Why Customer Service is So Important

A lot of agents think sales and customer service are two separate aspects of running an insurance agency.

I don’t – I think great customer service is a sales strategy.

If your entire book of business is thrilled to do business with you, loves interacting with your agency and feels appreciated as a customer you won’t need to prospect – you’d have a sales force of customers doing it for you!

The difference between giving an amazing customer experience and a horrible one is usually just a few little things here and there that aren’t too hard if you establish processes in your agency to follow through with them.

Here are 22 little things you can do to improve your insurance agency’s customer service. (I saved the most important one for last.)

1 – Follow-Up Throughout the Claim

Establish a procedure within your agency for following up with customers who have claims. It’s easy to think it’s the claims department’s job but that theory will hurt you.

I was a casualty claim adjuster so take my word for it: insurance claims will get ugly if communication breaks down but an agent can play an integral role in preventing delays and problems.

You can come up with your own schedule but I think most agencies would benefit from reaching out to clients one-week, two-weeks, and four-weeks after a claim is filed. It’s the opposite of sales calls – the more you call, the more they appreciate it.

Just be careful not to set the wrong expectations – express care, concern, and empathy but defer specific claims questions (like how liability is determined) to the people who specialize in it.

2 – Thank You Calls For All Referrals

Every single time a client recommends your agency you should personally reach out to him and thank him for the referral. Referred business is absolutely the best type of lead and it’s important to encourage the behavior.

I know some agents who only thank the referrer when they sell the policy. That is a ridiculous idea. When you fail to make the sale and still reach out to thank the referrer it’s better because it says “I appreciate your recommendation” instead of “Thanks for helping me make more money”.

3 – Offer a Drink (not that kind)

Offering a drink makes clients feel more like a guest in your home than a client in your office. Coffee and bottled water are always great, but offering a particularly enjoyable drink can be a real bonus – think lemonade on a hot summer day, hot chocolate with whipped cream in the winter, or egg nog in December.

When they’ve got a drink to enjoy, your clients will be more relaxed and likely to stick around to hear more about their options for life insurance.

4 – Warm Transfer All Phone Calls

Remember the last time you were speaking to a human being who transferred you to a voicemail? Don’t you love that?! It happens to me at least once a week and I can’t imagine a more customer-unfriendly behavior.

When clients call you to report a claim, do you give them the phone number for the claims department? Do you forward their call to the right number and tell them to press “2 then 7 then 1″? Or do you stay with them on the line, press the buttons for them and introduce them to the person they need to speak with.

If you don’t know how to do this on your phone, figure it out today.

5 – Wish a Happy Birthday

One of my closest agents spends an hour every day calling clients on their birthdays. A lot of agents think he’s crazy but he swears that he gets more positive feedback, more referrals, more cross sales, and more positive energy from those phone calls than anything else he does.

People are happy on their birthdays and recognizing that makes them feel good. There’s a decent chance you might be the only person who wishes them a happy birthday! Why not give it a try for one month?

6 – Welcome New Clients on Facebook

If you sign up a new client and save them a lot of money ask if you can take a picture and put it on your Facebook page. I’ll bet you anything that if you saved them a bunch of money and they agree to the picture, they’ll not only like your page but they’ll make a post to all their friends about how much money they saved and how great of an experience it was.

You’ll also show all your current Facebook fans that you still have competitive rates so they don’t need to shop around at renewal time.

7 – ID Card Holders

I used to work with an agency that made little ID Card Holders by cutting plastic photo album sheets into four pieces with a pair of scissors. They would even do it in front of the client!

Your clients pay thousands of dollars for that little card – put it in a nice package!

The ones that explain what to do in an accident are particularly good because in a weird way they allow you to help your clients at a time of great distress, even though you can’t be there with them.

8 – Look For Discount Opportunities

When a client calls you up to talk about something, take a few moments to tell them about any additional discounts they may be eligible for. (Ask their permission first to make sure they have time)

I know some agents that don’t like give away discounts because they think giving discounts to existing customers is a pay cut.

I disagree – it can be an incredibly positive experience for a client to get a discount when they were least expecting it. Would you rather give back a few dollars of commission and keep a client for another 20 years or keep their rates as high as possible so you lose them in next year?

9 – Use Your Customer’s Name

Everybody loves the sound of their own name. Use it. When you say a customer’s name as much as possible it shows you respect them as an individual and often makes people feel the need to be more respectful and friendlier to you.

Does your client have a name that’s difficult to pronounce? Good! Take the time to learn to pronounce it properly and they will appreciate your gesture even more!

10 – Call When There’s Not a Problem

Have you ever heard of the Pareto Principle? It says that you spend 80% of your time dealing with clients who make you 20% of your money. If that happens, when will you get to speak to the 20% that make you 80%? If you wait for them to call you it’ll probably never happen – until they’re calling to cancel!

If you think it’d be too hard to reach every customer do this: Make a list of the 50 customers that make you the most money and schedule 1 phone call a week. You can make one positive phone call a week.

I personally like the time right before a renewal goes out because it allows you to have a friendly conversation with no business on the table but when the renewal arrives a week later they’ll remember the relationship they have with you.

11 – Always Establish the “Next Step”

Whether you’re helping a client through underwriting, policy issuance, a billing dispute, or a claim make sure you end every interaction by explaining what the next step is. People don’t always need their problems solved, but in almost every situation your clients want to know that things are moving forward and what their expectations should be.

