Posted by Kara Franklin ● May 4, 2022
The 5 Soft Skills All Insurance Agents Need to Develop
Soft skills, also called people skills or interpersonal skills, distinguish leaders and valued team members in professional fields. Most employers seek people who have strengths in these interpersonal skills in addition to technical know-how. These may not be the skills you think to put on your resume, but they are important skills to develop to excel in the insurance industry.
What is the difference between hard skills and soft skills?
Hard skills are abilities and knowledge developed through training programs and formal education. These are quantifiable skills that workers must have to perform a specific job. These skills are ones that can be tested or evaluated, such as computer proficiency.
Soft skills are the qualities that make someone successful when working with others, such as communication skills, problem solving, and time management. Individuals who have a combination of both hard and soft skills are more competitive in the industry than those who simply have the educational background.
Soft skills may seem like traits that “you either have or you don’t,” but these are skills that can be learned and developed.
What soft skills should an insurance agent have?
Communication skills, whether in person or over the phone, are some of the most useful soft skills a successful professional can possess. Because insurance policies have so many limitations, exclusions, and benefits to consider, a successful insurance agent must be able to explain all parts of insurance policies to their prospects in a way that they can understand. A good communicator is able to adapt their style to each person and situation.
How can you develop communication skills?
Watch for body language
Nonverbal communication will often tell you more about what a client or colleague is thinking than what they say. Pay attention to body language and facial expressions. If you notice a shift in body language, it may be time to ask additional questions. If you feel comfortable doing so, call attention to the change in body language.
For example, “I noticed that your expression changed when I started talking about these policy provisions. Was there something I can explain better?”
This will help your clients feel they have the space to discuss any concerns or ask questions. Remember, however, that nonverbal communication goes both ways. Fidgeting, sighing, or rolling your eyes can be negatively interpreted. To the client, these actions could make you appear annoyed or impatient. Slouching, avoiding eye contact, or shifting may give the impression you are untrustworthy.
Recording yourself on video is the most effective method for in-person conversations. This way, you can analyze and improve your body language. For over-the-phone conversations, you can choose to use video- or audio-only recording.
Recording yourself can help you hear the tone inflections of your voice. Do you sound bored, over-excited, nervous, or annoyed? Are you talking too fast? Sometimes, we are so focused on what we’re saying that we forget how we sound. It is important to use a friendly tone, especially when communicating over the phone when the client cannot see your facial expressions.
External factors such as the time of day, the topic you’re speaking about, and events going on in your personal life can also affect your voice. Your facial expressions also affect how you sound. Even over the phone, smiling will make your voice sound friendly.
Negotiation is at the core of insurance transactions. Negotiation seems daunting because of its confrontational nature, but the goal of negotiation is to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
How can you develop the ability to negotiate?
You must have the knowledge and confidence to negotiate successfully. During the first contact you have with the client, ask them baseline questions about what type of insurance they need, their budget, and take notes on their answers. Research your recommendations, evaluating the pros and cons so you are prepared to explain their benefits.
Practice rebuttals with friends and colleagues
Rebuttals will happen, and you must have solid responses to those rebuttals. “It’s too expensive,” “I already have insurance,” and “Let me think about it” are common rebuttals, but there is always the potential for an unusual question or rebuttal from a client. Ask friends or colleagues to simulate an insurance sale with them asking difficult questions. You can take it a step further and ask your more experienced colleagues to create a realistic situation.
Use silence effectively
Knowing when to remain silent in a discussion can benefit your negotiation. When you remain silent at the correct moments, it provides the client with space to speak openly. You can learn valuable information this way that isn’t possible if you are doing all of the talking.
Empathy is the ability to feel another person’s emotional experience, even if you have never been in their circumstances. People form stronger connections with those who can relate to them. As an insurance agent, if you are able to understand your client’s position, you are able to find the best way to meet their needs and build trusting, lasting relationships.
How can you develop empathy?
To be able to understand your clients’ needs, you must first be able to hear them. While you are having conversations with prospects and clients, provide them with your undivided attention. It is easy for us to be distracted by on-going to-do lists–it is easier to be distracted by what you want to say. Keep your complete focus on them, and ask questions about what they say so you know you understand.
A good way to practice active listening is to rephrase the client’s words back to them. This helps ensure you understand what they meant, or provide them with the opportunity to explain things in a better way. Once you have a full picture of their needs, then respond with your perspective and recommendations.
Expand your perspective
Awareness is a large part of empathic experience. It is much more difficult to be empathic toward situations, perspectives, backgrounds, and cultures that you do not understand or are not familiar with. You can experience this awareness directly by traveling locally or abroad and immersing yourself into the community. Learn about the history of the location by visiting museums and local historical sights. Keep an open mind when meeting locals and fellow travelers, and always be open to conversations. Speaking to others with an open mind will enlighten you on how their personal experiences are influenced by their culture.
Reading fiction or nonfiction is an easy way to bridge this gap because it builds emotional intelligence, which leads to more effective communication and higher levels of empathy. If you read fiction, historical fiction is a good starting point because it has complex characters that will face realistic emotional dilemmas. While you read, practice relating to each character and their emotions, allowing yourself to feel their stories.
