Adapting to the times Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2010

Daniel Touizer doesn’t claim to possess psychic powers. If he did, his job as chairman and CEO of Cinergy Health Inc. would be a lot easier — especially when health care reform could potentially alter the health insurance agency’s future.

He has to rely, instead, on other methods to stay aware of what’s coming down the pike and how it might affect his $85 million company.

“I’ve learned that it is extremely important to stay ahead of the curve with what you can control,” says Touizer, who leads 225 employees. “Stay on top of your industry, take care of your employees and your customers and always keep your eyes open for new opportunities. This is what will set your brand apart from your competitors no matter what is happening in your industry or the economy.”

Through direct customer interaction, focus groups that explore the competition and other feelers throughout the industry, Touizer stays on top of changes while building a more flexible company.

Smart Business spoke to Touizer about adapting your company to changing times.

Stay up to date. Things can change that are beyond your control. You could … have to adapt to running a business during a recession, new technology could be introduced into your industry or new government regulations could be put into place. 

The best way to overcome this challenge is to always be up to date and prepared. Conducting research about your industry, your competitors and your customer base will allow you to adapt to change within your industry more quickly and effectively. That research will not only prepare you for working in a changing industry, it will also help you stay competitive and attract new customers.

I read pretty much everything: major newspapers, trade publications, news channels. Go to conferences in the industry to learn about the trends, opportunities.

A good leader can actually select certain things — publications, newspapers or the such — that he believes are good materials to read and to stay on top of on a weekly, a monthly basis, and make sure that anyone he feels it’s necessary for receives a copy every month. Everybody needs to read it and bring it up in some meetings so people can share ideas.

Social media has helped us. A lot of the competitors have social media pages with Facebook and Twitter. We get a lot of feedback from what their customers want, what they’re happy about, what they look for. And we have our own social media where we get feedback from our own clients. That’s where people are very open and they really share their experiences, so you can get a lot of good feedback.

Borrow from competitors. You need to always do the research and stay on top. The only way to stay on top is to dig in, to really get the experience that people experience dealing with your competitors.

I do a lot of secret shopping to my competitors to stay up to date on what they’re doing. We have focus groups that call and purchase products from competitors and get feedback on how they market, what they’re marketing, their price points and whatever edge that they have. [We look at] how customers are treated, how long it takes for customers to stay on hold when they call a competitor, how long it takes for customers to receive their materials in the mail, whatever we want to stay on top of.

Just see how they deliver the message. We look at other TV commercials and we study other advertisements to see how we can formulate certain approaches that can better our product from where it’s at right now. We try to incorporate a little from everybody to give us what we want to be the perfect strategy to attract customers and sign them up to our plans.

I get feedback [from the focus group] on what caught their eye, what made them jump up and have an interest. And then I combine all that with everything else I take in from going to the shows and speaking to industry associates.

Adapt strategies. [It’s] looking at competitors’ offers and seeing how you can enhance your offer by adding or subtracting something here or there.

First, we put what we have to offer against what they have to offer. And then we try to add in whatever we can from our competitors’ offers into ours without changing it too drastically. So we don’t just copy people; we look at what they’re doing to add into our marketing to increase response and increase our sales.

For example, you might see a company advertise a free offer of some kind, so you can look at things like that. Maybe you want to implement some kind of a free offer or free trial or extra benefits.

You can always learn from your competition. They’re also out there working hard, thinking about how to increase revenue. You can’t really be close-minded to thinking that what you’re doing is the only way and the best way. Try to improve your business at all times, and part of that is staying ahead of the competition and always knowing where they are and what they’re doing.

Listen to customers. We actually call our customers and have a one-on-one with them. Just ask them how everything is going with the product, with the service. How we can better the product and service? How are the customer experiences when they reach out to us? They love giving feedback because they feel that we’re concerned about making the right changes for them to have a better experience.

So we take that research and then we figure out how we can apply that specifically to our customers. We come up with solutions to make certain changes that will benefit the company and, of course, the clients.

It’s important to listen to what their needs are. Then we go back to the drawing board to see if it’s cost-effective to implement certain things. Once we see something is cost-effective and would also answer the needs of a lot of the concerns that we’re hearing about, then it’s a good match. If everything comes together at once, then you can make certain changes that are good for the company and for the customer.

How to reach: Cinergy Health Inc., (800) 847-9151 or www.cinergyhealth.com