Communication through technology has never been simpler and faster these days, thanks to everyone's easy access to various channels, particularly the internet. For Chris Paradiso of Paradiso Insurance, carriers and brokers have been missing a lot when it comes to this extent, making the insurance industry a bit short when connecting with clients. Chris discusses with Ben Baker how technology can drastically change the way insurance is delivered and processed to make it more personal and meaningful, provided they are utilized effectively. They also give their takes on how insurance professionals must continue to adapt to the continuous evolution of technology and customer demands.
Thank you for coming back to the show. It's amazing to me how this conversation has evolved over many years. Thank you all for being part of it. I have a good friend of mine on the show, Chris Paradiso from Paradiso Insurance is joining me. We are going to have a great conversation. First of all, Chris, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it.
You and I have built a relationship over social media. I had a couple of small groups that were part of over the last year or two. I was very honored that you asked me to write for your magazine in 2020. We'll get into that because it’s a great magazine that you guys created and what you're doing with it. I wanted to give you a few minutes before we get into the subject. The conversation I want to get into is, how does the insurance industry perceive itself versus how customers perceive it? We'll get into that, but I want to give you a few minutes to talk about yourself and your agency. Give people a little bit of a history of who you are, what you do and why you do it?
We are an independent insurance agency or in Canada, they would call us a broker, which means that we are dealing with the public and selling to the everyday people. We've been around for many years. We're based out of a small town in Connecticut called Stafford Springs. It's a mill town. It still has active mills. It has the only active working wool mill left in the United States. It's about 15 yards from my building. We're a typical New England town agency in many retrospects but we have is a national footprint. We're in 39 states here in the United States. We do have some niches. We specialize in parcel delivery. Anything from FedEx and Amazon to DHL is a niche of ours. Now, granted we have thousands of clients that do home, auto and umbrella.
We still do that, but we do generalize in commercial, but then we have our niches, which one of them is parcel delivery. That's a little bit about the agency and we're hyper-focused on the customer experience both with and without technology. We still have a lot of old-fashioned ways. We have handwritten note card on Thanksgiving to every single one of our clients. All 7,900 clients will get a handwritten note card. It is something we believe in. We also are hyper-focused with our data and digital marketing from social, email marketing and all non-traditional marketing.
It's the combination of utilizing technology where technology makes sense and that old-fashioned human to human experience where it's needed. A lot of companies don't get it. A lot of companies either say, “We're a technological firm. We believe in technology. We've doubled down in technology.” By doing that, they've lost the human touch.
You can use technology to personalize. We use a great tool called Loom, UseLoom.com to create video proposals. Here's a piece of technology, because during COVID, you're not in front of people, but it's something that we've been active in because if we're in Connecticut and we're selling a policy in California, there's a good chance on a $5,000 account, we could not get on a plane. It's not cost-effective. We'll use a great piece of technology like Loom. A creative video proposal, where they'll see the proposal, but there will be a circle and I can communicate with you. It's going to walk through the quote and that piece of technology once it's sent, it's very personalized.
When you watch it, whether you watch the whole thing, watch 5 or 2 minutes of it or watch it ten times, it's going to report back to me how many times you’ve watched it, how much of it you watched, which is very personal. Now I can say, “I wanted to reach out to you. I hope that the video proposal was helpful and educating, but I like to schedule a time to follow up with you to answer any questions and walk through anything that maybe is a little cloudy.” Just because we use that technology, it doesn't mean you replace it and say, “We don't want humans.” I firmly believe social media shouldn't be called social media. It should be called H2H, Humans to Humans, because social media is nothing more than another word for communication. The same with email marketing in Loom and any other of these forms of technology. It's how communication has changed.Technology is extremely helpful in building and keeping relationships through clear communication. Click To Tweet
First of all, I am a big Loom user. Before you and I got to talk, I needed to make some major changes to my website. Instead of trying to schedule a time to go back and forth with my designer, I sit there and said, “Open up my Loom, go to my website and say, ‘Can you change this? Can you move this around? Thanks, Kim. I appreciate it.” I attach it to an email and send it off to Kim. I know exactly when she's opened and looked at it. I can go back to her in 48 hours later and say, “Did you have any questions about this?” “She's made the changes to my website.”
