Customer Service Focus
Attitude is everything
Education and past work experience pale in comparison to desire to serve
By Crystal Burnham, CIC
When asked about goals, almost any insurance professional will state that attracting and retaining as many clients as possible is primary to the success of the agency. A few key factors have a tremendous impact on the likelihood of reaching this goal. Product availability and price are major determining factors in today's marketplace; however, the service experience that customers receive still plays a vital role in their initial decision to place their insurance business and their subsequent decisions to renew. Customer service is more crucial to an agency's success than ever before, and I believe the attitude of the person assisting a client will determine the level of service delivered.
Hiring the right people
The first step in cultivating the right attitude about customer service is assembling the best possible team of professionals. During the hiring process it is tempting to focus solely on the education and past work experience of a potential candidate. While these are important factors to consider, how well someone interacts with others and the overall attitude of the person should also play a key role in the hiring process. The very first item under job responsibilities should be helping people. If a potential candidate does not have a desire to help people, that person should not be employed in your agency.
Merriam-Webster defines service as helping or benefiting others, so the central focus of a customer service representative is to help others. Before insurance knowledge is taught, before licenses and designations are earned, there must be a fundamental understanding throughout the agency that the business of insurance is about working with people. After a client has decided to form a relationship with an agency, the customer service representative's most important role is working to the best of his or her ability to help and assist that client. This principle cannot be overstated when interviewing potential employees.
Training is key
Once an employee is hired, providing the proper training is vital. If a CSR is unsure of how to answer questions from a client or perform the job processes requested by the client, he or she may project a poor attitude towards that client. In reality, the CSR may lack the proper training to perform the requested task. Service representatives who feel confident in their abilities will be more eager to assist clients with their needs. Equipping your CSRs with the proper initial training as well as continuing education throughout their careers will help build their confidence and ability to respond to clients' needs.
It is also very important to convey the agency's expectations for customer service in both the initial training process as well as continuing education for existing staff. This column regularly features articles with customer service do's and don'ts; use these valuable resources when teaching your staff how to cultivate excellent customer service skills.
Teamwork is an important component of customer service. It is unlikely that one person in your agency can expertly respond to every situation that arises. We all depend on each other to fill the gaps in the areas that are not part of our expertise. If the agency staff becomes unwilling to help each other solve problems or meet deadlines, this ultimately affects the client.
Customer service representatives must be careful to avoid the trap of owning a set of clients. They are ultimately the agency's clients, and all deserve prompt response regardless of whether or not their normal CSR is available at the moment. While it is true that the CSR who is dedicated to a particular client can best handle that client's requests, there are times when that person cannot respond quickly and the other team players can step up to the plate. Most people will understand if it takes you a few more minutes to complete a task if you smile and politely explain that your goal is to help them. The phrases "That's not my job; not my client; not my department" should be permanently removed from any customer service representative's vocabulary.
All clients are important
Another area of client service is placing importance on one client over another. As a teenager I worked at a franchise frozen yogurt shop. All new employees were told that the company owner randomly drove to his yogurt shops and dropped in as a customer to monitor the customer service and quality of the products. We were told to always be on our very best behavior because we never knew when the next customer might be the company owner. It worked for us because at that time we did not have the Internet and could not instantly search for a photo of the company owner so we were constantly left wondering. Even so, our focus should have been being on our very best behavior for every one of the customers, not just looking out for the one we perceived to be most important. Our agencies are made up of many different client types, policy types and premium amounts. However, all of these add up to make the agency what it is. The attitude of all customer service representatives in our agencies should be that each client deserves the same respect, time and attention. Helping every client to the best of our ability should be each CSR's daily goal.
Recognize good performance
Maintaining an overall upbeat environment in your agency will encourage your staff to be positive. The business of insurance is often stressful and fast paced. An independent insurance agent has the responsibility to work with many different insurance companies. A successful CSR must remain current with underwriting guidelines, rating and products for each company. The daily demands of balancing the needs of insurance companies, clients and the agency in this fast-paced environment can lead to poor attitudes among the agency staff. If this is allowed to continue, the overall tone of the agency will become unpleasant. Clients will perceive the negativity and will be more inclined to move their business elsewhere. Employees may also become disgruntled and seek employment elsewhere, which could create a disruption in service for your clients until a vacant position is filled.
Agency management should regularly recognize staff for excellent job performance and contributions to agency successes. This encourages all employees to feel that they are part of the team and their contribution to the agency is an important one, regardless of their job title. Vacation time, incentive programs and positive feedback will go a long way in keeping agency staff positive and motivated, which ultimately leads to an overall positive environment for the agency.
Independent insurance agencies face more challenges today than ever before. The marketplace is constantly changing and uncertainty is around every corner. To be successful in this environment, an insurance agency must be diligent in its efforts to maintain and attract business. The level of service delivered to a client can truly make or break a business relationship. The foundation for excellent customer service is the "right attitude." For the customer service representative and the agency as a whole, an attitude of wanting to serve and assist clients to the best of your ability will help strengthen your current client relationships and be a valuable asset for attracting new clients.
Crystal Burnham, CIC, has worked in the insurance industry for seven years and is currently the personal lines manager for Alliance Insurance Group in Hot Springs, Arkansas. She was recently awarded the 2012 Outstanding Customer Service Representative of the Year for the state of Arkansas. For more information on the award or the CIC and CISR programs, go to: www.TheNationalAlliance.com