Secrets of Selling Insurance to Multicultural Clients

Minorties in America are more than one-third of the population and the US Census Bureau estimates they will become the majority by 2050.

The minority population is growing much faster than the Caucasion population primarily because these families are younger and larger on average.

Whether you sell life, disability, long term care this is good news.  The huge and growing market is an opportunity for life insurance producers if you know the secrets of how to meet the unique needs of Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, Middle Easterners and others.

The first secret that insurance professionals must understand is that minorities don’t necessarily need or want to work with an agent who is from their own culture.  In fact, many clients deliberately seek out agents who are not from their culture because they are afraid that if they disclose personal financial or health information to someone from their own culture, it might be easily shared within their community.

The second secret is that, unless a person is recently immigrated and there is a language barrier, they are usually happy to work with anyone who is sensitive to their culture.  Unfortunately in the first 30 seconds most untrained agents will unintentionally insult a multicultural client at least three times.  This obviously will not build a trusting relationship or obtain referral.  So what are some of the ways we can offend multicultural minority clients?

The first and most common mistake most people make when greeting somone from a different culture is to assume that they automatically want to shake your hand.  While this may be natural for you, it could extremely uncomfortable and possibly even insulting to someone from outside of the United States.

For instance, many Middle Eastern, Asian Indian and Japanese women are forbidden to touch any man who is not her husband or relative.  The secret to avoiding this problem is to stop assuming that everyone wants to shake hands and let the other person tell you how they want to be greeted.  Don’t just automatically stick your hand out when you meet someone for the first time.  Instead, introduce yourself and let the other person give whatever greeting he or she is most comfortable with and then simply return the gesture.

When greeting a couple you will generally greet the man first.  Remember to wait to see what kind of greeting he gives you.  If he offers his hand go ahead and shake it but be sure to drop your hand to your side before turning to the woman.  She will likely just nod to acknowledge you and you should do the same.

The second way that many agents insult their customers is by assuming eye contact is the same around the world.  For instance, in the United States we tend to think of looking others in the eye as essential when building relationships.  In fact, we relate eye contact to honesty, sincerity and respect.  The secret with direct eye contact is that some cultures consider it rude and disrespectful.  The is common in Asian and Native American cultures where people will often look down while taking as a sign of respect for others.  So instead of feeling uncomfortable or trying to get eye contact if a client looks away – just to the same.

The third way that insurance professionals can make clients feel uncomfortable is by standing too close or too far away when talking.  In the United States, we stand about two feet apart after shaking hands, and that’s the distance at which we tend to talk.  However, in Japan for instance, people there are much more formal and will shake hands or bow and then step back to give each other greater personal space.

However, for an American, this is way too much room so we naturally step forward which violates the Japanese person’s personal space.  This causes them to step backward and for the American to end up chasing them all over their home!

On the other hand, there are some cultures that stand much closer when talking than Americans are used to.  One example is from the Middle East.  They might shake hands and then take a step forward, putting them just inches away from each other’s face, which is obviously much too close for some people in this country.  In fact, in the Middle East they have a saying, “When I’m talking to a friend I want to feel is breath on my cheek.”  As a result, the American will step backward, force the Middle Eastern buyer to chase him all over the office.

The secret to dealing with personal space differences is simply to stand still if a client steps backward or forward after your initial greeting.  It may be a bit uncomfortable for you but the key is to do what’s comfortable for the client.

This is what good customer service, in any language is all about.

These and other cultural mistakes can ruin a relationship before it even gets started.  So be sure to let the client show you how he or she wants to be greeted, if you don’t get direct ey contact don’t expect it, and if the customer steps in or back after your greeting just stand your ground and let them determine how much personal space he or she wants.  If you do just these three things in the first 30 seconds it will put you light years ahead of your competion.

Remember, these could be your client if you are willing to adjust your practices, just a little, to meet their unique needs.  If you do, you will win clients for a lifetime who are more likely than th average person to refer their friends and family to you.

There are many other secret ways to build relationships with multicultural clients.  To test your awareness go to:  www.ethonoconnect.com and take the Salesperson Cultural Competency Quiz.

By Michael Soon Lee, MBA CLU is a former CFP who teaches insurance professionals and others how to increase sales to multicultural clients.

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