Because there's a big time difference between where she is and where I am, she's doing this while I'm sleeping and it makes all the sense of the world. It allows us to use technology to be very personal. People need to realize that there is that ability to use technology on an individual basis and not use communication as a shout. Too many people use communication as a shout. They post something out on social media or human to human and they never look at the responses that they get. They never comment on the comments. They never looked to see who are the people that liked it and say, “There's somebody I've never met before. Let's start a conversation with those people. Obviously, they liked what I had to say. Let's reach out and have a conversation.”
You're going back and forth on LinkedIn and you sit there going, “Why don't we set up a Zoom call and have a conversation live and take this offline and get to know each other better?” There are many different ways we can extend the way to become human with each other again and to enable us to understand each other, value each other and be able to help each other through using technology, but realizing that there's a human being on the other side of the fence.
My grandfather always said, “Dua, dua, uno,” which was 2, 2, 1. Two ears, 2 eyes and 1 mouth. Remember why God did that for you. I knew what he meant, “Shut up and listen.”
One of the big reasons why I love podcasting is that one-on-one conversation allows people to understand each other.
When you send that Zoom video, she can feel the emotion. When you text somebody, you get the emotion. That's why emojis came from because you can't tell. It’s like in email. Is the person mad, sad, upset, pissed or happy? You get them to feel somebody when you're on video. I think that's the power and the age to age within technology that is extremely helpful both in building relationships, keeping relationships and clear communication.
We need to be able to speak to be understood and we need to be able to listen to understand. It's important that we don't just sit there and throw a message out and say, “I said it clearly. They understood exactly what I'm saying.” Whether it's to your own staff, vendors, clients, your kids, somebody on the street or your spouse, we need to be able to communicate in ways that resonate with our audience. It emotionally ties them back to us or to an idea and enables them to be part of the conversation. It becomes two-way.
The other thing that I hear about that, “You're younger.” Ben, I wouldn't say you or I are younger. The younger generation is 25. I'm not, but it's not about younger, it's we have to embrace and change with times. I'm not going to ever give up the H2H. I always love to meet people in person but I'm also understanding that in order to grow, we have to put ourselves in uncomfortable arenas. In the beginning, it was very uncomfortable. I've been doing it so long. You’ve got to challenge yourself and it's for the betterment of the communication. There's nothing good that comes out of bad communication. I don't care if it's your marriage or your business or a friendship.
Like you, I've got kids. We get that next upcoming generation, that Gen Z or Millennial generation but they communicate differently. It doesn't mean that they are wrong. It just means that the way that they've been brought up with technology, the way that they communicate is very different. I’d watch my son video chat for hours with his friends during COVID. Will he pick up a phone, dial and call his grandparents? No. It's a two-minute conversation. He'll have Zoom conversations with them that could last 45 minutes to 1 hour, but he can't pick up a phone and there's some type of disconnect with him. He feels very uncomfortable putting a phone to his ear. It's understanding that people communicate differently, but everybody still wants to be listened to, understood and valued. It's using technology in different ways to be able to make sure that you're dealing with it in a way that resonates with both parties or at least builds the bridge between the 2 generations or 2 people, so they can all come together and have a common share of ideas.
You can't understand it, but times and people have changed. We don't have to always agree with it. We need to adapt to it and understand that it's a different generation.
Let's get into perception, because perception is a huge part of communication. I came from years and years in the promotional marketing industry. I did very high-end stuff. We did a job for Coca-Cola where we did these 12-inch charger plates that there was only 400 of them. We hired an artist, created these things, mahogany boxes that get shipped around the world. It was absolutely gorgeous and beautiful. When you talk to CEOs and they say, “Who is this guy?” “He's the guy who does our promo stuff. He's the guy that does our tchotchke, our trinkets and trash.” The interesting thing is the perception, “I don't sell pens. I don't sell mugs. I don't sell t-shirts.”
In fact, I don't do any of this stuff anymore, but within any industry, there's a disconnect about how we see ourselves and how other people see us. I want to talk about that in the insurance industry, because there's a great disconnect between how the independent insurance advisor versus the insurtech versus the customer itself and the insurer, the insurance company, how each one views itself within the industry and how they view their partners. I wanted to hear your insights on this because it's challenging.
