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Customer Service Focus

Always strive to make a difference

Despite changes in the industry, service remains the hallmark

By Judie Hancock, CISR, CBIA

When I began my insurance career, I was employed as an administrative assistant and spent my day sitting at a desk, requesting policies from insurance carriers, invoicing clients for their premium, checking policies for accuracy, filing claims, and performing various other duties. We did not have computers, copiers, fax machines, or scanners. We used manual typewriters, a sharp razor to scratch out mistakes, and all correspondence was sent by the U.S. mail. As administrative assistants, our contacts with the customer were minimal because they would call the agent who answered their questions and helped solve their insurance problems. There were no insurance continuing education requirements and most of the duties of the administrative assistant were routine clerical duties.

Fast forward 50 years and you will realize just how much the insurance industry has changed. This change has been dramatic at times, and policies that were very easy to read have evolved into policies that sometimes need the interpretation of an attorney. With a few clicks on the computer, claim reports are on their way to the insurance carrier. The atmosphere of an insurance office has changed from pushing pencils and moving stacks of paper to bulging files in a file room to going paperless with policy and customer information stored on a computer. Agents spend their time out of the office soliciting new business and handling their renewals. Administrative assistants are now customer service representatives or client service representatives and as licensed representatives of various companies they, as well as the agents, must meet continuing education requirements either annually or bi-annually as required by the state insurance departments.

Unfortunately, these are not the only changes. Competition is much fiercer than in the past, and pricing has become very important to customers. Many of them no longer remain loyal. Businesses have moved out of the country and some have closed permanently or have downsized, resulting in a loss of revenue to an agency. To be successful, you have to find a way to compensate for this reduction in income. Your continued success will depend on growth and the retention of your clients. The changing marketplace will increase competitive pressure in agencies. There is little we can do about these changes or the possible changes in rate structures; however, we can offer our clients exceptional customer service in order to retain their business.

Invest in education

I recently accompanied a producer on a client visit. As this was my first meeting with the client, I handed him my business card. He looked at it and asked what all the letters after my name meant. I told him that those were designations I had earned through insurance education courses. He then looked at the producer and asked, "Let me see your card." Your insureds notice and they will associate these designations with education and professionalism.

Education is the best investment we can make in ourselves. It cultivates and molds your mind and trains it to meet new situations and solve problems for your clients. It can keep you young, alert, and up to date with changes in the insurance industry. With the availability of various types of information on the computer, education is a real bargain. Invest in yourself. Stretch your vision of the future with education; visualize what lies beyond your current knowledge. Are you the best you can be? Success is achieved through education, so establish education goals.

Your duties as a service professional

The role of customer service representatives is to provide clients with exceptional service by partnering with the agent to provide quotes, sell additional coverage, and educate their clients to help them understand the differences among various insurance policies. They can help guide the client in the right direction, treating them with individual care and consideration, thus helping them achieve financial security by providing them with the best solutions to their insurance needs. It's very important for you to listen to your client and what he or she says. Take some notes as a reminder of the conversation and most of all ask yourself, "What is he really saying?" You can't help if you don't listen.

Offer advice to your clients about increasing their deductibles and explain these differences. Explain additional coverage and review their policies with them in detail. And always follow up. Service does not always end when either of you hangs up the telephone or leaves the office. Clients need to know that you are dependable and that you will act quickly to solve their insurance needs. Take the time to educate your clients. Keep them informed of changes in the industry that might affect their insurance coverage. Most important, never forget or miss an opportunity to thank them. Let your clients know you care. Send them an e-mail or a quick note, or make a brief telephone call. Call to make sure there are no problems or just to say thank you for being your client. Make a difference.

Maintain a positive attitude

With modern technology, much of our client contact is by telephone, cell phone, and computer. Tone is critical whether it's the written or spoken word. Smile when you talk on the telephone; your clients will know and will hear that smile. Smile when you type; they will know by the tone of your written words. And always, read and re-read what you type. The written and spoken word is an extension of who you are so make sure your professionalism is showing.

Solidify relationships

Agents—take your customer service representative with you when you meet with an insured or prospect to obtain renewal information or to gather information for quotes. This enables a client or prospect to meet a member of your service team and to begin establishing a working relationship. Your customer service representative will be their contact when you are unavailable. They will help your customers or prospects with their day-to-day insurance needs. Insurance is a service business. You contact prospects, sell the policy, and provide service. Your customer service representative will enhance your relationship with your client and provide your client with exceptional service.

Insurance markets are constantly changing and we can never be sure of the industry's direction, but we can be positive it will always change. Our success will depend on our creativity and a willingness to embrace these changes. Service will be the key that makes a difference.

The author

Judie Hancock, CISR, CBIA, CPIW, DAE, is a commercial lines account manager for BB&T Insurance Services of the Triad in Greensboro, North Carolina. She has worked in the insurance industry for 53 years and has been employed by BB&T since 1972. For information on the CISR program, go to:

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