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The case for listening to advisors & agents

Your digital program success depends on it

In reflecting on my recent article in FastCompany on the importance of listening to your customers, I can safely say that one of the best things I’ve done is to mandate that all Hearsay employees and new hires spend a day with our end users – your financial advisors and insurance agents.
As important as it is to meet the needs of social admins, compliance personnel and IT, the success or failure of your digital program ultimately depends on having a product that fits the current day-to-day processes of your advisors or agents. Your success hinges on improving their results at the same time as you make their lives easier.
Understanding how advisors and agents work, what their processes and pain points are isn’t information that’s easily gathered from a survey or while sitting around a conference table. It needs to be experienced on the ground, in the advisors natural environment. User experience designers call this “ethnographic research.” If an end user visits a lab or a tech company, she may answer questions differently than if she is in her office doing her actual everyday work. In a lab or on a survey, it’s also easier for technology product teams to ask leading questions and make assumptions. But when you visit your end user’s office and simply observe, many of those biases and assumptions quickly disappear.
One of my favorite examples is the day I spent with an employee in a local field office of one of our top insurance customers. Let’s call him Joe. Joe is precisely the type of person we designed our product for, as Hearsay looks to reinvent the client experience with compliant digital communications and workflow solutions. Since I could recite this customer’s corporate priorities and annual goals and thought I deeply understood their business, I expected this visit to be fairly routine. I would talk with a few people who’d ultimately validate what we already knew about serving their agents. But I was in for quite a surprise!
My time with Joe changed the trajectory of our products and approach to product development. We had developed a text messaging solution that we expected Joe to embrace; he couldn’t have cared less about it. Joe spent the entire day tracking down customers’ late bill payments through a painfully manual process consisting of spreadsheets, phone calls, voicemails, and Post-it Notes. Between dozens of call attempts, he shared that this was how he spent too much of his time. Our minds were blown.
This afternoon with Joe helped me and my engineering and product design teams realize that we were so heads-down refining our product based on feedback from the customer HQ offices that we were missing an opportunity to be so much more. We could deliver the type of innovation and value that changed workers’ lives.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s not just me visiting your advisors and agents. Over the course of a year, every single Hearsay employee, from engineers and product teams to our accountants, support staff, and recruiters have had similar experiences sitting down with end users. It has been a huge investment in time and coordination, but incredibly high-return on investment. Our employees come back feeling inspired and viscerally understanding our company mission and opportunity. We’ve visited all types of advisors and agents – young advisors struggling to engage enough clients to build a viable business, experienced advisors wanting to do less as they wind down their careers, and everyone in between.
The conversations we have with end users have shifted from what they think of our product to the pain points they feel daily. The questions we ask aren’t, “What do you like and what’s hardest to use about our product?” They’re, “What do you like, what’s hardest about your job, and how can we help?”
Visits with agents like Joe have inspired our team to introduce several new products, to solve business challenges in processes like billing, claims, and lead management. We’ve also refined existing offerings to focus on actual tasks that our end users must get done each day.
“Spend the Day with an Advisor and Agent” continues to be an important program for our employees. Specific individual users and anecdotes are now always on our minds and come up in meetings when we debate trade-offs and prioritizations.
If you’re like many of our clients, you may have a rich, even resource-intensive advisor or agent adoption program (e.g., Charles Schwab, American Family Insurance). Programs like these focus on critical aspects of program success like education and training where the emphasis often falls primarily on sharing information with agents and advisors.
Now imagine if you expanded these programs to incorporate a ‘Spend the Day’ to see how agents and advisors worked with the tools and content you gave them. What if you built their feedback into the your quarterly reviews with Hearsay? How much more could we do together to improve the advisor/agent experience and make your digital program wildly successful?

Clara Shih

A pioneer in the social media industry, Clara developed the first social business application in 2007. Her latest book, The Social Business Imperative, is a Wall Street Journal-featured bestseller. She is a member of the Starbucks board of directors.

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