It's challenging and very controversial. Agents and brokers don't talk about it only because the average agent doesn't trust the average insurance company. I said it, I'll probably get hate mail, but behind closed doors, it's what I hear every day. I'm fortunate to speak around the country and I hear the same thing from agencies. It's not a partnership. It's like the agents want more from the carriers. The carriers want more from the agents. At the end of the day, a partnership has to meet halfway like a marriage. The carriers and agents need to first off, communicate better.
The communication level between the carrier and the agent, the carrier and the client and the agency and the client are three different avenues and none of them know what is being said. For example, if I send you an email then if you are my client, the insurance company never knows. If the insurance company sends you a bill and you don't understand that bill, the first thing I have to do when my team answers the phone is, “Let me go into the system and look up and let me find this bill.”
It’s because you may not even know the bill even showed up.Nothing good has come out of bad communication. Click To Tweet
I wouldn't know. They don't communicate with us. We’ve got to go into their system and in most cases, we can say, “I don't see it, but let me pick up the phone and call.” Once in a while, we get lucky and we say, “We see the bill.” In most cases, “I'm sorry, I’m going to get back to you.” Right then and there, customer experience sucks. I'm not going to lie to you, it irritates me when I listened to the calls. I say, “Ben calls and we should have better information at our fingertips to be able to give you the customer experience.” When you call Amazon, you don't get that because it's a ticket system. Insurance agency, world is not a ticket system. We are an on old dinosaur, in a lot of cases, systems. Unfortunately, they don't come with open APIs. We're seeing the industry talk about APIs. For those that don't understand APIs, all it's doing is taking a hand and being able to integrate them so that they can communicate with each other.
Your computer can talk to their computer in real-time and you can see their data. They have the ability to push data to you in a way that's easy to read.
Another example, I had a client communicate with me and say, “I'm not liking the way this claim situation is going down.” We have in-house claims personnel. Remember, we work alongside with you, I'm paying extra money to have an in-house claims person to help you through the process because we understand how the claims communication is not very good from the carrier to the client. I can show because I have a data program that gives us a real lifetime Net Promoter Score without ever asking our client. It not only gives us a Net Promoter Score of how well the agency is doing, it's giving me a Net Promoter Score without asking you once again, “How well the carrier is doing for you?” Our average carrier gets a 6.9 out of a 10. That's the average. We're fortunate and I still think we have a long way to go. We're at 8.4 out of 10.
You're almost a full two points ahead? Look at it as an average type of thing.
I look at it and say, “It costs me, an independent agent, a lot of money to go ahead hunt and find a prospect and then sell the prospect. Am I willing to lose that client because of a bad experience they had with a carrier? I'm not willing to lose that.” My only point and why I say that is the communication or the reality of it is we would all have to come to the table and have this conversation. Does the carrier firmly believe? In a most cases, they do. In some cases, they may not.
What I usually hear is the carrier can control the relationship because that carrier is directly communicating without the agent knowing. The agent has the ability to stay in communication but with a little bit more legwork because it needs to find out what the carrier is sending in order to understand how happy or unhappy you are with whatever email you're getting or emails or whatever else they're putting in front of you, because the agent never knows. That is never going to work to a great customer experience. I think that is something that needs to change in the future.
It needs to be a seamless communication. I'll tell you a story about that. Where the carrier and the agent worked together, they both understand the client's needs and be able to work with it because, let's face it, and we can get into who is the client. The client in the end is the person who pays the bills. The person who pays the bill, is the person at the end of the bill who owns the policy and is writing the check. You may be a conduit for that and receiving commission rightly for the work that you do, but the client, as far as the end user is concerned, is not you who the carrier may perceive you as the client. The client is the person who is paying for the policy.
I would argue that, because if you think about it, if you came to me and I bring you through a carrier, I'm bringing you to that carrier. My reputation is on the line, not theirs because you came to me. You didn't go to X, Y, Z carrier. At the end of the day, the reality is if the carrier gives a bad experience, because they've come to me or we've reached out to you at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. The line of getting to the carrier is we're the middle person. At the end of the day, we're the ones paying for it.
