Customer Service Focus
Stand out with amazing service
Listen, learn, and laugh to keep your clients competition-proof
By Nicole Coty, CISR
Have you ever had an experience with customer service that left you feeling like you had been through a battle? I recently called to cancel a service for my household. It started, as these calls often do, by forcing me to listen and press several numbers before being able to talk to a person. When someone finally did answer, she mumbled and spoke too fast. After telling her I wanted to cancel, I was transferred to someone else because it was "not her department." After I was put on hold for almost 10 minutes and transferred several more times, the next customer service representative was equally unhelpful. After that phone call, my blood pressure was up and I was still unsure if my service had been canceled.
Stories like this are heard every day and can spread like wildfire, destroying a company's reputation. As professionals in the customer service field, we should resolve to start a new trend in which our amazing service is what people talk about. With tens of thousands of independent agents, direct writer agents, and Internet insurance providers in the United States, people can buy insurance anytime, anywhere. The only way for independent agencies to stand out is to provide extraordinary service to clients. When you answer your phone, think back to the worst customer service experience you've had in your life and decide to give your caller the care you wish you had received.
"This call is important." Say this to yourself every time the phone rings. Take a second to get in the mindset to give the caller your undivided attention. We're all busy, and phone calls sometimes come when we're in the middle of something important. However, we have to remember that the client also has taken time out of his or her day to call us about something that is very important to him or her.
Build a relationship. Everyone likes to feel special. Getting to know your clients is a big key to building a great relationship and retaining business. When a client calls, ask about his children or how her recent vacation went. Your clients have trusted your agency with their business, so try to make them feel important and valued. Always begin and end the call with the person's name; this will instill confidence that you are present in the conversation. As CSRs, it's our job to provide the quality of service that retains clients. They are much more likely to stay if they feel a connection to the agency and its employees.
Know your client. Let's face it: for most people, insurance is scary. They don't understand it, but they know they need it. They come to us because we are the experts and they trust that we are doing what is best for them. Be careful not to use industry jargon they won't understand. Make it easy for them to come to you with questions or concerns. You may find that some clients are very well informed and know what kinds of coverages they need, while others need explanations and guidance. By following each client's lead, you can adjust your approach accordingly.
Listen. Sometimes we think we know the answer before the client has finished asking a question. Let clients express their concerns completely and take notes while they talk. This way, you can make sure you stay on the subject and answer their questions appropriately. Failing to listen is a hallmark of poor customer service. Intermittent responses like "Yes" and "I understand" make clients feel like they are being heard. At the end of the conversation, recap what was said and what steps you will take so you and the client are on the same page. This gives the client a chance to clarify if you misinterpreted something.
A major advantage we have over Internet competitors is the opportunity to talk with our clients. You may be making small talk when the client happens to tell you about the new tools he just bought because he's thinking of starting his own business from home. Because you were listening to your client, you or your producer can now have a conversation with him about the additional coverages he will need.
Complaint department. No one likes to get that phone call from an angry or upset client, but it happens to everyone. Handling complaints is just another part of customer service. As CSRs, we should be prepared to take complaints and defuse angry clients. Never argue with the client, even if he or she is wrong. Never blame someone else, even if it's not your fault. The client usually doesn't care who made a mistake or if it was a computer error; he or she only wants to know that the problem will be resolved. Assure the client that you will take care of it. If you are unable to satisfy the client, always defer to the producer. Let the producer decide how to best handle the situation.
Go the extra mile. Take a minute to call a client to let her know you've taken care of her request. When you get an e-mail, send a quick reply confirming that you received it and saying that you'll work on the request. Be honest with the client about when he or she can expect a response. "I'll do my best to get back with you today; if not, I'll call you first thing tomorrow." Taking that extra step often requires little effort on your part, but it can go a long way toward keeping your client happy.
Continue to learn. Instead of groaning because you have to complete your continuing education credits, use the opportunity to take a class that interests you. When you're passionate about your job, it shows in the way you treat your clients. Be proactive in learning about changes in laws and new products from your carriers. You can use your new knowledge to provide valuable information to your clients. The more you learn, the more confident you will be and the more your clients will trust you. Join trade associations and participate in activities as well as educating others. Continue to learn, and you'll be a valuable resource to your employer, associates, and clients.
The fun part. A CSR's job is stressful and demanding, but you can still have fun with your work. Bantering with a client or an underwriter can lighten the mood and put a smile on everyone's face. That cheer will carry over and contribute to a better work environment. If you enjoy what you do and get excited about it, others will enjoy working with you. It can be fun and rewarding to share your expertise with clients and coworkers.
Thank you, thank you. I recently heard that you have to say "thank you" seven times before a person really believes it is heartfelt. Be sure to thank your clients for their business every chance you get, and remember to thank your colleagues, your underwriters, and others with whom you interact.
Summing it up
Someone who is good at sales can bring a client in the door. To keep that client happy and retain his or her business, however, takes great service. We are all customers to someone. Treat your current and potential clients with the courtesy and respect you expect because if you don't, someone else will. Most important, take pride in your work. It's a great feeling to know you are good at your job and are helping others. n
Nicole Coty, CISR, is a client manager for the surety department at Bearence Management Group in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is the state recipient of the 2010 Outstanding CSR of the Year Award from The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. For more information on the award or the CISR program, go to www.TheNationalAlliance.com.