As insurers complain that younger people aren't buying enough insurance and wonder how to reach them, I observed an object lesson last week in what not to do.
My daughter Shannon was offered a position that paid enough and was interesting enough that she was considering taking it even though it doesn't come with health benefits. As we discussed the pros and cons on the phone, she did a quick search to see what health insurance would cost her, and... look out below.
The calls started pouring in — five, six seven, eight... even before we wound up our brief call. More than 150 calls hit her phone in the 24 hours after her tentative inquiry.
When she answered a few calls, to see if she could politely tell companies to shove off, she mostly got a rude, hard sell. One rep told her he'd leave her alone as soon as she signed a contract.
I'm sure there's plenty of data about how the first person to respond to an inquiry is the one mostly likely to make a sale, but I'm guessing that there has been less thinking about the effect on a millennial when scores of companies try so hard to be first that they shock a young prospect with an onslaught of calls. I'll bet there's data, too, on how well hard sells can work on people contacted by phone, but, again, there's a cumulative effect, especially on those experiencing insurance for the first time.
Shannon isn't just ready to tell health insurers to shove off. She's ready to tell the whole industry to take a hike.
I'll let her explain. Here's Shannon:
I have a deep-seated fear of not answering my phone when it rings. I get notified on my Apple Watch when a call comes in. I make sure I can hear my phone when I’m in another room. If — heaven forbid — I’m not going to be able to answer, I text the people most likely to call to give them a head’s up. I am Ms. Always Attached To Her Phone.
But last week, I did the almost unthinkable: I put my phone on "do not disturb" and refused to even look at it or answer it.
Because I *tried* to get some basic information about health insurance. And instead, I got bombarded with calls. And then more calls. Then even more calls. I got calls while I was talking on the phone on the other line. I got calls while I was walking my dog and while I was running, which interrupted my music — a complete and total no no. I got calls while I was awaiting other important calls, which caused me to miss the calls I actually wanted to take. I got calls while I was working, while I was cooking, while I was binging TV, while I was sleeping.
My phone would not shut up.
In all, I received more than 183 calls. I say "more than," because my call log won’t go back far enough for me to count all the calls. There would have been even more calls if I hadn’t realized I could just indiscriminately start to block numbers I didn’t have in my contacts. That may mean I blocked some friends — in which case, I am so, so sorry, but we’re never going to talk again.
Eventually, I started answering some of the calls, because I was so annoyed. I told some of the callers I was on the National Do Not Call registry — they hung up. I told others I wanted them to leave me alone, and they proceeded to try to sell me harder. "Oh, you’re not interested? What changed your mind?" "Ah, yes, I can make the calls stop… once you sign up for a plan with me." "Well, you were interested at one point, so let’s chat."
When I summarily told the insurance agents to stop calling me, the same numbers kept calling me! One called me back six times in a row. Some guy was trying to sell me life insurance (which I hadn’t even looked into).
All I wanted was some simple info.
Before I recently moved to the East Coast, I had a car. Which means I had car insurance. Want to know how purchasing that insurance went? I put my info into a couple of different sites, and they gave me competing quotes. I picked one, gave the company money and was sent insurance cards. The same kind of process happened when I was recently looking at renter’s insurance. I wasn’t called 900 times. I didn’t contemplate dropping my phone from the third-story balcony. The process was easy — and more importantly, it was online.
Look, I’m 29 years old. And as much as I’m attached to my phone and as much as I never want to miss something important, I don’t actually like talking on the phone. And that’s not just a me thing! My generation would rather text or email than have to have a fully fledged phone call. We’d rather send 20-minute voice notes than actually be chatting on the phone for 20 minutes. I make all my important appointments from behind my computer screen. I only really like to talk to people in my (extensive) contacts list. Calling me, nay, BOMBARDING me isn’t the way to get me to sign up for your insurance plan. Instead, you’ve turned me off on your company completely.
Here’s how I would have liked my health insurance search to happen: I’d have made myself a cup of green tea and sat down at my desk. I’d have poked around on the internet for a bit (where else would I connect with fellow fans of the K-pop group BTS?) before pulling up a few insurance-related websites. I’d have read about some different plans. I’d have put in my basic health details and would then have been directed to a site showing plan options. I’d have compared options and selected the one I liked the best. I would have given that company my money. And then I would have shut my computer and gone off to watch my English Premier League team, Arsenal, lose.
It would have taken less than 20 minutes. And I wouldn’t have gotten one phone call, let alone 183-plus.
This was such a negative experience that I’m dreading having to follow all the way through with this process. Do I actually want health insurance? Do I definitely need it? I’m aware the answer to both questions is "yes," but I don’t want it to be. I don’t want to have to hide from my phone. I don’t want to have to screen every call I get. I don’t want to have to block numbers just to get my phone to shut up for 0.2 second. I don’t want to be harassed. And I want to be able to make it up the hill at the end of my run without the song “Not Today” getting interrupted by insurance agents who feel entitled to harass and plague me.
I guess it turns out that I'm Ms. Always Attached To Her Phone — Except When It Comes to Health Insurance.
You see why I try to stay on Shannon's good side.
I hope you do, too -- and not just with Shannon but with all the other millennials and Gen Z's coming along who are trying to figure out how to buy the insurance they need.