It’s because we trust you. As the person who buys insurance and the person who pays way too much money in insurance, both for my corporate and my personal life, I don't deal with the carriers. I deal with an insurance broker who goes and gives me advice and says, “You should be buying this policy that is produced by this carrier.” “My hope is I never have to talk to that carrier ever. My relationship was with you. You're the person I trust. You're the person who understands my business, my hopes, wants, needs and desires and will facilitate me getting the right policy that will solve my problems.” If something goes wrong, God forbid, my house burns down or were brutalized, I'm probably not going to call the carrier. I'm probably going to call my insurance broker and say, “What do I do now?”
You hope and we always preach that, “Ben, call us. You're our client.” Let us be the middle person because we want to make sure that the claims person is communicating with you on a regular basis. This client that came in was irate. The claim happened on August 2nd. We still haven't settled the account. We have over 17 phone calls and 39 emails involved in this claim. The adjuster says, “I think we'll be able to finalize it by the end of next week.” You have August 2nd to September 2nd, September 2nd to October 2nd, October 2nd to November. That is over 90 days over a claim that is a $10,000 claim. We're not talking like the house.
The money that has been spent, the time of your client, your time, the time of the people that you're having to deal with at the carriers, there are hundreds, if not thousands of dollars-worth of time that has been spent already.
Not only in this case, as a year, there's over $100,000. I have multiple claims people inside my office. I never thought I would say that, but I have to, because it's not that the carriers are always doing a bad job. What they're doing a poor job at is the communication. I'm not always sure that in a lot of cases, the poor communication is coming from third-party claims handlers. It's very disconnected. I had a client. We had a tree go through the roof. The tree didn't land on the roof. It went through the roof, landed into their living room. The claims adjuster on a recorded line with me, says to my insured, “How do I know there wasn't water damage inside of that residence before the tree went through?” I flipped my head saying, “It was very thick.”
It’s got to be a big tree if it went through a roof.
The tree was a very large branch that went through. He was asking for proof. I need to have some pictures, so you understand the story. The insured wife works for me. I asked her, “Did you ask the agent?” She says, “I'm floored that I work in insurance, that I am disgusted.” She's in claims. “Now, I know the frustration of the clients when I'm communicating. They asked me if I had water snakes. Do I have proof before that tree went through? What does it matter? They still have to replace the whole ceiling.” I said, “That was my point.” Second of all, that is an asinine thing to say to a client. The owner of the house says to me, “Don't worry about it. I'm going to pull the limb out.”In order to grow, you have to put yourself in uncomfortable arenas. Click To Tweet
He got three of his neighbors, pulls the limb out, tarps the roof at no cost to the insurance company. If we had to send out an emergency people, we're probably looking at $6,000 to $10,000, but they’re going to ask him and her question about, “Do you have proof?” When we talk about the reality of the reputation, the reputation's being hurt and that was a third party. When I called the insurance company, they're like, “No, he didn't.” I said, “Would you like to listen to it? I have it.” He listened to it. He says, “I cannot believe that. Call me back.” Three days later, not only they fired the third party. I couldn't believe it, but I heard it with my own ears.
It's interesting because for personal things, I'm going through renewing car insurance at that time. It's during COVID and I get this nice text from the people I bought insurance from 2019 saying, “If you'd like to renew over the phone, please call this number.” It's a hot number. On my cell phone, I hit the number and go, “Make it easy for me. I'll do it.” Unfortunately, it wasn't easy. The problem was head office sent out this thing and the guy who answered the phone goes, “That came from the head office. It's much easier for you to come into the branch. We're busy right now. If you come into the branch, we can handle this for you in about ten minutes.”
That was your agent that said that?
This is the individual agent who works for this large agency. The head office of the agency sent out this professional email, “Here's how we can make things easy for you. Dial the number, which is the direct dial to the branch.” That's right around the corner from my house and I got nothing but pushback. When I got to the branch, I went, “I'll go in. I'll deal with this.” The guy made me feel like he was doing me a favor. I turned around and said, “I'll go somewhere else and buy my insurance because that was my experience.” Is the insurance going to cost me any more or any less from any other broker? No, because the way that the insurance is where we are, it’s government insurance, you buy from who you buy from.
