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Managing High-Touch B2B Client Experiences Virtually

As industry experts, we are placing a heavy focus on helping our clients navigate during uncertain times. 

Navigating client interactions during a not-so-subtle shift in event culture

The exhibition halls of conferences echo cheery exchanges:

“Hello!”

“How are you?”

“It’s so good to see you again!”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you — so-and-so has told me so much about you!”

In the evening, venues around the convention center are abundant with corporate happy hours and socials. On weekends at home, you may expect to go for a round of golf or attend a sporting event with a few clients and prospects. Though they may have started as clients and prospects, you’ve begun to refer to many of these familiar faces as friends and eagerly look forward to socializing with them at events, conventions, and in-office visits. Those were the days, right?

Before the pandemic, it was exciting to plan and host interactions with clients. Today, however, B2B companies are all asking the same question: How on earth should I interact with my clients and prospects during COVID-19?! The perfect answer is unclear. Client circumstances, proximity, and safety must be taken into account and will vary from business to business. Here is what State National Companies is keeping top of mind when it comes to mid-pandemic event planning.

For Group, Client, and Prospect Events

Why don’t we just host all of our events online through video chat platforms like Webex, Zoom, and Skype? In enters Zoom fatigue. I would not be surprised if this phase became Merriam-Webster’s 2020 word of the year. Virtual events can provide value, but high-quality and relatively low quantity is important to avoid further burning out your already Webex-weary clients. When you host a virtual event make it worthwhile for your attendees who may have already been sitting in the same chair in their home office for eight hours before attending your virtual event.

Some noteworthy ideas to increase event value include:

  • Deliver Grubhub or Uber Eats to your clients when visiting virtually during lunch and dinner hours
  • Send a gift straight to their door
  • Hold a raffle at the end of your event
  • Bring in virtual entertainment by hiring a celebrity or comedian to “zoom in” to your event
  • Bring an event activity to your client virtually by hiring a chef or bartender to teach your clients a new recipe over video chat (this is also a great way to support local restaurants)
  • Provide exclusive industry insights and white papers for attendees

For One-on-One Client Interactions

State National Senior Client Executive Dawn Johnson provides excellent insight and inspiration for maintaining client interactions from a distance. She says that while logistics are difficult, there is definitely an appetite among her clients for B2B interactions. While she has not been able to visit most clients in the office, she puts effort into to finding creative ways to reach out. Wine and custom chocolates are some of her favorite go-to gifts, and recently she was able to meet up with a client for a socially distanced park picnic. Although not all of her fabulous ideas have come to fruition, Dawn is utilizing her network and vast knowledge of Seattle’s restaurants to incorporate safe, socially distanced experiences.

Other forms of one-on-one client interactions include written letters and a good old-fashioned phone call.

Above All Provide Value — and Recognize Times Are Tough!

A recurring conversation I hear among our sales and service teams is to be patient and recognize that, just like leaders in businesses of all kinds, credit union, bank, and finance company leaders have a lot to navigate right now. They’ve had to not only change how they interact with you as a business partner, they’re dealing with learning how to successfully operate in a radically changed environment when it comes to their customers, employees, business processes, technology, and many other factors.

It might be a while before some of them have the bandwidth to socialize, online or otherwise. To offer our support to leaders who are in this position, State National is working closely with industry experts, our client partners, Filene Research Institute, and our parent company Markel to produce high-quality content, including surveys, webinars, and white papers, to help them navigate these “unprecedented times.” We hope the insights we are able to provide are of help as they adjust to a changed world and build a whole new way of doing business.

Catalina Uriarte
Catalina Uriarte
Catalina Uriarte is a part of State National’s marketing department. With her tagline “Creative innovation designed to inspire action,” Catalina describes herself as a curious creative who looks forward to taking on new challenges. She earned her B.A. in Public Relations from the University of North Texas and she plays an essential role in planning and executing State National’s corporate client events.

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Bringing Partnership to Life

