Customer Service Focus
KNOWING YOUR CUSTOMERS
Think about everyone whom you interact with each day
As insurance professionals, we take pride in providing exceptional service to our customers. But who exactly are our customers? Most customer service representatives would say their customers are their current and prospective insurance clients. While this is true, I believe there are many more customers we interact with each day.
What about our carriers? Our boss or manager? Our agents or producers? Our co-workers? The public? Our family? Think about whom you interact with and what you do each day.
Unless we own our agency, we all report to some higher level of authority in the agency. As customer service representatives, we owe allegiance to our agency owner or principal. After all, the owner provides us a salary (and in many cases, benefits), a safe environment, educational opportunities, and more. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that if the boss is happy, everything’s good. That’s because the agency owner is only part of the equation. We have many other customers to think about. Communicating effectively with all of those customers throughout the day is a balancing act, but in doing so we are acting in the best interests of the agency, and by extension the agency owner.
How we interact with our customers goes a long way toward helping us live a fulfilling life.
Getting along well with co-workers helps the agency management team achieve its growth and profit goals. A growing, vibrant agency is one that appreciates and respects all employees, sharing their successes and providing growth opportunities. Providing customer service representatives job security, opportunities, and challenges are all ways employers attract and retain quality employees. It’s a win for everyone.
A related consideration is that our agents or producers count on us to round out accounts, cross-sell, submit quotes, prepare proposals, create presentations, and sometimes attend meetings with clients. How we represent the producer, agency, and ourselves is a reflection on the entire team. We’re essential team members, and most agents know it. Their success depends on our being attentive to details, verifying information, contacting the client or carrier, and making sure that documents reflect the intent of the producer and client. It’s here that the way we relate to our internal customers becomes most apparent to our external customers.
We need to honor the wishes and requests of our customers, sometimes working directly with our underwriters to endorse changes to policies. Our best efforts are critical to retaining our clients year after year, and they deserve our attention throughout the policy year, not just before renewal. Maintaining regular contact with each client keeps us in the forefront and forestalls feelings of being forgotten or taken for granted. The perception of an attitude of indifference is the number one reason people leave their agents.
Let’s look a little more closely at how not to communicate an attitude of indifference. Sometimes we’re the lead contact for the producer after the sale. The agency is counting on us to build rapport, keep the client satisfied and confident in his or her choice of agency and services, and retain the client for the long term. We need to communicate with our clients in the way that works best for them: email, text, phone, or regular mail. Honoring their preferred mode of communication and valuing their time will ensure that your clients don’t perceive an attitude of indifference.
Providing excellent service to clients requires that we work with our carriers’ underwriting, accounting, audit, or claims personnel to clarify issues, resolve problems, and communicate information. By working together, as well as sharing a common goal, we can achieve growth and profitability. Cover letters, descriptions of operations, photos, websites, or simply a quick email can help carrier personnel understand the account and ultimately decide to write it.
Try picking up the phone and having a conversation with an underwriter. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about a situation instead of trying to convey information in an email or memo. Carrier employees are ready to help with a challenging situation or answer a question. If the answer isn’t readily available, they’ll likely get back to you after they find the answer. Knowing your carrier team and working with them on a first-name basis allows you to develop rapport and create a high level of trust. It also makes for a more enjoyable encounter when you have a challenge and need their help. A great carrier is an agency’s best ally in building a profitable and growing customer base.
Other key allies are our co-workers. Thinking of them as customers as well as co-workers injects trust, respect, and reciprocity into these relationships. Our co-workers cover for us if we’re away from our desk, so we need to document our work so they can pick up the account where we left off. Mutual respect and common goals make for atrusting, safe, and successful workplace. Sharing ideas for improving efficiency and standard operating procedures helps us prevent errors and omissions and builds a well-respected agency. Also, everyone likes to have fun, and humor in the workplace creates a comfortable atmosphere for employees and customers alike. Customers can sometimes feel tension, so be aware of preconceived ideas and save the judging for the fair.
Finally, I believe our family is our most valued customer. Ironically, they often take a back seat to our efforts to serve our “real customers.” Remembering to schedule time for family events and vacations is key to being fresh and ready to take on each day’s work challenges. Avoiding workaholic syndrome, burnout, and work overload is important to our physical and mental health. A balance of downtime and work helps keep our work rewarding and allows us to invest in our family life and outside interests. Taking care of ourselves isn’t selfish, because it enhances our well-being and our family life, social life, and work life. “Everything in moderation” is more relevant today than ever.
How we interact each day with our customers goes a long way toward helping us live a fulfilling life. Our needs can be met by interacting professionally with our customers, communicating, and spending quality time with the important people in our lives. Remember, our customers are in all aspects of our lives. Our customers are friends and family, people we’ve known and worked with for years, as well as new friends and family in the making. We’re fortunate to be able to work with many “customers,” so remember to treasure each one.
All of our customers are precious. Treat them well, and you’ll be successful by any measure!
Linda H. Luka, CISR, CPCU, CIIP, DAE, AAI, AIS, AINS, CPIA, CLP, is agent education coordinator for West Bend Mutual Insurance Company and has over 40 years of insurance experience. She is immediate past president of the International Association of Insurance Professionals (IAIP) and chairman of the Society of Certified Insurance Service Representatives (CISR) Board of Governors.