You’re up in Saskatchewan County?
Up in BC. It's the good old. It is what it is. Everybody loves to hate.
That’s a terrible experience, Ben. I will be the first one to tell you, there are a lot of agents that don't believe in customer. The first thing they should have said is whoever answer it, “I appreciate the phone call. What's the best way to get this resolved? Would you like to come in or is it easier for us to solve this?” Why are we not asking our clients? Why are we not asking them how they want to do business? That’s the problem. That's brokers and agents. They need to wake up and realize who is in control since 1993 and 1992, arguably, when everybody ended up getting PCs inside their house. The control was no longer on the insurance agent or the carrier. The control is now in the consumer because now they can be educated. We have to wake up as agents and carriers to give a better customer experience and ask the customer how they want to communicate.
Be able to make it easier. You were talking about open APIs. If all of a sudden, you, as an agency can develop a backend website for your customers where they can have limited back in information to their claims service. I don't know what the rules and regulations are, but at least have some intelligent information that they can log in and be able to have access. How much easier would that be?
It would be tremendous, but we are extremely heavily weighted. We have an API going to one of the largest corporations in the world. It goes live in December 1, 2020 where we're on a call every single week. It's amazing on how much information. They're looking for certificates of insurance, something easy and how many months we've been working on this. In the claims action, I haven't seen any carriers other than one carrier who we're working with right now with an open API on that. The other carriers haven't even thought about it. In 9 out of 10 cases, if we don't call the most recent updated information that is usually at least a week old, if not weeks old and in some cases, a month old before they're updating.
We legitimately, as an agent, pick up the phone, hang up with you and say, “I'm going to get back.” You call. We spend 15 to 45 minutes to find out where it stands. Can we get a close? Where's the check? What's the next steps? We then got to communicate with you. It's not an easy process. Think if that open API where, “You could open up the app,” because we have an agency app. Open up and say, “They're waiting on me. I need to get back to my adjuster because he's waiting on some information.” You don't even have to call them. You could upload, “Here's the jewelry appraisal. Here are the pictures. Here's this. Here's that.” You upload it directly through your cell phone right to the carrier. We put people on the moon 67 years ago. I don't think this is brain surgery. I think technology needs to move a lot quicker in our industry.
Is it dealing with legacy systems and multiple legacy systems and the fact of that by the time you can sit there and assess what the new technology needs to be and rip off the Band-Aid and say, “These AS/400 IBM servers that we've had in the basement for years need to go to the scrapyard and we need to spend $100 million to bring ourselves up to the 21st century.”
We have to wake up though and also be realists. When you take the large companies, it's like, “Why did the Titanic hit the iceberg?” The Titanic was called a Titanic for a reason. You're not going to turn that thing around in minutes. Some of it, I would say, we have to be realistic and give timeframes and give time, but the other aspect is, the industry is slow to move like agents. In 2008 or 2009 we’re like, “Facebook is a fad. We're going to let it go by.” Now, all of a sudden, you're seeing in 2018, many years later, “I think I'm going to dabble in it.” That's like saying, “I'm going to buy Microsoft stock now versus 1993.” The industry needs to move a little quicker.
What is the perception from the carrier side when they're looking at the customer and they're looking at your customer and sitting there going, “We think we're doing a great job?” What is driving that philosophy and sitting there going, “We don't need to change. They need to change.”
The hard thing to answer is I heard this and the small more regional carriers may not have the money and not be as flexible. When I say they are nimble, they're nimble in the sense that I think they're a little bit more realist in understanding, “We have some problems and we need to fix.” Where some of the larger carriers feel like, “Our clients love us.” I had the 2nd or 3rd largest in Canada, but one of the largest here in United States say to me that their logo doesn't that stand for something. I was like, “They're at 27,000, you're at 60,000.” He looked me in the eyes and said, “I think you could still sell it because they have that logo behind them.” I wanted to say, “Twenty-seven thousand and I believe it was 64,000.” That's not in the ballpark. If you said 27,000 versus 29,000, there might be 30,000 carriers. I believe there are a lot of clients that will say, “I'm willing to pay a little bit more, but there's a threshold.”
