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Customer Service Focus

Beyond customer service

Getting everyone in the agency to support the strategy for the overall customer experience

By W.L. Richard, CIC, ARM, AAI

Forget customer service. You’re spending your precious time and resources in the wrong place. Now let me explain; customer service is an important ingredient of any agency’s success. In fact, we spend a great deal of time talking about what it is and how to improve it! But customer service is only a small piece of the larger picture that agents should be worrying about.

For example, would you focus on washing your car when the car needed brakes, tires and gas? Hopefully not. Customer service is only one component of your agency’s overall customer experience lifecycle. There is an important distinction to understand when discussing customer service vs. customer experience. Often we see these two terms used synonymously, which is a mistake.

Customer service may represent just one point in the overall customer experience—a receptionist, a CSR, or a producer. Each touch point provides a significant contribution to how each customer is treated. However, even the best customer service won’t rectify an otherwise flawed customer experience. The customer experience, encompasses all customer service touch points that can extend from customers’ first impressions to their ultimate defection.

Agencies that are serious about being more customer-centric, or are determined to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty, should instead focus their time and resources on the entire picture—fix the customer experience. Granted, customer experience management is a much greater issue. It requires a keen understanding of the customer, a laser-like focus on end-to-end process perfection, and a passion to always be better.

Focusing on and managing the overall customer experience is not for amateurs. It is not an improvement initiative that can be delegated to the service department. It requires a complete reformation of the agency’s DNA, to elevate the customer experience process to the same or higher levels than sales, and to be willing to listen and respond to customer feedback at all levels of the agency.

Mastering the customer experience is not easy. But it is critically important in an environment where price, product, politics, and promotion just won’t cut it anymore.

If you want your agency to survive, grow, and retain customers for life, don’t focus on improving customer service. Improve your customer experience instead.

So what is customer experience? Simply stated, it is the sum total of the value a customer perceives of the interaction with your agency and how that customer feels emotionally about that interaction.

In short, Customer Experience = Product Value + Customer Service + Emotional Engagement + Ease of Doing Business.

We sometimes fail to recognize that the customer experience includes, but is not limited to, interactions via telephone, mail, e-mail and Web sites; contacts with claims personnel, service centers, other customers, insurance carriers, and personal conversations. The problem is that customers’ experiences with these many areas are often inconsistent, thus leaving the customer with only one choice—to judge the entire experience based on the least desirable event. Customer experience includes the entire buying process. Offering products and services at a competitive price may suffice to get a customer, but it is no longer enough to keep the customer for life. When is the last time you had the lowest price but still lost the sale?

Very rarely have I seen agencies or even insurance companies focus on a complete customer experience solution. Most agencies I have worked with recognize the power of the customer experience, but the majority doesn’t know how to affect it. Organizationally, the customer experience is “owned” across functions and across department heads. Very rarely have I seen where any one person “owns” the entire customer experience and ensures that it is being used throughout the agency.

As a result, they fail to organize initiatives that are broad enough to affect the entire customer experience, and they lack a clear customer experience methodology or approach focused on improving the customer experience.

So let’s take a look at four guiding principles that should guide our customer experience solutions.

Every interaction is personal and every customer has his or her own frame of reference. In essence, you need to understand your customers personally. While maintaining personal information in the customer file is a good start, it is not enough. It needs to be acted upon in a very personal way and usually by someone interacting directly with the customer.

We all have our own frame of reference. Customers, for instance, care intensely about their own needs and desires, but they don’t generally know or care as much about how agencies are organized. Employees also have their individual frames of reference, which includes a deeper understanding of the insurance product. Recognize that customers may not understand things like product names, insurance terms, and acronyms you regularly discuss at work.

Knowing your customer trumps internal politics. Few employees wake up every morning with the intention of making life miserable for the agency’s customers. Yet everyday, CSRs, producers and owners end up making decisions or doing things that end up frustrating, annoying, or downright upsetting their customers. But it’s usually not individual actions that cause the problems. Often, the issues come down to a lack of cooperation or coordination across people and organizations. Most employees want their agency to better serve customers. What they need is a clear view of what customers need, want, and dislike so that the agency employees can align decisions and actions.

If everyone shared a clear view of the customers, then there would be less disagreement about what to do for them. While it may be difficult to agree on overall priorities and strategies, it’s much easier to agree on the best way to treat customers. Because many of the decisions that impact customers aren’t debated or discussed, but just happen, it helps for as many people as possible to understand customers.

Employee satisfaction equals customer satisfaction. Employee satisfaction is the foundation for the customer experience and agency success. If employees have low morale, then getting them to create a great customer experience will be nearly impossible. Walt Disney said it best: “You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

You can’t just change some agency policies and procedures and hope that customers will be treated better. Just about any change to customer experience requires some employees to change what they do and how they do it, so don’t skimp on the training effort.

Also, if it’s hard for employees to do something, then they are less likely to do it—and more likely to become frustrated. That’s why enabling technologies such as dual monitors and printer/scanners on every CSR’s desk helps employees to easily accomplish tasks that help customers.

What gets rewarded gets done. While employees may want to treat customers well, you can’t just expect it to happen. Why not? Because agencies want their employees to do a lot of things. It’s not likely to happen unless you get very specific. Agencies have measurements, incentives, and celebrations to achieve short-term growth and profitability targets. So without any of these incentives on behalf of the customer experience, the environment will push employees to focus on just about anything except customer experience.

Before you adjust the environment, it’s important that you define/describe the type of behavior that you want from people in every role. For example, do you want customer service representa-tives to spend whatever time they need to on the phone to solve a problem, or do you want them to cut down the average handle time on each call?

Finally, you can get consistent behaviors from employees only when all measurements, incentives, and celebrations are consistent and are working together. If you celebrate things that are different than what you measure, for instance, then employees aren’t sure which signals to follow.


If you want to change how you are perceived, start by treating customers better. Then use advertising to reinforce the way they’re being treated. Remember, “It ain’t a good dog that won’t wag its own tail.”

A major initiative is a lot of hard work. And if customer experience isn’t a top priority, then the effort will likely fail. But if you are committed, the rewards will be great—for your agency, employees, and customers.

The author
W.L. (Will) Richard, CIC, ARM, AAI, is the managing partner for Insight Consulting Group, Phoenix, Arizona. He has more than three decades of experience in the insurance industry. Will is a faculty member for the Dynamics of Service program and The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. For more information on Dynamics of Service or the CISR program, call (800) 633-2165 or go to


Focusing on and managing the overall customer experience…requires a complete reformation of the agency’s DNA.














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