How State National’s Client Advisory Council Creates a Virtuous Circle At State National, client experience is the foundation of everything we do. We don’t see our client relationships as static; each one is dynamic and evolving as a living, breathing entity. And it’s vital that we prioritize and nurture our client partnerships as we do with the other foundational pillars of our company. One of the most effective ways we do this is to collaborate with our clients. We talk to our clients, we ask them what they want, and we include them when crafting our business strategies. We have always considered actively getting feedback from our clients as an integral and critical part of our strategic planning. It’s why we conduct our Annual Survey of Service Quality as well as other surveys measuring other aspects of our service delivery. Our #1 goal is to help our business partners succeed, so finding out what they want and need, and how we can better provide it to them, is always top of mind. Taking the Quest for Feedback to the Next Level In 2018, we went a step further and created the State National Client Advisory Council (CAC) to convene a group of some of our top clients to discuss issues that are critically important to them and to us. It’s a forum to share information, gain consensus on key topics, and collaborate with peers and partners to creatively pursue problem-solving strategies and growth opportunities for their institutions As I said in my last CAC blog, our intention in establishing the State National CAC was, and still is, to listen carefully to the voices and concerns of our clients, foster an atmosphere where collaborative insights can emerge, and allow our strategy and product development to be guided by those who will actually be using it every day. Specifically Designed to Add Value — For All Yes, the CAC is of great benefit to State National, because it gives us opportunities to deepen relationships with some of our closest partners, and align our organization more precisely with our clients’ perspectives. We get to hear both what’s working well as well as challenges they’re facing, not only in our area of expertise, but in all areas of their institution. As we’ve been known to say a time or two, we’re successful when our clients are successful — so anything we can contribute to help them grow and succeed ultimately contributes to our own success as a company. But it’s definitely not all about us! Our council was created with a true desire to provide members with tangible, real-world benefits that not only make it more than worth their time but also add tremendous value they don’t get from any other partner. But don’t take it from us — here’s what some of our current CAC members have to say: “By having open conversations about what’s going on in the marketplace with other credit unions who are going through the same things, I’m able to learn how others are attacking certain problems and I’ve absolutely taken some things back to my credit union and implemented them.” ~ Mike Shockley, VP of Lending, True Sky Credit Union, Oklahoma City, OK “It’s great to talk about emerging technologies or other ideas we can bring back to our specific credit unions and share with our leadership team — ideas we might otherwise not have been exposed to. The volume of information at a very high level that someone can obtain by joining the CAC is wonderful." ~ John Cotner, VP Lending, Horizon Credit Union, Boise, ID “When it comes to topics like innovation and technology and AI, I think I've learned more from the CAC than I have by going to conferences and things like that, because you can really have more intimate conversations with your peers at the council, and State National does a great job of bringing in great presenters that really position the topics well, so it's easily understood as we're reviewing certain new innovations.” ~ James Bolin, SVP & CMEO, Silver State Schools Credit Union, Las Vegas, NV “One of the benefits of being on the CAC is not only meeting some of the participants from different parts of the country and having discussions, but I have also been able to take away two specific strategic business initiatives that directly impact the credit union that came about through my participation on the CAC, including one that is a multi-year strategic initiative.” ~ Steve McIntire, SVP, Enterprise Risk & General Counsel, SELCO Community Credit Union, Eugene, OR State National is a great partner. I'm glad they asked me to join the CAC because it gives me an opportunity to keep that partnership active and very vibrant. And I enjoy the fact that I get to see what State National is doing and what’s on their horizon and how it’s going to benefit not only my credit union, but the credit union industry. So it’s been really awesome.” ~ Karen Hoeppner, Chief Lending Officer, My Credit Union, Minneapolis, MN A Real-World Example of CAC Value The council’s 3rd quarter 2021 meeting provides an illustration of the tangible benefits of this ongoing collaborative sharing of ideas and insights. The council met in August in Irvine, California, headquarters of Filene Research Institute. Filene is an integral thought leadership partner for State National, and that partnership further extends directly to our CAC members. The business portion of the event was held at Filene’s innovative West Coast outpost. Dr. Bill Maurer, professor at UC Irvine, Director at the Institute for Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion, and research fellow at Filene’s Center of Excellence in Emerging Technology, conducted a working session called “The Pandemic as Practice for a Less-Predictable Future.” Group discussion led to shared best practices on how credit unions can automate communication regarding the notice cycle, which improves their member perception of CPI. Participants also explored other risk mitigation strategies credit union peers are using and how they are approaching risk mitigation overall in light of the uncertainty and turbulence caused by the pandemic and other economic shifts. Relevant, Actionable Insights Following Dr. Maurer’s presentation and discussion, CAC members and SNC directors formed working groups to discuss business challenges related to highly relevant credit union hot topics, including data governance, AI implementation, and digital automation, including mobile. After a lively conversation and sharing of experiences, each working group was tasked with conducting further collaborative research into their group’s subject area. With their curiosity sparked, CAC members made plans to dive in together to produce real-world insights they can share with other decision-makers in their credit union. The groups will also present their findings at the Q4 CAC meeting in November. Personal Connections When the day’s work was over, members joined State National representatives for an enjoyable and relaxing evening outing. After the mental stimulation provided by the day’s deep dive into important credit union topics, it was nice to move to a casual setting on the water and interact on a more personal level, while enjoying excellent conversation and lots of laughter. Then, the next day, it was time to head back to their credit union homes, bringing knowledge, insights, advice, and inspiration with them as they work on their findings and look for openings within their institutions to leverage what they’ve learned. Discover More Are you a curious credit union professional, always looking to grow and give back to your organization? Do you enjoy bouncing ideas off like-minded people in your industry and get a little thrill when you see these synergies expand what’s possible for you and for them? Are you a believer in true connection with those you work with and mutually beneficial partnerships with your service providers? Contact Heather Clyde, State National’s Client Advisory Council Program Manager, at HClyde@StateNational.com to explore the possibility of council membership. “The CAC has exceeded my expectations. On a fun note, the group is great. My colleagues on the CAC and the staff at State National are all very enjoyable and very professional. State National does a wonderful job of putting the events together. They’re well thought out, well organized. I think it’s a great two-way relationship, the CAC. I think we’re benefiting State National, and they are certainly benefiting us.” ~ John Cotner, Horizon CU   “State National has always considered our clients as more than just clients — we truly do see each and every one of these connections as an authentic partnership. Our goal for client relationships is always more than transactional; we’re always going for a win-win situation and strive to evolve all of these partnerships to serve the long-term strategic business goals for both parties. Our CAC is growing to be a vital component of State National’s overall corporate strategy, and it’s very gratifying to see that it is already helping to serve the long-term strategic interests of our CAC members and their credit unions.” ~ Heather Clyde, Client Advisory Council Program Manager