Friday, December 15, 2006

Customer service

I spent the day Christmas shopping and two saleswomen who waited on me possessed exemplary customer service skills. Yesterday I was speaking with a claim manager who is having trouble with employees with poor customer service skills. Technical skills can be taught, but it is very difficult to teach soft skills, the people skills that help insureds navigate an insurance-related loss or injury.

My father was an independent agent for over 50 years. He had that extraordinary ability to make anyone, even someone he'd just met, feel special. When I tagged along with my parents as a child (my mother was his business partner and a fine agent as well), my father was always prospecting. He talked to everyone like he or she was already a friend.

If he ate at a restaurant he liked, he left his card and a pen or perhaps an agency calendar. If he saw a fleet of commercial trucks that looked clean and well kept, he would jot down the name of the company, then call or drop by and ask for an expiration date to quote their renewal. Do you know how many business owners tell me that literally dozens of agents ask for their expiration dates each year then never follow up to quote them?

Great customer service is a skill, but to some, it comes naturally. Claim managers and agency owners often spend thousands of dollars and hours of their valuable time training agents and adjusters who wash out because they lack people skills.

Why not prospect for great employees? Does your friend rave about the service she routinely receives from an employee at a local flower shop? How about a favorite waitress who you know is working her way through college? Perhaps they would consider a career that allows them to make a difference in people's lives and provides a more lucrative income.

There are many examples of customer service people who would make great CSRs, agents or adjusters. It's simply that an insurance career is not a job that most people would envision until someone presents them with that possibility. Most people have no exposure to the insurance industry other than paying their auto premiums. They are spending their time selling with little hope for advancement or servicing other people's customers with distinction. They may appreciate a chance to expand their horizons and you can offer them that chance and benefit, as well.

Are some of your best prospects right under your nose?

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