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Customer Service Focus

Sometimes, it's the little things

Don't think big; think small

By Sandy Eastling, CIC, CPCU, MLIS

I have been working as a customer service representative for 10 years. I'd like to say I have complete control of my workload, handling anything and everything that comes my way without stressing, flinching, or procrastinating.

But that would be lying. Instead, I'm going to share the truth even though it's embarrassing. By being transparent, maybe I'll help someone else who takes great pride in a job well done and who experiences equally great frustration to discover that he or she is not alone.

We CSRs are a passionate bunch. After all, service is our middle name. We want to go further, do more, and provide more than is requested before the customers even know they have a need. This passion can cause us to place heavy expectations on ourselves.

With all the pressure we put on ourselves, you'd think the big issues would be the problem. Not always. Sometimes it's the little things that can make or break a transaction, a client interaction, or overall workflow. Sometimes it's the little things that can make or break our workload and work attitude.

Maybe we're being inefficient and don't even realize it. I found this out the hard way when a normal day turned into one of the worst ones in my 17-year work history. In my case, I am always trying to find "the better way" to learn, to handle a marketing situation, or to manage competing interests at my desk. And yet . . .

That ugly word—change

Like most agencies, we have been working toward greater efficiency and less reliance on paper. I had almost weaned myself from paper, using dual monitors, reviewing policies on computer, and relying mostly on scanned images. I say "mostly" because there were a few sacred documents that remained on paper. I used printed spreadsheets to track my progress in handling renewals, policy check-in, and audit reviews.Then "the day" came when I learned the horrible truth: I was not supposed to be keeping these documents in paper form. I came to my end. I could not handle one more change. Those documents were my organizational lifeline, my way to maintain control of my desk. And now they had to be confined to the computer, not in my nice, neat binder book I lovingly referred to as my "brain."

Have you ever been working at a job where change seemed to be the only constant? Perhaps you're going through a managerial change, co-worker change, or change in work assignment. Maybe it's bigger—maybe you're in an agency that acquired another agency, or maybe you've been acquired. Change, change, change. We're supposed to keep a good attitude, to embrace change.

But not me; not that day. I needed some semblance of control in my work life.

Honestly, I wasn't really in control. The things I was doing to try to maintain control were inefficient. I spent more time trying to gain control than doing the actual work. Something had to give. In a paper-driven world, people can get an idea of their workload by the amount of paper and files on their desk.

However, in the paperless world there are inefficiencies too. Work is hidden away on the computer in files and folders or in our e-mail system. It is easy to have work pile up and not truly realize it. When something like that happens, we may hide behind e-mails, alter virtual due dates, or not open the files or folders with the undone work.

There are problems with this on many levels. First, we feel guilty about the backlog of work. Second, we are not providing to our clients the kind of service we really want to provide. Third, we could be damaging the agency's reputation by providing "sluggish" service. All this adds up to a burden that can cause an emotional implosion.

That's the road I was traveling on the horrible, awful day of truth. Things had to change. But how could I change, and what was I going to do? On that horrible day, I thought there was no solution. I wanted to give up, admit defeat, and walk away. Positive attitude, right? We've all had times like that. What's the next step? First, breathe. Second, evaluate your personal well-being; this really impacts emotions and attitude. Are you eating the right foods, getting enough sleep? Third, grow up and face the giants.

Embracing that ugly word

My solution turned out to be a few very small changes that brought me a greater sense of workload control and peace of mind.

First, I changed how I start my workday. Literally, I changed the morning route to my desk. Now I pick up my mail on the way to my desk. Rather than let paper pile up for future scanning, I scan and process the work on a daily basis, right away.

Second, I keep a policy check-in roster, expiration lists, and audit review roster in Excel format on my computer desktop. I review my spreadsheets daily so I can know what's up ahead. I feel more in control because I take five minutes every day to review my workload. I am being proactive rather than reactive.

Third, I don't open my e-mail system right away. For me, e-mail is an even greater distraction than the phone—because I think I need to address whatever that new e-mail requires. I end up working on many accounts at once and not really focusing on any one thing. Now, I work for an hour before I open my e-mail system. This allows dedicated, undistracted time to deal with daily mail, policy review, or coverage analysis before I face the rest of the day.

Last, I try not to hide behind e-mail. For me, e-mail has been a way to put off dealing with situations. Rather than find out the answer right away, I would send an e-mail and consider my task accomplished. Maybe it was; maybe it wasn't. I decided to start evaluating whether I can handle the situation more quickly if I pick up the phone and make a call. By judicious use of the phone, I often get an answer and am building relationships with clients, underwriters, and marketing representatives.

I've been using my changed routine for about four months. It was just about a week ago that I realized I felt more in control of my workload. I actually look forward to the busy seasons of the commercial insurance calendar. I am anticipating what's coming ahead rather than panicking because I've forgotten something.

This isn't to say the system is foolproof. But it amazes me how a few very small tweaks to my routine created such a huge improvement. Maybe juggling your workload isn't a challenge to you that it is for me. There may be another area in your daily work life that is a challenge. Perhaps the same idea—small changes—could provide exponential results. Set aside some time to analyze your day. What duty or action do you say to yourself, "If I just didn't have to do this, my workday would be more manageable?" Is it the truth? Is there any way that this particular task could be delegated elsewhere? If not, then what one thing can you change about your approach that would make the process go better? Don't think big; think small.

The author

Sandy Eastling, CIC, CPCU, MLIS, is a commercial lines account representative at Dolliff Insurance in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Passionate about learning and education, Sandy teaches CISR-Commercial Casualty for the MIIAB and is active in Insurance Professionals of Greater Minneapolis. Sandy was recently named the 2011 Minnesota Outstanding CSR of the Year by The National Alliance. For information on the CSR of the Year award or the CIC or CISR programs, go to:


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