ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

Ten Commandments of Customer Service

1. Do things right - every time.

Of course everyone tries to process items correctly. Why do we need to be so absolute in this commandment? When Agency Consulting Group, Inc. analyzes an agency's operations, we inevitably find that simple errors in the process comes at an extreme cost in time, money and customer satisfaction. One mistake made today may cost the time and effort of a CSR, accounting department and producer three months from now to sort out and correct. The answer is to develop a zero tolerance for errors. Will mistakes be made? Of course. However, the agency must make every effort to remedy system or training issues permitting mistakes. A zero tolerance for errors protects the client by providing the fastest and most efficient service and saves the agency countless hours of analysis and correction. This commandment is not meant to require checking of all transactions. However, quality control audits should be a part of each manager's responsibilities and a sampling of transactions taken once each month (randomly) on every employee will easily highlight where errors are being made because of lack of training.

2. Customer problems are our opportunities to provide the highest grade of service possible and to create "Customers for Life".

The complaint about disloyal customers moving for a few dollars in premium becomes moot when the agency has shown its added value and service differentiation. The best opportunity to reflect that value is when a customer has a problem. This commandment is intended to stress that we must actively SEEK customer problems and attack them in a way that will thrill the customer with our response. Complaints are not bad - they are the opportunities on which heroic service is built.

3. Create Service Legends

A customer service representative drops off an ID card to a client at a local auto dealership...an agent goes on-site to an active claim to support the client...an agency employee, sensitive to the needs and restrictions of a new mother, arranges to have forms for signature delivered instead of requiring the client to drive to the agency --- these are all examples of some of the "thrilling" things that some agents have done to make life a little easier for customers. Clients only talk about their insurance agent when they are complaining - or-when something has happened that is so out of the ordinary and unexpected that they feel they must share the experience. Every agent should provide an incentive bonus pool that awards serious dollars to an employee who has "thrilled" a customer during the prior period. If none can be documented, the money goes unspent. If there are bonus dollars left in this budget at the end of the year, the agency can consider itself a failure. We didn't "thrill" enough customers.

4. No one ever complained about being treated too nicely.

With the notable exception of abusive clients, every agency staff member must treat every customer exactly as the employee dreams being treated by a service company. "Do unto others..." is truly applicable. If many of us were to hear ourselves "telling" a customer what he will "have" to do we would be abhorred by our demeanor. We are in our roles at their whim and discretion. But, in the heat of the working day, we may not even see ourselves treating customers as we would never want to be treated ourselves. Even when your customer is stressed, your job is to treat him as nicely as you would your own grandmother. The answer is to police each other in service teams. If any of the staff hears customers being treated in a way that may be interpreted as badly, it is their responsibility to bring this to the attention of the person making that mistake.

5. Continuous Improvement is more a functions of the questions we ask than the answers we provide.

The best agents are grateful for their strengths, but are never satisfied with them. They (and all of their employees) constantly seek better ways. If they can get transactional filing to work, fine. Now, they investigate optical scanning as the next step toward excellent service. Our continuous question must be, "How can we make this better?" Since there is no perfect system, we can never leave well enough alone.

6. The customer's perception IS reality. If he thinks we blew it, we blew it!

Do you ever find yourself arguing with a customer about his incorrect perception of the situation? If so, you have put yourself into a "LOSE/LOSE" scenario. If he wins, you lose. And if you win, you lose anyway because the customer does not like losing. The best way to attack this type of problem is to apologize and ask how you can make it right (even if you did nothing wrong in the first place). This action yields the battle to the customer, but does so in a way that permits him to forgive you and to explain how the situation can be remedied (which often involves re-explaining the actual events in different terms).

7. Guarantee your service - UNCONDITIONALLY. If it's not right, apologize, fix it, and prevent it from happening again. (If we could pay for it without violating the law, that would be great, too!)

I believe you guarantee your work anyway - it's called E&O Insurance. Denying a mistake for fear of lawsuit usually gains you a lawsuit anyway and loses you the customer, (including the stories he will tell about you for the next 10 years) as well. On the other hand, taking blame when its due, assuaging your customer's concerns and fixing it may "thrill" your customer (see 3. Above)

8. Work should be fun.

I guarantee that employees who enjoy their work will perform better, be more productive, be more creative and be more efficient. No, that doesn't mean that you never have a bad moment (or a bad day). But you can certainly differentiate between employees who enjoy their job and those who drag into work, can't wait to leave and whose best friend is the clock on the wall for breaks and lunch hours. Some employees are simply in the wrong place. They realized too late that they don't enjoy customer contact. They are stuck in their career. However, why should YOU be stuck in their career? Your only mistake was to hire them with that type of attitude. "Career-adjustment" may be a negative term, but some employees who have left by that means have eventually thanked the agency owner for the crisis that moved them from a job they hated to another that they better enjoyed. Other employees need some motivational efforts including a break from the routine every once in a while (i.e. "Surprise, you have tomorrow off!), little contests that put some fun back into work, and department or agency-wide events once each month that relieve tension and give employees something to which to look forward (picnics, pot-luck lunches, speakers, etc.) We even know one agency who brought in a physical therapist for mid-day massages for anyone desiring one.

9. Be proud of your agency - but never satisfied.

This ties in with Continuous Improvement but more refers to the agent's attitude with himself (or herself), the staff, the agency, the industry, etc. "Stinkin' Thinkin'" has brought down more agents than bad business ever did.

Whether you have the best agency in the country, the best agency in the city, or the best agency on the block, be proud of what you and your staff has accomplished, not upset with your deficiencies. Don't put on rose-colored glasses and call a jack-ass, a thoroughbred. But almost every agency we have encountered had many strengths that deserved pride. Most overlooked their strengths because they concentrated on their weaknesses. Unfortunately, the self-fulfilling prophecy is real. If you think of yourself and your agency as a failure, you become one (even if you are outwardly successful).

10. To your customers - YOU are the agency and the agency is the company.

Never "them and us" the customer, referring to other people, departments or management of the agency. Understand that YOU ARE the agency to the person on the other end of the line. Blaming claims, customer service, accounting or management for a deficiency or problem puts YOU in a weakened position with respect to the customer.

Similarly, you (the agency) ARE the company to your customers. Even though the company, not the agency, has caused delays and made mistakes, you can not pass the buck in the eyes of the customer whose transaction is delayed or wrong. In many cases, they will think (but rarely say) that if you have to fight the company for something as simple as accuracy and timliness, maybe they have the wrong company AND the wrong agent. After all, it was you who placed the customer with that company because the company was the best for them!

Feel free to adopt all or some of these Commandments to use as your own. Things written tend to be more real than things desired. We recommend that you use these or draft your own Commandments and publish them to your employees and to your customers. In that way, they can all see how you intend the agency to operate (whether or not it is already there).