Everybody has a threshold. I think people think insurance is only about price. If they're thinking that way, we're probably not the agency for them, because with the way coverages are now, everything is a la carte. It's like, “I got the steak in.” If you go to a real fancy place, you get a steak, “Where's my mashed potatoes?” Unfortunately, that's the way the industry is here because there are many people and many carriers that are spending billions of dollars, cheap and fast until you get an accident and a lawsuit. I always tell people, “Remember, the cheaper your insurance is and the less coverage you take, you're letting an insurance company win. They don't want you to have more liability because now you're paying a little bit more, but there are more risks that's been transferred away from you to the insurance company. Isn't that why you buy insurance?”
Look at what happened with Wimbledon. They paid what $1 million or $2 million for years for this insurance policy and it's going to net them $160 million or $200 million.A partnership has to meet halfway like a marriage. Carriers and agents need to communicate better. Click To Tweet
The got all their money back. It’s probably $110 million or $120 million. Even at $1 million a year, they're still going to end up $100 million ahead. The reality is there's a lot of disconnect from specific carriers. I think there’s a lot of agents that are very disconnected with their customers. I'll never say here and throw, I always say a divorce or a bad communication, a bad relationship, it's always a two-way street. Carriers need to fix a lot of things. Agents need to fix a lot of things and client isn't always right. If a client calls up and we educated them and they decided because of price they didn't want to buy. Now, they're going to slam us and bad mouth my team.
I tell them, “I want to know that call because we don't sit here and get abused even though the client is ‘always right.’” There's a level of respect that it needs to be. We need to make sure we've done a good job, we educate, we dotted all our I's and crossed all our T's. I think there's a lot of disconnect. I'm not sure that some of the larger carriers, especially, they're very high up. I always say, “It's easy for a general to tell me and you to go in through the front lines. Whether it's World War II or World War I when it was hand-to-hand combat.” It’s a little different of telling somebody versus going in there with you.
There are a lot of generals that are good at quarterbacking from the back fence. There were very few Pattons in the world that wanted to be there on the tank in the front line, with the six-shooter in his pocket ready to draw at any time.
Ready to go right along with them. That's the real issue. I think it will change. It's going to take a long time for change. It's unfortunate the way the insurance industry has been.
We can't solve the problems of the world, but I find that this has been enlightening. Chris, I enjoyed the conversation. I'm going to make sure that everybody has all your contact information so they can reach out to you. There's a real value that your team does because you listen. That's the one thing is sit there and listen to your people, find out what's important to them and then move forward. I always appreciate that when you and I have a conversation, but I have one question for you and I give this to everybody as they walk out the door. When you leave a meeting, when you get in your car and you drive away, what's the one thing you want people to think about you when you're not in the room?
The most important thing is that, “He's caring.”
You can't say it any better than that.
It's vitally important. For the readers, what you're doing when you say, tell your story and you talk about the brand all the time? There is no bigger brand junkie than me. I wish there were more Bens out there. I also wish that there were more agencies out there that realize how important a brand guy and being able to tell their story. Kudos to you because what you do is vitally important. The one thing I hear when people say, “Your brand guy, this, that.” Now they are like, “What's your ROI?” Let me ask you a question, what's the ROI of Apple's brand? You can't put a number on it, but I can tell you it's the most expensive brand. It's in the billions and billions. What you do is vitally important that I hope other business owners realize, telling your story and creating the brand and telling that brand story is vital to future success that what you do for companies is extremely important. I thank you for doing that, especially for small mom-and-pops that it's vitally important.
I'm honored. Telling peoples stories is what I thrive at and what I love doing. It's my passion. Thank you for being part of this. Thanks for telling your story and being able to enlighten people on something that they might not have been aware of. That's the goal of this show and that's what we try to do. Thanks for everything that you've been with us.
As the owner of Paradiso Insurance in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, I help to protect an individual's most valuable assets with a variety of insurance options. My insurance agency, like this country, is built on promises that I guarantee to each and everyone of my customers.
I built my agency from the ground up through marketing and the help of my local community. I now use what I have learned to help other independent agents thrive in the insurance space through my other company, Paradiso Presents.
I believe that with the right attitude, and a strong work ethic, you can do anything in our great country of America.
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