Common-sense suggestions to keep your frontline staff firing on all cylinders
Customer Service Focus
By Carletta Clyatt
Google the words “Is customer service dead?” and you’ll get millions of hits—many with those exact words in the title. It’s a common question asked by disgruntled customers, as well as those in business responsible for hiring, training, evaluating, and developing customer service talent.
A columnist for The Denver Post answered the question this way: “No, but you may need to work hard to get it.”
Every agency owner who reads that line should shudder, and then resolve to offer the best customer service possible, because most customers don’t relish fighting for good service. It’s emotionally draining, time consuming, and resentment inducing. These are not the descriptors you want customers to associate with your agency.
What makes for good customer service? Good customer service doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a deliberate act made possible when the right people are hired and then given the support necessary to do the job.
Good customer service doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a deliberate act made possible when the right people are hired and then given the support necessary to do the job.
Whether the customer needs affordable insurance coverage or assistance understanding an existing policy, the job of customer service is to work with clients until they get what they came for, with a minimal amount of fuss.
Excellent providers of customer service do this all day every day without frustrating or alienating customers. However, nobody is saying it’s easy. There are many challenges to providing good customer service.
Let’s take a look at some of those challenges.
The wrong temperament for the job. At Omnia, we recommend the following qualities when hiring a customer service representative:
Strong attention to detail
A supportive, collaborative mindset
A natural aptitude for listening
Critical thinking skills
And a dash of assertiveness if you want them to upsell regularly
While it’s impossible to discern everything about an individual’s personality during the hiring process, behavioral assessments can give an agency owner added insight into what makes a potential employee tick and (most important) whether those qualities might make him or her a good provider of customer service.
Asking pointed behavioral interviewing questions is another way to learn about potential employees beyond their resume. Questions like:
Tell me about a time when you had to handle an unreasonable customer demand. What was the demand and how did you handle it?
Describe a situation in which your schedule was completely upset. How did you handle that?
Tell me about a time when an important project stalled or was delayed. What did you do to get the project back on course?
These questions can be helpful in teasing out attitudes and beliefs that will affect job performance for better or worse.
Vague procedures. CSRs are naturally structured; they are most confident when they have well-defined parameters to work within. Unclear policies, or policies that don’t actually allow a CSR to solve a customer’s problem, exasperate both customers and employees. Make sure you have clear, specific guidelines in place and good CSRs will do the rest.
Unrealistic customers. Some customers are unreasonable, implacable, and even unpleasant; that’s life. They want whatever they want regardless of how unrealistic it is, which makes it hard to provide good service. Be sure you give your CSRs the tools they need to manage unrealistic expectations and a clear channel of hierarchy for escalating certain issues up the chain of command. You can’t please everyone all the time, but you can try. With a plan and open channels of communication, it is possible to satisfy even the surliest customer.
Product mistakes. If the wrong coverage or policy is sold, it creates bad results for customers who then get annoyed and complain—or worse. Mistakes happen and not all policies are created equal, so the wrong coverage can put even the most skilled CSR between a rock and a hard place. First, foster good working relationships between producers and service staff so that your CSRs feel comfortable addressing problems early on. Outline the steps they should take when they recognize an error. Either tell them exactly what to say and where to refer the issue, or empower them to proactively steer the customer toward more appropriate coverage.
Poor training. No matter how well suited to the job, every CSR needs initial and ongoing training. Products change, markets change, and customer expectations evolve. Your CSRs need to be on the cutting edge of all that. Social media, mobile technology, big data, and YouTube are just a few influences that have powerful implications for your customer service strategy.
No collaboration. Agencies that reward producers for getting from point A to point B without considering how their teammates will get from point B to point F can unwittingly challenge the efforts of customer service.
For example, Producer X is a fabulous salesperson and brings in lots of new business each month. That’s great. What’s not so great is how many of Producer X’s customers later end up complaining to their account managers about everything from coverage gaps to misunderstandings about price.
Your CSRs think many of these complaints are largely the result of flawed information provided during the sales phase, but Producer X doesn’t care, because his compensation isn’t dependent on caring.
Has the role of customer service changed? Yes and no.
Customer service has always been about managing the customer experience. Given changing consumer expectations, however, agency owners are beginning to realize that it requires much more than a smile, a nice speaking voice, and a pleasant attitude. (For the record, stellar CSRs always knew this.)
Today, the best customer service agents are chock full of product knowledge, and they’re sales oriented, skilled in de-escalating conflict, willing to take on the role of brand ambassador, empathetic counselors, and techno-savvy—for starters. Further, they’re able to connect with customers via traditional channels, but also through online avenues like live chat and social media.
Customers are more knowledgeable and more demanding than ever, and if your agency doesn’t meet their needs, your competitors will.
Carletta Clyatt is senior vice president of sales for The Omnia Group, Inc. (www.omniagroup.com), a Research Associate of The National Alliance Research Academy (www.scic.com/academy). A co-author of the Academy’s Customer Service (CSR) Benchmark Analysis, Carletta offers clients advice on how to manage more effectively and gain insight into employee strengths, weaknesses, and behaviors. For more information about employee behavioral assessments, contact her at (813) 280-3026 or email@example.com.