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Customer Service Focus

Seven elements of good customer service

The customer still comes first

By Ruth E. Phillips, CIC, CISR, AAI

I was recently at the store in the checkout line, and the cashier was amazingly slow. As I was standing there, tapping my foot, the cashier smiled at me and said, “I am sorry I am slow; I just started yesterday.” Who likes their first few days at a new job? With so much to learn, and everyone wanting something from you, those days can turn into nightmares. But the clerk who was checking me out remembered she was there to help the customers, and her smile instantly calmed my nerves. Her trainer taught her that a smile can go a long way in the customer service field.

The first element of good customer service is simple—smile! Smile when you answer the phone. At the start of your day, you had a flat tire. When you got to work, your computer crashed. You are basically having one of those days when you wish you could start over. And then the phone rings. Take a minute, take a deep breath, smile, and answer the phone. The person on the other end of the line has no idea what is going on in your life. A smile can truly be heard over the phone line.

A second element of good customer service is never to argue with a customer. This may seem like common sense, but when you are dealing with a customer who is upset about a claim issue or a billing issue, tempers can flare. When you hear your own voice start to rise, it is time to take a “step” back. Remember not to take personally what the customer is saying; that person may be upset about a bill, coverage, or claim, but he or she is not upset with you. Try to keep the conversation focused on the issue. Remember to listen actively and be aware of your own body language.

A third element of good customer service is to communicate with your customers. A good CSR will listen to customer questions and answer them specifically. Answers such as “because the computer says so,” or “I don't know,” are not answers. Clients who call and ask, “Why did my bill go up?” want a real answer and don't want to hear, “That's just what the computer says.” Find out why the premium went up. Was it a rate increase, did they lose a discount, did they have a claim, did they receive a ticket for an auto violation? If you are not sure of the answer, you will need to do some research. Your customers want a true explanation for their questions, especially when it comes to rate increases.

When you are communicating with your customers, remember to be prompt with your responses. This is an extremely valuable element of good customer service. If you promise to return all phone calls by the end of the next business day, deliver on that promise. Clients hate to be left hanging. No matter what method of communication you use with your clients—phone, fax, or e-mail—make sure your responses are timely. Sometimes we can't immediately get the answers that our clients need. In those cases, it is always a good idea to let them know that you are still working on the question and you hope to have an answer by a certain time. Good CSRs communicate effectively and well with their customers.

A fourth element of good customer service is to remember that clients are not interruptions in our work day. Our clients keep the agency in business. If they didn't purchase insurance policies, then we would not make any money; it's that simple. While you may have a pile of paperwork to get through on your desk, always remember that it is our job to help our customers. Don't let an unplanned visit or phone call from a client result in a situation where the client feels as if he or she interrupted you. Smile, listen to the concerns of the customer, and help in the best way you can.

A fifth element of good customer service is to remember clients beyond renewal dates or when their bill is due. One way to do this is to subscribe to the local paper. When you see an announcement regarding a client's engagement, wedding, or a birth, send the client a card. Many newspapers will also print pictures of significant achievements, graduations, awards, and other accomplishments. Take a few minutes and cut out those pictures and drop them in the mail to the customer. Customers remember those small details and will appreciate them. This lets them know that they are more than a number to you.

A sixth element of good customer service is to document everything. Agencies promote documentation to help with E&O losses. However, good documentation also leads to good customer service. Agencies prefer different methods for documentation, but no agency wants you to rely on your memory only. Document every transaction with each and every client. From phone calls about bills, e-mails about endorsements, or renewal questionnaires, make sure they are documented somewhere. Imagine if you were helping a client with several matters and then a personal emergency required you to be out of the office. Good documentation will allow another CSR to handle the account and help the customer. Customers hate to explain a situation over and over; good documentation will eliminate or reduce this.

A final and seventh element of good customer service is to stay current on industry news. The insurance industry is constantly changing. Companies are constantly updating underwriting guidelines; state and federal laws change; and weather events can impact the industry. Join a professional insurance organization; network with other members of the industry; read industry trade magazines or newsletters. Several organizations offer free Webinars. These Webinars can be watched live or archived and viewed later. Keeping current on industry news will allow you to help your clients more efficiently. For example, bed bugs have been in the news lately. A customer may call to ask, “I was watching the news last night. Is house treatment for bed bugs covered on my policy?” If you have kept current with insurance trends and news, you will be able to answer that question for your customer and help address this concern. What happens in the world does affect the insurance industry and a good CSR will keep current on insurance news. Being informed will allow the CSR to provide good customer service.

Although good customer service involves many elements, basically it boils down to two simple things:

• Treat others as you would want to be treated. Remember the “golden rule” you learned in kindergarten; it still applies today.

• Strive to be the best professional you can be.

The author:

Ruth Phillips is a licensed property and casualty agent and customer service representative for Morrell Agency in Magnolia, Mississippi. She has earned the following designations: CIC, CISR, AAI, ACSR, AINS, API, AIS, CPSR, CSRM, MLIS, CPIW, DAE. She also has received several industry awards including the 2004 National CSR of the Year Award from The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research and the 2006 PIA National Customer Service Representative of the Year. For more information on the CISR program or CSR of the Year Award, go to:


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