Consumers want to be heard: it’s our job to listen

By Ron Herrmann 
Ron Herrmann

Being relevant and responsive to what customers want is how any business remains competitive and ultimately survives over time. Sometimes despite your best efforts, fluctuating consumer attitudes and preferences can threaten demand for your company’s products. You have two choices: Change your offerings, or change the way you talk about them. 

I’ll share with you a recent eye-opening experience we had regarding our permanent life insurance business that illustrates the benefit of taking the latter approach.  

Over my nearly 30 years in the insurance industry, there’s been a marked change in how people view life insurance. To the post-World War II and Baby Boomer generations, it was considered a necessity. They associated “life” insurance with death – a benefit to be paid after the loss of a loved one. 

Today, according to LIMRA, about six in 10 people own life insurance1. Permanent life insurance in particular has suffered from considerable misunderstanding, often referred to as confusing, restrictive, inaccessible, burdensome, only for wealthy people -- you get the idea. In fact, the opposite is true. Permanent life insurance can be a versatile and valuable step toward long-term financial security as a supplement to traditional retirement planning. 

With increasingly fewer people buying life insurance, it was time for AXA to re-engage consumers. We knew we needed to change the conversation about it, and that it had to be on our customers’ terms. The question was how to identify what they were. 

We recently paired with language strategy and messaging consultants Maslansky + Partners on a research study to understand how to talk about life insurance in a way that matters to people. First, we explored the objections clients had about purchasing permanent life insurance and how to overcome them. We then shifted to learning what’s important in their lives. 

It should have come as no surprise to us, but what we heard loud and clear is that customers want to hear about protection first. They want to hear about how life insurance death benefits can replace lost income and allow a family financial peace of mind. But we also discovered that only when they understand how permanent life insurance will protect their family’s financial future would they be open to hearing more about its additional advantages, such as access to the cash value of their policy* and equity-building potential, tax-deferred growth over their lifetime. 

However, as we learned, messages aren’t absorbed unless they’re communicated the right way, with proactive, specific language that first addresses customers’ roadblocks, the ones that keep them from engaging about the product’s attributes. 

We all live with certain mindsets and expectations about how things will occur, which have an enormous impact on how we perceive and react to the world around us.  As they say, perception is reality. Too often, what we are trying to say is not what our audience hears. For those of us who provide consumer products and services, in our case life insurance, this disconnect can be bad for business. Unless you want your goods to sit on the proverbial shelf, it’s critical to get to the heart of what your customers really perceive about your product, how that drives their behaviors, and then appeal to their needs. 

In the end, I think it comes down to a basic premise about human nature that applies across industries and to any customer: People just want to feel safe. 

And they all want to be heard. It’s our job to listen.

Ronald Herrmann is managing director, head of financial protection business for AXA US. 

* Loans and withdrawals from a permanent life insurance policy reduce the policy’s cash value and death benefit and increase the chance that the policy may lapse.
1“Facts from LIMRA” 2015 for Life Insurance Awareness Month. 

AXA” is the brand name of AXA Equitable Financial Services, LLC and its family of companies, including AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company (NY, NY) and Advisors, LLC.  AXA S.A. is a French holding company for a group of international insurance and financial services companies, including AXA Equitable Financial Services, LLC.

GE-115107 (05/2016)

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