I began my career as an agent for a large mutual insurer. My agent number was 855. Whenever I had occasion to call the home office, the employees first asked, “What is your agent number?” No one called me by name. Years later I picked up another contract with a carrier on the opposite coast. I was assigned the exact same number and suddenly developed a twitch! Turns out, no one at the latter company ever referred to me by anything but my name.
Some of us experience a neurological phenomenon in which we see faces in random or ambiguous visual patterns. This falls under a category known as “pareidolia.” This is me. I tend to see human faces in the whorl of grain on a wooden door, in the marbling of a granite countertop, and, of course, in electrical outlets.
The irony is, while many of us see faces where they do not actually exist, many of us fail to see faces where they do exist. We develop work habits that relegate people with real faces to the status of just names on files, email addresses or contract numbers.
Seeing a face is one step in the process of perceiving another person as human. Perceiving another being as human is one step toward establishing a sense of connectedness and community.
We have all had the feeling that we had somehow fallen into a circumstance of being processed like nameless, faceless objects, of being part of a long line of faceless inconveniences. We stand in line at airports waiting for our “zone” to be called. We order our fast food, get a receipt and are told to wait for our number to be called. “Number 127!” Sometimes when we place our order the cashier takes our name, and calls out our name when our food is ready. “Dave!” That is a little better. With the technology we have today, could these restaurants not take our picture when we place our orders, and display our images when our food is ready? Wouldn’t that be powerful?
Where Are You
Your business processes are designed to either accentuate relationship-building or to drive business in an impersonal manner. Ask yourself, “Am I seeing faces?”
If you rely on blast emails for getting out your marketing messages, you are not seeing faces.
If you have lost track of customers with whom you have had no contact for a lengthy period of time, their faces have faded in your mind.
If you transfer someone’s problem to another associate without at least giving a brief description of who the person is, you are simply passing on a faceless problem.
Consider these simple techniques for seeing faces:
As an agent, I created a file folder for every new client. On the inside front cover I stapled a photograph of the client and the client’s family with their dates of birth, wedding anniversaries, job titles or grades in school. A year could go by and I could pick up the folder, be reminded of who the client was and be instantly prepared to ask some simple questions that indicated I remembered who they were.
Connectedness and Community
In the financial services business, we are just as prone as any other industry to focus merely on process and transactional efficiency. However, we are just as capable of remembering to make this our focus: people serving people.
I enjoy staying at Ritz-Carlton properties. Their employee motto is “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” In my experience, Ritz-Carlton employees remember my face from the day before, from last night’s reception and dinner. They really see me as a human being. I have experienced a sense of community with people serving tables that is on par with the connectedness I have with the other people at the table.
In our competitive environment, wind-swept by regulation, low interest rates, aging demographics and technological upheaval, we stand or fall depending on the strength of our customer relationships. Those relationships are based on connectedness and community. These, in turn, rely on frequent contact, on genuine interest and shared commitments. It all starts, simply enough, with seeing faces.
The opinions and ideas expressed by the author are his own and not necessarily those of North American Company for Life and Health Insurance or its affiliates. North American Company does not endorse or promote these opinions and ideas nor does the company or agents give tax advice.
David J. Murphy
CLU, ChFC, FLMI, is sales vice president, national accounts, for North American Company. Murphy sold insurance after graduating from Miami University with a BA in economics. After several years as an agent he worked in marketing, advanced sales, product development, career-agency development, illustration design and distribution, agency management, agent recruiting and BGA recruiting. Murphy currently manages a region comprised of four states and 21 partner MGAs, and he also manages the company’s eight national account relationships. Murphy can be reached at North American Company, 553 Meadowtrail Court, Cincinnati, OH 45231. Telephone: 800-800-3656, ext. 87612. Email: dmurphy@SFGmembers.com.