Customer Service Focus
Simple things matter the most
Five qualities to adopt when dealing with clients
By Pam Golden, CIC
All agencies put into place customer service procedures, policies and guidelines—many of these are concerned with meeting deadlines. Phone calls are to be answered within two hours, certificates of insurance are to be issued the same day they are requested, e-mails must be responded to within 24 hours, and claims are to be filed the same day they are reported. While these are all good and necessary policies and guidelines, what matters most to customers isn’t usually found in written procedures. It really comes down to the simple things.
I’ve been in customer service since I entered the workforce 26 years ago. I’ve dealt with the public, attended seminars and classes, listened to and observed people and been on both sides of the customer service fence. When I think about complaints I’ve heard from clients and also the times that I’ve been dissatisfied with customer service I’ve received, it really boiled down to those simple things.
Five simple things are important to remember when interacting with customers. These include (1) common courtesy, (2) apologizing, (3) staying in touch throughout the transaction, (4) allowing the customer to talk while listening attentively, and (5) genuinely caring and wanting to help. These aren’t often mentioned during training or written down in procedures and guidelines because they seem like common sense. While this is true, periodically reviewing their importance is imperative to developing an environment of quality customer service.
Common courtesy seems to be so obvious that many people don’t think it should be necessary to spend time training customer service representatives. Unfortunately, this quality is oftentimes lacking in today’s society. Common courtesies such as “please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome” demonstrate to clients that you appreciate their business and that you’re happy they have chosen your agency to provide their insurance needs. It is a good idea to remind CSRs periodically how important common courtesy is to interaction with customers.
Apologizing is just as important an attribute as common courtesy. Apologizing is sometimes difficult. It means having to admit you were wrong or that you did something that caused a customer to be unhappy. Although we all try to do the best job we can, we can make mistakes or inadvertently upset a customer. Apologizing is the simplest way to win back their confidence. Most people understand we’re not perfect, but if an apology isn’t given, the situation may never be remedied.
I once waited in a drive-thru at a local fast food establishment for 10 minutes. By the time I got to the window, I was pretty upset because the delay was going to make me late for work. However, I understand that things can happen to cause these problems. When I finally arrived at the window, the cashier just looked at me and told me what I owed. It would have meant a lot to me to just hear, “I’m sorry for your wait. We are having computer problems.” I was so angry that I ended up filing a complaint.
The store manager contacted me and handled the situation correctly by apologizing for the poor customer service and the long delay. I had pretty well decided never to never return to that restaurant, but his apologies made me feel that I was an important customer and that he was truly sorry that I was upset.
The same holds true for insurance clients. Genuinely apologizing for not getting back to them sooner, for not getting them what they needed in a timely manner, or whatever expectations aren’t met, can go far towards calming an unhappy client. They still may be upset about the situation, but at least you’ve admitted that you did something wrong on your end and are genuinely sorry that it happened. Whenever I sincerely apologize for a mistake or poor customer service, it amazes me how the situation takes a turn for the better.
Staying in touch with your clients is also extremely important. Nothing is more frustrating than having to wait an unusual amount of time for an answer. Nowadays it is difficult to wait for anything; instant gratification is the byword. That being said, there are times when our clients need something out of the ordinary or have a special request that we cannot answer immediately. Staying in touch until the very end of a transaction is vitally important. If it’s taking longer than expected to resolve the problem or get the answer, either call or e-mail the client to let them know you are working on the situation but still don’t have what is needed. A status report allows them to know exactly what is happening and when they can expect an answer.
I once was the backup person for our agency’s CSR when she was out. An e-mail came in from one of her clients who was following up on a question she had asked the day before. She had yet to receive any type of reply. I e-mailed her immediately and told her I would contact the underwriter and try to have an answer that day. She responded that she was so grateful that I communicated with her and informed her what I expected to happen. I could tell that she was perturbed at the other CSR for leaving her in the dark and not letting her know that she was working on the problem. Even if you don’t have an answer, at least acknowledge phone calls or e-mails and give a time when you expect to be able to help them. Steady communication is key to happy customers.
Allowing the client to talk, and listening attentively to what that person is saying is the fourth simple thing that is key to keeping a customer happy. The two go hand in hand. Listening skills are of vital importance when you’re dealing with clients. You must listen to the entire conversation to understand exactly what they are requesting and when they expect to receive it. Don’t read e-mails, text or work on something at your desk when you’re talking to a client on the phone. Give that person your full attention throughout the conversation. Don’t allow your mind to wander or try to multi-task. This is rude and disrespectful to the client. How can you fully understand your client’s needs if you’re only half paying attention to the conversation?
Allowing the customer to talk goes hand in hand with listening attentively. I have heard many conversations where a CSR or producer cuts a client off mid-sentence. This is very frustrating. I’ve have had this happen to me many times and I soon know that the other person does not understand what I was trying to communicate because he or she didn’t allow me to talk. In addition, vital information can be missed. It is difficult sometimes to wait for the other person to finish speaking, but it demonstrates to clients that they are important and worth listening to.
Caring about and wanting to help your customers and treating them as you would like to be treated are of vital importance—and can set you apart from other CSRs. When I am a customer and need something, I want someone who is friendly and helpful to assist me. Because this is important to me, I make sure to adopt this attitude when I’m the CSR and I’m helping someone. Putting yourself in your clients’ shoes and genuinely caring and taking an interest in their needs comes across during conversations you have with them. A good CSR has a strong desire to help people and can feel empathy towards others’ situations. This fosters a desire to go above and beyond when getting your customers what they want or need and is truly appreciated.
Although it may not seem necessary to reiterate these simple things because you think they’re so basic, these qualities must be reinforced in order to develop an atmosphere of great customer service. It’s amazing: Large amounts of money don’t have to be invested in technology, seminars or equipment in order to develop this environment. All that is necessary is a periodic review of the importance of common courtesy, apologizing when necessary, communicating throughout a transaction, allowing customers to talk while listening attentively, and being a caring, helpful CSR. It really is the simple things that matter most!
Pam Golden, CIC, the 2009 Indiana Outstanding Customer Service Representative, is a client service manager for Hylant Group, Inc., in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She supervises three other CSRs and handles all aspects of the insurance process for large commercial clients, including marketing and claims. For information on the Outstanding CSR of the Year Award of the CISR program, go to www.TheNationalAlliance.com.