Applying a litmus test to clients

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Scott Haile has built a reputation in the central Tennessee town of McMinnville and beyond for helping employers use their benefits strategically.

The president of Scott Haile & Company calls his approach “managing the employee lifecycle,” and it begins with helping clients figure out who their ideal employees are and how to attract them. That can be a challenge in the rural area where Haile’s firm is based. The talent pool is shallow, which makes bringing in the right people—and keeping existing employees from feeling resentful over a new hire— a pressing necessity for the local employers.

Many of Haile’s clients are rural electric and phone cooperatives, and some are unions. That mix makes benefits administration especially complex due to the nature of their member-owned business structures. “There’re a lot of regulations and reporting,” Haile admits.

One important aspect of what he does may appear obvious, but simply ensuring that the job descriptions posted by his clients are accurate can help them substantially reduce their recruiting costs.
It also helps with getting those hard-to-find new hires off on the right foot.

“To me, the most important part is getting somebody onboarded properly,” Haile explains. “It’s not just getting their forms filled out and that kind of thing. It’s really getting them engaged with the company, their managers and their team.”

To help with that effort, Haile enters each of his client’s employees into his firm’s Employee Advocate Program, and each one receives a card with Scott Haile & Company contact information, along with an invitation to reach out with any concerns.

Mary Newby has been with the benefits firm for 20 years and serves as an Employee Advocate Program administrator. “I try to provide the service experience that I’d want to have if I had an issue,” she says. “We really try to go above and beyond what is expected. That’s my goal.”

One client, who for seven years now has relied on Haile’s firm to service his 78-employee group, says he’s been impressed with their efforts. “I feel like Scott and his team are working hard on our behalf, trying to help us contain costs where we can,” says Bill Rogers, General Manager of the Caney Fork Electric Cooperative in McMinnville. “I view them as a partner.”

Fewer but better clients
From Haile’s point of view, that last sentiment is what should define the relationship. He doesn’t charge clients for the Employee Advocate Program, but he has grown increasingly particular about who he will take on as a client. During the past seven years, he’s reduced the number from around 120 to his current roster of 60, even as his firm’s revenue has grown.

The key, he says, is replacing quantity with quality, adding that his firm benefits “from not having certain types of clients.”

For example, there was one former client whose particular requirements would “burn up” Haile & Company’s entire summer. Yet, the relationship never matured into a partnership, but remained, as Haile puts it, “in the vendor space.”

Now, Haile sets an expectation for partnership before agreeing to take on a new client. At meetings with prospects, “I tell them we’re looking to find the right partners. We’re going to align with five or six companies this year and that’s going to be it. Sometimes they look at me, like I’m a little odd for saying that, but once I tell them what we do and how we do it, they understand why we’re taking that approach.”

He’s even gone so far as to BOR several cases back to the insurance carriers, when those clients didn’t follow his firm’s renewal process. Because most clients renew in January, Haile has set up “a pretty strict timeline” of when various enrollment activities need to take place. Surrendering those clients may have cost him a few thousand dollars here and there, but it has released his staff from a lot of disruption and stress.

Haile’s advice to other advisers about reducing their client load is, “You just gotta do it.” Most, he acknowledges, don’t want to give up the revenue. What they don’t realize, he says, is that they could easily replace it by finding one or two new clients, “where it’s going to be a better relationship.”

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