Customer Service Focus
By Dustyne Bryant, CIC, CISR, MBA
WILL THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC CHANGE HOW CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSOCIATES DO THEIR WORK?
Major adjustments may bring about new concepts of work-life balance
Without question, COVID-19 has changed the work rules for account managers and customer service representatives and associates across the country. Depending on agency location, some of these individuals are working entirely from home, while others still commute between their homes and agencies. The changes in work rules and locations have brought about major adjustments that may change the face of insurance agencies and brokerages across the country. It may, in fact, bring about new concepts of work-life balance.
The balance between the work of customer service associates and their personal lives has always been problematic. A study conducted by The National Alliance Research Academy and published in The Pulse of Customer Service: A Profile of Insurance Industry Customer Service Personnel, points out that both commercial and personal lines account managers and customer service representatives have concerns about how to balance their personal and work lives.
The importance of account managers and customer service representatives has not changed, but the way business is conducted has.
In the same study, commercial and personal lines servicing personnel also reported that the business skill they’d most like to improve is learning to deal with stress. The addition of the COVID-19 pandemic has multiplied their stress, with school closures, the shutdown of daycare centers, or the presence of a spouse or partner at home whose work has also been impacted by a changed schedule or even job loss.
Now, in addition to professional duties as an account manager or customer service representative, these individuals may find themselves coordinating a new balance of responsibilities and activities with their spouse or partner, such as being a substitute teacher or providing a constant source of entertainment for young children. In addition to the stress of having to wear face coverings and perform frequent hand washes are concerns about contracting COVID-19 or caring for someone who has the disease.
It is easy to see how stress has increased exponentially, and we have no idea how long the pandemiwill last. In light of this new, uncomfortable “normal,” what can agencies, account managers, and customer service representatives do to reduce stress and still deliver effective customer service?
One of the first things an agency must do is have an honest discussion with account managers and customer service representatives regarding what kind of work arrangement will work best in compliance with regulatory guidelines. Many agencies have developed a flexible arrangement where customer service associates can work from home or from the agency, depending on the situation created by government regulations and the local levels of COVID-19 infections.
Other considerations include the health concerns of the individual account manager or customer service representative, the nature of the agency’s clients, and the level of sophistication of the agency management system—to name just a few. Agencies may also be worried about collaboration during this time and communicating what is happening within the agency or brokerage with fellow employees, clients, and carriers.
Thankfully, we have Skype, Go to Meeting, and Zoom, among other platforms, which enable agency associates not only to meet and talk with each other, but also to see one another. This helps break the feelings of isolation and build a degree of camaraderie. It will be necessary that the associate have a router of sufficient speed and a phone that will work with the agency’s VoIP or other system to receive calls. A headset may add to efficiency, as well.
Besides communication tools, the agency or brokerage must also ensure that the account manager or customer service representative has a workspace or desktop for their computer and monitors, complete with microphone, speakers, and webcam.
The account manager or customer service representative must also take additional steps, including organizing their home environment to establish boundaries necessary for working at home with children and spouses or partners. It is ideal to situate an office space in a room where the door can be closed, maybe even locked, though this may not always be feasible depending on the space available. Service associates may also find their spouses or partners in a similar situation working from home. Clearly, such a situation will complicate work-at-home arrangements.
For account managers or customer service representatives with children at home, it may be necessary to set up arrangements with their significant others to share duties and activities related to caring for and teaching children while the other works. Varying day or night shifts in some occupations may lead to further complications. In the case of different shifts, one spouse or partner may be sleeping while the other assumes all the family duties.
While fellow workers and clients will likely understand the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 virus, background noises and distractions will complicate communication. However, with a little wit and creativity, there are several ways these complications can be minimized.
Some account managers or customer service representatives have had their children sit on the floor just outside the home office door with a quiet activity so they can be seen while the parent is making calls or in a Zoom meeting with other agency associates or with a client. Customer service associates with older children have set up tables to act as desks for school-related activities in spots proximate to the home office.
Although the children cannot be seen, they certainly can be heard if a problem develops. One particularly creative account manager programmed smart lights and her virtual assistant AI technology (like Alexa) to show a red light throughout the home when she needed her family to be quiet for her account-servicing duties.
Account managers or customer service representatives are the backbone of the agency; they conduct a majority of the contact with the agency’s clients and prospects. In the case of personal lines, they have the responsibility for almost all of the servicing duties.
Agency owners and managers are well aware of the importance of account managers and customer service representatives as they wrestle with concerns over productivity and financial results. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of our lives and made it even more difficult to grow revenue faster than the growth in agency expenses.
It is probable that some associates were already working from home before the pandemic, but now agencies will need to consider expanding their agency structure to accommodate more work-from-home employees. Some account managers or customer service representatives may need or prefer to continue working from home after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The importance of account managers and customer service representatives has not changed, but the way business is conducted has.
Dustyne Bryant, personal lines academic director at The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, is a self-professed and colleague-backed wholehearted personal lines insurance geek. Supported by multiple degrees and designations over the course of a decade and rising, her thirst for know-ledge is never ending and ever growing.Her passion for educating others in personal insurance is even greater. She is an advocate of permanency for children in foster care and relishes all the joys of being a soccer mom, minus the minivan.