*DMA Speaker: Insurance DMers Need to Improve Communications

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WEST PALM BEACH, FL -- The biggest challenges that face direct marketers of insurance products today are not coming from Capitol Hill, but from uninspired telemarketing efforts and poorly conceived Internet strategies, according to Jon Hamilton, president of consulting firm JHA Telemanagement Inc.


Speaking yesterday at a seminar at the Direct Marketing Association's 16th Annual Telephone Marketing Conference here, Hamilton said consumers have grown weary of telemarketing pitches that do not attempt to establish a dialog with the customer.


"Consumers have had enough schlock, they've had enough crap," he said. "We've been giving it to them for 50 years over the phone."


He said part of the problem is that phone agents are "talking at" customers rather than communicating with them. He said that finding and keeping good phone representatives is the No. 1 problem for insurance telemarketers, but he also said that much of the blame for poor quality telemarketing lies with the companies that are writing the scripts and determining whom to call and when to call them.


He cited as evidence of poorly executed telemarketing the fact that he recently received a telephone sales pitch at 10 a.m. on a Sunday, which, he said, is about the worst time to ever make an outbound sales call.


"If you have to make calls on a Sunday, at least wait until noon," he said.


As a result of that call, Hamilton asked to be put on the unnamed company's do-not-call list -- the first time he has ever done that.


Insurance companies also are failing to communicate with consumers properly through the Internet, he said.


Although some insurance companies are allowing customers to obtain quotes and even order policies through the Internet, the medium isn't going to replace other traditional insurance sales channels any time soon, he said.


"On the Web, technology does not make a sale," he said. "The model of using the Web to make a sale does not work. It is a piece of what works, though."


Hamilton said some of the technologies that are being used to communicate with consumers through the Internet hold promise, however. Voice over Internet protocol, or VOIP, could prove to be a great sales tool for the insurance business, he said. VOIP allows consumers to use their computers like a telephone while looking at a Web page on their screen.


Sales representatives or licensed agents in the call center could hold conversations with customers while "pushing" Web pages onto the customers' screens, a process Hamilton said might be more like the face-to-face selling that has always been an important component of selling some types of insurance.


Most consumers do not have enough bandwidth in their homes for VOIP yet, he said, although he predicted that such technology would be widely available within the next few years.


In addition, he said live Web chat also promises to be a valuable sales tool for insurance companies, although he cautioned that sales reps who are hired to perform live chat need to have different skills than typical phone sales reps have. Also, having canned answers ready for Web chat sessions -- similar to the prepared rebuttals telemarketers have long used -- can speed the Web chat process and make it more effective, he said.
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