key metrics we use to evaluate success. But specifically, in our business of life insurance, the number of lives covered is a huge measurement as well.
We look at many different KPIs and the health of the business that we receive from our partners. Panel share is another way we measure our effectiveness; based on where we rank on the panel helps us understand our growth opportunity and where issues or challenges might exist.
On a daily basis we’re looking at the application volume that comes through, and we take note if there are dips or drops. We then investigate in real-time what may be happening by picking up the phone and talking to our customers.
I have customers that I talk to daily, some of these chats aren’t even business-related, but it speaks volumes to the kind of relationship I’ve formed over the years. This can also open doors to more business with a pre-existing customer because you have an established connection.
Regarding customer-facing teams, what steps do you take to ensure they can deliver personalized, proactive, and efficient support, tailored to the needs of each individual customer?
With my team, it’s imperative that they know our partners’ business, it’s operating model and understand what their growth plans are and what obstacles stand in the way of them potentially achieving those goals. We then figure out what we can do to help our customers reach these goals, and the teams create tailored solutions for those accounts. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all model, so even within similar segments of distribution, there are nuances in each operating model, and we have to be aware of that. Having a keen understanding of how each one works is essential. These growth plans are reviewed on a quarterly basis, at minimum, to ensure that we’re on the right track and that we’re delivering on our promises.
What tips do you have for responding to negative feedback from customers, and what steps can be taken to turn those experiences into positive outcomes?
The first thing is to listen and be empathetic. To be honest, I tend to take every piece of negative feedback to heart because I care that my customer is upset. It’s affected the relationship I’ve built, and I take my relationships very seriously. Typically, the team will gather stakeholders internally to say, “This is a challenge that customers are facing, how can we eliminate this in partnership together?” And one of the most critical pieces to this, is always going back and closing the loop with the customer, providing solutions to prevent it happening again in the future.
How do you use technology or AI to enhance your customer relationships, and what tools have you found to be most effective in building and maintaining them?
Coming out of the COVID-era, I think the big one is the utilization of programs like Microsoft Teams for daily interactions with our customers. Even though we prefer in-person meetings, the ability to have daily digital face-to-face contact has been great.
We’re really scratching the surface on the use of AI in our business and customer relationships and into our daily life and LGA’s working style across all departments. There is so much opportunity to continue to evolve this as AI becomes more reliable.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five key components of building lasting customer relationships?
1. Be authentic.
2. Be transparent.
3. Be proactive and always look out for what’s around the corner so you can be prepared to pivot when necessary.
4. Show your value and your worth.
5. Have fun! Oftentimes we get too caught up in the daily grind of work and life. I really enjoy my relationships with my customers. We need to take the time to enjoy what we do. In our industry, there’s a lot that can make you feel good – we’re helping protect financial futures and legacies of millions of families across the US. It’s a noble industry.
How do you ensure that these ideas are implemented throughout the customer journey?
Of course you want to make sure you’re staying true to those five components, but also ensuring that your team has a sense of your vision and what you’re trying to achieve. My team is undergoing the process of creating a Team Charter; which sets out what the vision of the team is, what we want to be known for in our company and by our customers, and developing a list of principles of how we should be working both internally and externally. This is a great exercise for us to rally around what we want our tenets to be.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
With the risk of sounding cheesy, I’ll say the movement of kindness. It’s a complicated world out there and people are dealing with many different stresses and hardships that we don’t know about it. A simple act or word of kindness can change someone in an instant.
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