By Angus MacCaull

We’ve probably all been in situations where we pretend to know more than we really do. With a friend, with a salesperson, with a family member, or even just in front of the mirror. You know, when you find yourself agreeing that of course the seven triple schmaltz carburetriminum really is the best policy guide for the Middle Eastern transpipe on the up side of the harbour. That is, if you think the current jimmy-jang is going to last. Right?

But coasting along on half-understood technical specs and lore doesn’t always serve our needs. In our industry in particular, there are a lot of details that matter, details that can translate into big differences in premiums and even bigger differences in coverages. The sheer number and complexity of these things can be hard for a broker to remember, and even harder to get across to a client.

Doug Close in Hammonds Plains has been sharing a lot of his knowledge and tips recently with Karen George, who joined A.A. Munro last October. They sat down with me this winter to talk about their dynamic. Karen came from a background in retail and a stint at a direct writer. She’s found that while a lot of her soft skills have transferred over very well to being a broker, one area that has a big learning curve for her is learning how to talk to people about insurance in a language that they understand. “Doug’s done it so many times,” she said. “He knows what people pick up on a lot easier.”

Working in close proximity helps with training. Doug and Karen spend a lot of time eavesdropping on each other. Doug will listen to Karen take calls and give feedback to her whenever he can, often about how to explain an aspect of coverage. And Karen will listen to how Doug interacts with people and make notes for herself. It’s very informal and highly effective for the kind of self-motivated people that our company attracts.

A strong sense of team spirit also helps with training. “I spent close to four years in this office alone and felt more of a part of a team than a lot of places!” said Doug. Karen agreed that the wide net of support that everyone has access to is great. When Doug is busy, she can pick up the phone or send a bubble message to get a quick response from someone else. And the guidance she gets on all sorts of things is easy to follow, whether it’s about where to click on a portal or how to interpret a wording in a manual.

Doug said that our culture of simplicity and clarity is key both when training new people and when talking to clients. One incident that’s stayed with him throughout his working life, from his time as a carpenter through running his own Snap-on Tools franchise and well into his second decade in insurance, is something that happened during a university night course. A business professor was giving a lecture. The lecture turned complex and jargony. Members of the class began fidgeting and getting more and more visibly uncomfortable, but no one risked raising their hand and admitting that they didn’t understand until finally one brave student stood up and interrupted. “Are you assuming we already know the material?” asked the student. “Because the way you’re explaining it to us, we’d already have to know it to just understand what you’re saying.” 

Unfortunately, the attitude of this professor can be all too common. We can get caught up feeling that an explanation is a performance. And we can get equally caught up in going along with someone even when they really aren’t speaking our language. Doug said that this incident has stayed with him because it helps him remember that when you’re providing a service for someone, they need that service because they aren’t an expert, so it’s your job to explain things in simple terms.

Whether it’s in-house or with clients, taking the time to share information with the needs of the listener in mind can go a long way towards serving people and building meaningful relationships. “It’s the little details that people want to hear that you wouldn’t think they need to,” said Karen. The power of a good explanation is that it truly changes someone’s ability to function in the world.

Doug Close and Karen George reviewing documents together.
Doug and Karen reviewing some details.