ADDING CURIOSITY TO YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE
A curious agent will seek out hidden risks in order to better serve the client:
In order to know what is going on
in the lives of your customers, …
questions need to be asked on a regular basis.
By Paul Martin, CPCU
The quality of customer service that an insurance agency is able to provide is typically established at the initial placement of the policy, when a claim is being reported, when a customer makes a significant change in what they own or in their operations, or when a renewal of insurance is approaching. These opportunities to serve the customer play an enormous role in the trust the customer has in the agent and agency.
However, the greatest long-term impressions rest in how the agency will respond, or not, to a serious loss. If the agency doesn’t respond, was it because insurance simply doesn’t cover what happened? Or was there a type of coverage available, but for some reason it wasn’t brought up before the loss? If the latter, what went unsaid in the initial service that led to the lack of uncovering and understanding the exposures, risks, and possible ways of insuring it?
Here are four questions agents should consider when uncovering hidden risks; the process begins with curiosity on the part of the agent during common customer service interactions.
- Are you asking the right questions for the customer? Years ago, a producer told me a story about how he learned the lesson of asking customers questions that “fit” them. He insured a commercial account where the CEO/owner was known to be rather adventurous and not afraid to spend money. The producer visited the customer mid-term to make a responsible check-in as an early preparation for what was usually a complicated renewal. After reviewing the customer’s current and planned operations and reviewing payrolls to prepare for upcoming audits, he thought he had a good understanding of the account’s exposures and insurance needs.
As the producer was about to leave the client’s office, the CEO said, “Oh, one other thing I just remembered that I forgot to tell you about. I bought a helicopter.” The producer was flabbergasted. “You bought a helicopter and didn’t call me? Are you crazy?” The customer was just that type of guy.
The lesson that the agent took away was that this type of customer needs an, “Okay, is there anything else you’ve bought lately? Anything crazy we haven’t discussed.” Some customers just need that kind of curiosity.
- Has the customer’s situation changed? Commercial accounts can certainly change what they do, what they make, or what they own, but it’s not just with businesses that agents should be curious. Families can change dramatically with big coverage implications. As a personal lines agent, are you keeping up with the growth and maturity of your customers? Teenagers start driving every day and older parents stop driving. Young adults move out every day and completely change the way personal auto and homeowners will respond to losses. Do you really know the families you insure as you interact with them or are you making assumptions?
Just the other day an agent called to discuss a surprise that would impact the coverage they provided to their customers. It would change the premium, too. The insured family’s “nanny,” whom the agent didn’t know about, had a minor accident in the most expensive car on the personal auto policy (PAP) schedule. They then learned that she used this car regularly to shuttle the kids around. Sure, the loss was covered, but that wasn’t the problem in the mind of the agent.
What else could they be missing? They needed to ask more questions. Residence employees represent new exposures, new property, and risks associated with injury.
Also, consider that when children move out but are still engaged with the family, there can be big implications that most would never imagine. The family may lose auto coverage if they are driving any car still owned by the parents. Personal property in a new apartment may have limited-to-no coverage as well. Questions of ownership and “family member” status matter. A lot.
Even matters on the life insurance side need to change as families mature. Are you asking about their expectations in the latter days of their lives? You may be able to provide solutions if you know. In order to know what is going on in the lives of your customers, these questions need to be asked on a regular basis. This means being helpfully curious about the changes in life they are experiencing.
- Are you keeping up with the latest trends? Providing quality customer service sometimes means keeping up with how the world is changing around your customers. If you service a particular industry, you may need to understand how their technologies are evolving, or how their place in the supply chain is impacted by trends in trucking. There may be innovations in safety equipment or procedures that customers might want to consider.
Even in personal lines, trends impact families. Ridesharing, home rentals, or new toys may be impacting your customers without your knowledge, and those impacts may be changing the way their insurance needs to be arranged.
So, what does this mean for you? It means that you need to maintain a curiosity about changes happening in society and in the economy. This means that even though you may have matured in the business, there is always someone out there thinking about new ways of doing things. You need to be prepared to explore how changes are affecting coverage provided in insurance.
For example, about 10 years ago, the whole rideshare thing was new. Agents back then were asking lots of questions, warning customers about what their PAP would and wouldn’t do, and offering many cautions. Over several years, the big rideshare companies worked out arrangements with regulators around the country on how their insurance would apply to drivers. Those agreements were a big deal. Insurance companies started shifting with some confidence after that. Insurers that wanted to jump in at the level they were comfortable with, could. Regulators also relaxed, knowing that the public was protected. That said, it took a minute, and longer, for the agent community to educate themselves on how it all worked.
Things like rideshare are happening all the time. Young industry and tech professionals are discussing new trends all the time on podcasts and web streams. Are you paying attention? Are you remaining curious?
- Are you preparing customers for audits? An agent on a recent phone call wanted advice about talking to a customer about a fairly serious workers compensation audit. The customer was making assumptions about classifications of payroll. The agent realized that he hadn’t been curious about their understanding of how the workers compensation system is pretty black and white when it comes to classification and that, unless properly educated, they stood the chance of being surprised, unprepared, and unhappy.
Insurance agents have a strange job. In order for them to do it well they should—no, they need to—be all up in the customers’ “business.” Only by knowing who they are and what they are doing, can the agent provide the service and education the customer craves and needs.
Be curious about everything, all the time. In the end, this curiosity will pay off.
Paul Martin, CPCU, is director of academic content at The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research headquartered in Austin, Texas. Paul works to develop, maintain, and deliver quality educational programs for the organization. Paul has over three decades in the insurance and risk management industry.