Nonfiction, such as memoir, gives you direct access to an individual experience. You can choose educational works about current events, other cultures, or opinion pieces. Opinion pieces are great tools, but it is important to read multiple opinions as well as opinions that do not match with your own. This allows you to practice seeing one issue from all sides, which is the building block of empathetic interactions.
You can also attend a seminar, webinar, or course to expose yourself to various perspectives.
Examine your biases
Have you ever had a conversation with a person where you disagreed with what they said because of a previous experience you had? That feeling is only one example of a bias—especially if it obstructs you from empathizing with the person you disagree with. Biases, when they go unnoticed, cause preconceptions about one thing, person, or group that may be based on unfair assumptions. As an agent, you can expect to meet clients with diverse backgrounds, and it is important to understand their differences to serve their best interests.
If you notice a bias, examine it and question why the feeling exists. Many biases are developed because of the differences we see between “us” and “them.” To move beyond this ideology, it is best to begin by recognizing your similarities. A great way to do this is to find opportunities to coalesce with people from various backgrounds, such as volunteering, providing support to other communities or cultures, attending community events, or joining groups with people from diverse backgrounds. When you speak to others, ask them about what is important in their lives. Notice and be encouraged by your similarities, and then you can become interested in learning about your differences. Learning about differences, like reading, broadens your perspective and understanding.
Having integrity is living with authenticity toward your values and having confidence in your principles. As an agent, integrity comes into play when making promises to your clients. Because many clients will approach a business relationship with skepticism, having a strong foundation of integrity builds your clients’ trust. Speaking honestly and keeping your promises, both to your client and to yourself, will further your success and build your professional reputation.
How can you increase integrity?
Be honest and transparent
Your clients deserve honesty above all else, even if the truth does not match their perceived needs. Effectively communicate why something can or can’t happen and remain open to your clients’ questions. If you have made specific recommendations, explain why those specific policies are suitable. Address any client concerns openly, and follow through with any promise you make.
If you fall short, maintain a level of transparency with your clients. It is better to offer an explanation and an apology for missing a phone call or a meeting than to avoid mention of it whatsoever. Transparency in your interactions takes precedence over your ego. If you need additional information to answer a question fully, admit that to your client. Providing inaccurate answers can lead the client to become suspicious of any answer you give.
Believe in your product
When you earnestly believe in your product and understand how it can help your prospects, it shows when you present the product to your clients. If you are trying to convince another person why they should purchase insurance, how can you possibly persuade them if you don’t believe in it?
There are some who believe insurance is too expensive for the benefits it provides. A successful insurance agent can change this perspective by expressing their beliefs that are grounded in facts and experience. You can accomplish this by understanding your personal philosophy regarding insurance. What are the ways you know insurance benefits people? Why do you believe insurance is important? Find and present the facts that support your answers and practice your argument.
Building true integrity takes a lot of self-reflection, and it starts with keeping yourself accountable for your actions when you are alone. It may be easy to tell someone your values, but it is more difficult to live by those values in the absence of social pressure.
A helpful exercise is to identify the actions that are important to you, personally and professionally. Think about the ways that you may be falling short. For example, have you made promises to research things for a client, and spent only a few minutes before a meeting? What actions can you take to prevent this in the future?
Several sales techniques teach the basic percentage: 10% of your contacts may be interested to hear more; 90% will not. That may seem like an overwhelming ratio, and it is. That is why persistence is such an important skill to have as an insurance agent. Yes, the commission can come with a high reward, but expect to encounter rejection. Persistence comes with practice.
How can you become more persistent?
Persistence and optimism are closely related. You must remain optimistic, even after rejection, that you are offering a service that is beneficial for anyone. You just have to find the right person. Optimism is not unrealistic – it is having confidence that the future will bring success after failure.
Remaining optimistic, even when faced by a negative encounter, is a part of having emotional intelligence. This is the ability to manage your emotions in various situations. Remaining optimistic in conversations with your clients can influence their attitude and change their perspective.
A simple strategy to become more optimistic is to find the positive in a scenario. A friend or coworker can supply hypothetical scenarios, and you can respond with any positive you see. For example: “I have had my first car accident” turns into “I now understand the insurance process if I get into an accident in the future.” This technique can be applied to your personal experiences as well.
Self reflection gives you the opportunity to see how you have succeeded in an interaction and utilize the same methods in the future. Conversely, viewing your failures will greatly contribute to your professional improvement. Can you identify the specific point where your communication could have been more effective? Once you can do that, you can avoid making the same mistake.
Growth is gradual and takes devoted determination. Take time after your day to reflect on all of your actions, especially if you are struggling to build a client base. Did you make as many contacts as you should have? What distracted you? What adjustments can you do to make tomorrow more successful?
With superior understanding of product knowledge, these 5 soft skills will improve your ability to connect with your clients and make recommendations that fit their needs, building your value and professional reputation as an agent.