I can’t think of another industry where interpersonal skills and empathy are so critical to the consumer, yet, arguably, deeply under-utilized and under-developed by the players that need them the most. Many professionals in this business have built their careers at the customers kitchen table, living room, chair in the yard, or wherever the location may be. I’m talking about the mighty and prestigious field broker. The person who’s empathy and skill set make them stand out among other professionals in any sector.
Eleven years ago I began my career in Medicare sales and was immediately introduced to some of these elite professionals, many of which have made a lasting impression. The encounters our agents have make a meaningful, life-long impact on one person’s life, and those same encounters remind me of what matters most in our industry — the empathetic and skilled human touch. One story that I recall highlights well the particular value that an agent brings to the consumer, the health plan, the system as a whole.
It is a story from East Mesa, Arizona, working with a respected and beloved agent colleague. We had the privilege of meeting a married gentleman in his mid 50’s, with a spouse who loved America despite struggling to learn English. He had 33% functionality of his heart. He was on SSDI (Disability Income), had original Medicare Part A only, and therefore no Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage Plan to help. I was the “Agent Manager,” my colleague the field agent. We helped him make sense of the towering stack of medical bills from the hospital sitting in his kitchen — explaining his portion of the responsibility, strategizing on how to respond to an aggressive letter threatening to seize his home to pay the bill, and most importantly, figuring out what more we could possibly do for him (because simply enrolling him onto Part B and then a Medicare Advantage plan wouldn’t fix the pile of his problems).
At stake was not only his health, but his wife’s future, their children and grandchildren’s legacy, and more. The stakes were frighteningly real. We could see in his eye’s the fight to survive. He seemed to believe that he had a limited amount of time to fix things…we felt like we only had days before his situation got worse. There is certainly no script for situations like these, and if it weren’t for the resourcefulness of the agent and I, who knows what would have happened. Did we solve the problem? Like masters, and this person is still with us today, living in his home.
Not many people have heard this story of how an agent found local resources for medical bill relief, and giving this consumer not only peace of mind, but comfort and hope as well. Don’t others want to know that there are great agents like this out there willing to go above and beyond? Shouldn’t the carriers funnel other consumers toward these expert local resources that are available, free of charge? We see ads from new players flooding this industry. Where are the ads that the stories of my colleague, and the myriad others like her that are out there?…
…Eleven years later I met Spark. It just so happens that I was introduced to them by an outstanding Medicare professional (mad respect Jesse Hendon), and I unloaded hundreds more stories like the one in East Mesa to the Spark founders. We shared dialogue about all of the regulations, certifications, promises, broken-promises, competitive dynamics, hierarchy layers and more, at play for not only this amazing agent colleague of mine, but for the thousands of other agents out there who feel the same way, that is: unsupported, under-appreciated, and vulnerable. Yet they also know, deep down, that no one does this business better than they do, that they are doing the right thing, and that no one else will care for their clients like they do.
A fire was “sparked”. James, Byron, and Alex, the founders of Spark, felt my visceral animus for these professionals, and it turns out they shared a similar vision. There are many well-funded players in the space, but the conversation was different with Spark. The founders wanted to make the business better for my colleagues. They wanted to create tech to support local agents, not replace them (so many of the best in the business fear the day AI will replace them, a time we believe is far, far away). Most importantly, they wanted to bring meaningful delight to the beloved consumer through this channel of professionals. I had found my home.
I’m here to bring a fighting chance to the most under-celebrated, but most caring, hardworking, and amazing professionals this industry will ever have. Spark is pioneering a new model for them. I could not be more excited about what that means for us in the business, and most especially what that will mean for our clients.