My experience as a claims adjuster made this crystal clear to me. People are very patient and understanding but they NEED to know things are moving forward.

If nothing is moving forward then create the impression it is.

12 – Accept Responsibility

I don’t care if the billing department messed up, the underwriters lost your documentation, or the dog ate your client files – always accept the responsibility yourself. The reason is very simple:

When you blame others for what happened it makes you look powerless.

If the insurance agent has no power then it’s time to call an 800 number.

On the contrary, accepting responsibility for a mistake makes clients think you are in control and will be able to help them when they need it.

People can usually tell it wasn’t your fault anyway and they’ll often try to talk you out of blaming yourself. (I have a bachelor’s degree in reverse psychology)

13 – Keep the Kids Entertained

Your office is a professional environment and you don’t need a playpen in the corner full of grimy toys but it helps to have some activities to entertain the kids. Coloring books and crayons are cheap and work well for a wide range of ages.

While you’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few other amenities that can help with kids like a spare diaper or a juice box.

You don’t want any excuses for the client to leave halfway through your sales pitch. As a father of a 1 and 3 year old I can honestly say that a clean diaper in a time of need, will make me a lifelong client indeed!

14 – If You Must Put Someone On Hold, Ask Them

“Insurance agency, please hold…” CLICK.

Have your customers ever heard that? I hope not, but I know I’ve heard it a lot when calling agencies! I understand that things get crazy, but it doesn’t generally set the tone for a positive conversation when you start by telling the caller what to do.

Although it’s still probably less than ideal, a change to something like, “Insurance Agency, can you please hold?” wait for the answer and reply “thank you I really appreciate it.” will help make things a bit less tense.

While we’re at it, don’t tell someone you’re going to put them on hold “for a minute” unless it’s really going to be a 60 seconds or less. People can take that quite literally and setting the wrong expectations will lead to a worse customer experience.

14- Give Great Introductions To Co-Workers

When you’re handing the phone over to one of your co-workers because they specialize in a certain situation do you say, “Here’s Jen – she does all the claims”?

Why not try something like this instead: ”Although I want to help you with this, I’d like you to speak with our claims specialist, Jen. She used to work as a claim adjuster and has over 10 years experience helping our customers get through the claim process. If anyone on earth can get you through this as painlessly as possible, it’s Jen.”

Not only is that customer going to feel more comfortable and taken care of, you’ll also make your co-worker’s job easier because the customer will listen to everything they say without doubting or questioning anything!

16 – Remember the Family

When people ask me about my girls I appreciate it so much more than when they ask about how I’m doing. I don’t really like to talk about myself but I’ll talk about them all day and when someone remembers that I have two daughters it really shows that they’re paying attention to me.

It’s best if you can remember names, but it never hurts to ask, “so how are the little ones doing?”

17 – Thank You Notes

We all know a handwritten note can go a long way in today’s society. The reason it’s so valuable is also the reason we don’t do it – because it’s a pain in the butt!

Make it easy on yourself by making a bunch of pre-stamped envelopes with the return address already written on them.

Send one hand-written thank you note every day and over time you’ll make a big impression on your clients, prospects, and business contacts.

18 – Ask For Improvement Recommendations

Ask your clients if there’s anything you could be doing to improve their relationship with you. You’d be surprised what you find out – you’ll probably get better ideas than this article!

The added bonus is that by asking this question you’re giving the customer the idea that they have some say in the way they are treated and you also let them know that their experience is important to you.

You don’t have to listen to everything they say, but by asking the question they’ll think you care.

19 – Act on Improvement Recommendations

I have found that when a customer points out an opportunity or idea for improving your business, they’re usually on to something.

Customer suggestions aren’t always 100% doable, but they almost always identify a problem that should be addressed more effectively.

Next time a customer makes a suggestion that seems impossible don’t just dismiss it.

Think about another way you could to solve (or ease) the problem they’ve identified and place that change into action.

And don’t forget to follow up with them explaining the change you’ve made.

20 – Don’t Say Bad Things About Anyone

Don’t say anything bad about other insurance companies, other agents, other customers, people you work with or people you don’t work with. Just don’t say anything bad about anyone.

It just makes you look like a bad person and will cause your clients to question whether the kindness you exhibit toward them is genuine or if you’ll bad-mouth them as soon as they walk out the door. If you don’t have anything nice to say…

21 – Proofread Your Emails

Email is one of the least effective forms of communication. We don’t always realize it, but when you speak on the phone or in person there are hundreds of hidden cues both parties use to fully understand each other.

Email removes those clues to understanding and many people aren’t very effective with expressing themselves using written communication to begin with so emails are a customer service disaster waiting to happen.

Here’s some good advice: Before you hit send, read the email aloud to yourself in the most snotty voice possible because there’s a decent chance that’s exactly how the other person will interpret it.

22 – #1 Customer Service Tip: It Comes From the Top

I have worked with hundreds of insurance agencies and there is ultimately one thing that will make or break your agency’s ability to provide great customer service:

Excellent customer service comes from the top.

It doesn’t matter who the employees are, if the person running the agency is not 100% committed to the customers then no one will be. I have seen it time and time again…

Fortunately the opposite is also true – A leader who puts the customers first will have employees who deliver the same promise.