Customer Service Focus
By Nicci Keck, CIC, CISR
WHEN TIMES ARE TOUGH
The importance of staying calm when everything is changing around you
Who would’ve thought that, within a matter of just a few short weeks, people everywhere would have their livelihoods, habits, schedules, and way of life altered in such a dramatic way? Those of us who could work from home began to do so. Meanwhile, those we rely on for medical care, supplies, food, transportation, and other essentials put themselves and their loved ones at risk to provide care for all of us.
The new reality led many people to figure out how to care for their children while schools remained closed and options for childcare became severely limited or too costly to afford. And small business owners and millions of people who work for them found themselves navigating an unprecedented economic shutdown—with bills to pay and no clear end in sight.
Practicing self-care, being present, and staying connected … help each of us individually … (and) have a positive impact on those we serve.
These are the issues that riddle our headlines as winter turned to spring. Every one of us is trying to adapt to new circumstances and challenges we’ve never faced before. Amid the evolving reality, no one can argue that the amount of information we’re being asked to take in and process is astounding and competes with other things for our attention.
During times like this, those of us who work under the umbrella of customer service quickly realize how “essential” we are.
Insurance is not something we can (or at least should) cancel temporarily; it’s not a bill you can just decide not to pay for a few months. Losses don’t suddenly stop happening because there’s a global health crisis. We still come down with other illnesses, car insurance continues to be mandated, and mortgage companies still require property insurance to secure their loans. A business owner’s exposures don’t go away, and their expenses don’t stop just because their doors are closed.
Our clients still need our help, and in the absence of government or other forms of intervention, they’re coming to us with questions and needs we haven’t dealt with before. So how do we stay calm and maintain our focus so we can compassionately address our clients’ needs and not neglect our own?
Focus on you
It starts with self-care. In its simplest form, this means to take care of you. It’s a critical task that drives physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Taking it a step further, it often requires mindful action based on our individual needs. How much sleep are we getting and how is the quality? What are we eating and how often? Are we receiving the nourishment needed to provide sustained energy throughout the day? How about exercising, meditating, listening to music, reducing the time spent on our devices, taking a break from the news, or simply getting outside for a breath of fresh air? We need to pay attention to our bodies and respond in a way that we’ve found works for us. Self-care is the key to maintaining a calm mind, reducing stress, and keeping our focus and perspective.
It’s no secret that when we aren’t functioning at a healthy physical, mental, and emotional level, our capacity to manage the ins and outs of our lives is reduced. Lack of self-care also inhibits our ability to effectively serve or provide for others. We become reactive vs. proactive, and when in a constant state of reaction, we begin to feel overwhelmed. As each task appears to grow in both size and complexity, our critical-thinking skills wane. Our patience becomes short, our ability to understand and empathize with others is diminished, and our perspective narrows to a point where we cannot see clearly.
At its worst, panic can set in and irrational thinking can lead to irrational behavior. People stop considering and sometimes stop caring about the effects their actions have on others and we begin to lose our feeling of connection.
Once we’ve started to recognize our needs and take care of ourselves, we need to practice being present and in the moment. You cannot connect with someone, understand their situation, or anticipate their needs if your mind is on other things. As offices all over the country shut down and many people work from home, it’s important to recognize that the nature of our distractions has changed.
We may have partners, children, or pets at home with us while we’re working. Or, we may be alone, and this can feel incredibly isolating, especially if we’re used to an office setting. We need to be aware of how our new environment is affecting us; and we should work swiftly toward developing the tools for managing the situation.
By practicing being present, we can adjust more quickly and comfortably.
Empathize and empower
It’s essential to remember that our clients also are adapting to their new circumstances. Our ability to actively listen, ask questions, and connect with them as they reach out is critically important. This will aid us in providing a high level of service in the present. Even more important, these actions provide greater insight into the client’s situation, thereby improving our ability to anticipate future needs.
As we direct our thoughtful attention to our clients and their concerns, it’s helpful to try to put ourselves in their shoes. Many are searching for solutions to new economic burdens while working to control their anxieties and fears. And as they’re doing this, they also are looking out for family, friends, clients and, in the case of commercial clients, employees. It may help to ask what they would consider to be an effective solution. While we may not be able to provide exactly what they want, this can be an invaluable guide as we work toward a positive resolution.
Through it all, we need to manage their expectations as best we can and do what we say we’re going to do. If we’re not able to answer their question or resolve their issue on the spot, we must remember how important it is to involve them in the process by keeping them informed as we work through the situation.
It’s always good to look for opportunities to empower our clients with tools and resources that give them a way to handle some things on their own, if they so choose. Sometimes just having a little bit of control can be invaluable when surrounded by so much uncertainty.
Engage and take control
Though we’re no longer in a physic-ally collaborative environment, through personal effort and technology we’re still able to stay connected with our coworkers and others in the industry. This is powerful. While each of us may be at a different place geographically—and on this new learning curve—we all share the common purpose of continuing to serve the needs of our clients and our communities during this unprecedented time.
Our strength lies in our collaboration and communication, which allows us to find creative solutions to new challenges as we continue to share information and ideas.
If we’re striving to be present and effectively manage our workload, responsibilities, and concerns, we need to apply simple, straightforward methods. Taking a few minutes to organize and loosely plan our day will allow us to critically evaluate our workload and maintain focus. Our plan should include time for unknown tasks so we can protect our capacity to compassionately and effectively assist our clients as their needs arise.
To avoid getting preoccupied by all the things left to do (work or otherwise),it helps to write things down so they can be prioritized and dealt with appropriately. By purposefully clearing our mental space to focus on one project at a time, we can practice and improve our ability to work calmly and efficiently. Once committed to a task, we need to complete it. We should reshuffle priorities only in the circumstances where it becomes necessary to do so.
There has not been a time in recent history where everyone, both locally and across the globe, has been directly impacted in such significant and similar ways as we’ve experienced this year. While watching these events unfold and as lives are forever changed, remember that we can choose to be kind to ourselves and kind to one another.
Practicing self-care, being present, and staying connected will not only help each of us individually, but it will also have a positive impact on those we serve and provide for.
Nicci Keck, CIC, CISR, owner of Nicci Keck, LLC, was recognized by The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research and awarded its National Outstanding CSR of the Year Award in 2013. Soon after, she joined The National Alliance CISR Board of Governors and recently completed her six-year term. She began her career at the agency level, and worked as an account manager in commercial lines for 18 years. Leaving in 2017 to pursue her own business, she now provides both insurance consulting and operations support services.