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Customer Service Focus

Placing the needs of the customer first

It's the relationship that counts

By Miranda Wheeler, CISR

"If you work just for money, you'll never make it, but if you love what you're doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours." Those are great words spoken by Ray Kroc, former owner of McDonald's Restaurant Corporation. What does this mean to you? Is it possible to love what you are doing? Does focus on the customer truly lead to success?

Consider this for a moment. You walk into a restaurant. The aroma engulfs you, preparing you for the experience to come. You are welcomed warmly by the maître de and swiftly seated in a well-lit, inviting dining room. The waitress promptly greets you, serves your drinks, takes your order and within minutes you are enjoying a wonderful meal. From the instant you walked in the door to the moment you departed, you were treated kindly, having your expectations met or surpassed. You will definitely plan another trip and may bring along some friends.

As consumers we expect such treatment, but do we provide the same service to our customers? What steps should we take to ensure that our customers receive this same great experience?

First, you must project a cheery disposition. Regardless of the circumstances, the moment you step into the public, you must be polite and cheerful. This includes responding cordially to those who may not act in the same way.

There are times when a client calls that he or she is in the midst of a crisis and can be frantic or even irate. I recently dealt with a customer who was not getting any response from a claims adjuster and was infuriated by the lack of service and an apparent lack of concern. By remaining calm and expressing compassion, I was able to ease the client's frustrations and assure him that I would work to resolve the problem. I stayed in constant communication with the both adjuster and the insured and thus was able to keep my promise. Remaining calm and compassionate and following through with action helped to mend what could have been a broken relationship with that client.

Building on strengths

Next, you must focus on your strengths and how best to apply them to your position. By doing this, you will develop a sense of satisfaction when you complete the tasks that are set in front of you. When work is enjoyable, a positive attitude will naturally seep into your interactions with customers. My personal strength lies in my analytical skills. I have been able to apply that to insurance by thoroughly reviewing various insurance forms. Each form and coverage initially is a mystery, but by delving into the forms I have been able to discover advantages that make certain carriers exceptional. In addition, l can identify potentially troubling terms and exclusions in the forms. Examining and sharing the contents of coverage forms has allowed me to build trust with my clients.

Once you have chosen to be positive and focus on your strengths, you can begin to develop your craft. Having an in-depth knowledge of your product or service will provide a great sense of confidence, increasing your passion and preparing you to better serve your clients. By taking time to read coverage forms, taking additional courses, and educating myself on the history of my clients, I have been able to better meet their needs. It is crucial to have a great educational foundation in insurance before trying to assess the needs of your insurance clients. Once you have that basis, seeing gaps in coverage for your clients will become easier.

For example, cyber insurance is a hot topic. For my medical clients, it is as important a coverage as employment practices liability was years ago when it was newly offered. I recently had a client who realized the need for this coverage after several discussions, and I proceeded through the quoting process. After reviewing coverage forms for several cyber carriers and asking numerous questions on behalf of my client, I discovered their need was not so much for cyber liability as it was for professional liability.

You can never over-educate yourself. We spent nearly a year working on this account and eventually wrote a combination professional and cyber liability insurance policy for the insured and a cyber liability policy for one of its other companies. By going through this process and sharing my research, the client developed a trust in me and was willing to pay double the premium to have its insurance needs met. Should a claim arise, they can rest assured about their insurance choices because I educated them on their options. By gaining the insured's trust and placing the business, I gained the respect of management.

Simply providing great service to your immediate customers and becoming well educated in your field is not enough to become a well-rounded customer service representative, however. Think for a moment about the other "clients" with whom you come in contact. There may be multiple parties that make a transaction occur, and you must work to nourish those relationships as well.

Nurturing relationships

Insurance is highly affected by relationships. In order to write a policy, I may work with three or four people within one company or several different companies during the marketing process. I must treat my carriers as customers and provide them with respect and understanding, too. If they do not feel comfortable working with me, I could potentially miss out on opportunities for my insured clients. Several ways to maintain good relationships with my carrier clients include:

• Setting clear and reasonable deadlines

• Being forthcoming with information about my clients

• Providing them with appropriate feedback

• Not giving them false hopes about writing accounts

Without a true appreciation for the work of others and an understanding of boundaries, you cannot be fulfilled or progress to experience true success. In order to accomplish these two goals, you must be able to step outside your environment and step down from your personal pedestal. This step is probably the most difficult, but it also is the most crucial to achieving a love for your profession which leads to excellent customer service and ultimate prosperity in your field.

Realize the boundaries and responsibilities of your position as well as those of the parties with whom you work. Sometimes striving to be correct is not worth damaging a bond you have with your clients, co-workers or other business partners. The resulting strain may bleed into the strides you attempt to make toward furthering your career. Also, know that your opinion or knowledge may not be welcomed by others. Your peers are likely aware of your abilities and will seek guidance when needed.

Be sensitive to the obligations of others, and always take a moment when responding in stressful circumstances. It is better to respond than to react. These small steps can drastically affect the cohesiveness of your team and impact the perception and acceptance of you. Most of your day is spent with your co-workers and business partners so you must focus on developing healthy, positive connections. Each encounter is an opportunity to sharpen your social skills and demonstrate ability that exceeds the needs of your audience.

Once you have broadened your view of those whom you serve, employed respect and established boundaries, work becomes less a labor and more a gratifying experience. Achieving the support of others by cultivating your skills can open doors to exciting and challenging opportunities. Though knowledge and experience are critical to advancement, it is the concentration on communication through customer service that plays an integral role in success. Integrating both tools requires patience, adaptability and humility. Though accomplishing this may not be effortless, it is obtainable. You can love your job and achieve success by placing the needs of each "customer" first. In the words of Ghandi, "You must be the change you wish to see." Success begins with you.

The author

Miranda Wheeler, CISR, is a commercial account manager for Ross and Yerger. She is the Mississippi state winner for the Outstanding CSR of the Year. For more information on the CSR of the Year Award, or the CISR Program, go to:


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