The Conundrum of Service, by Jack Burke, Sound Marketing, Inc.

(reprinted with permission of Sound Marketing, Inc.)

My old friend Noah Webster defines conundrum as “an
intricate or difficult problem”. Within our insurance industry, the conundrum
consists of the “difficulty” in the perception of “service” and the
“intricacy” of defining service.

Unfortunately, the terminology of the insurance industry
includes a customer service department (staffed by CSR’s -customer service reps). This
misnomer has compartmentalized “service” to be something that occurs after the
fact. CSR’s primarily deal with claims, policy updates, additions/deletions, and etc.
Truth be told, they’re more administrative functionaries than “service
providers”. Clients are often intrusions on the flow of their clerical duties.

Nordstrom’s has carved a profitable niche by providing
exceptional service in a very generic industry. (Every department store offers basically
the same merchandise at fairly comparable prices.) No one argues that the prices at
Nordstrom’s are at the higher end of the scale, but service adds the esoteric value in the
competition formula. Is Nordstrom’s service built upon their returns policy (service after
the fact)? Absolutely not! It is merely one piece to a complex totality.

Service must be an exercise in totality if an agency or
company is to grow and thrive. It must be inculcated into every fiber of an organization.
Only through a corporate tapestry of service does a company ever develop a nexus with
their clients–a true binding connection. Once this nexus is developed, the aspect of
selling is merely a step in the process of serving the client. The value is in the service that surrounds it.

In my book, Creating Customer Connections, I explain how it
all begins with an understanding of your corporate culture. To do this, to know who you
are as a business, requires a hard, objective look at the entire organization and the
willingness to take action on needed changes. Since this short article cannot encompass
the entire process, I’ve developed a list of questions to ask yourself. The answers, in
terms of customer service, are self-evident. Actions, if you choose to take them, can
clarify your position in the marketplace.

  1. How friendly are your telephones? The telephone is the
    electronic lobby of your company. Is it inviting? Do the voices have smiles? Are calls
    answered quickly? Does hold time reinforce the values of your firm? Are your callers
    placed in an automated maze of computerized instructions? Do your callers feel that they are valued?

  2. How friendly is your database? Is invoicing the primary
    function of your database? How frequently are the names on your database contacted? Do you
    use your database to send love letters to your clients? Does your database incorporate a
    contact management program? Are the contacts offering valuable information to your
    clients? Does your database, and what you do with it, make your clients feel valued?

  3. How friendly is your invoicing? Is your invoice
    “receiver friendly”, or does it read like a collection letter? Do you invoices
    include additional information of value? If you clients are direct-billed by the carrier,
    have you checked into the friendliness of their billings? Do the recipients of your
    invoices feel that they are valued?

  4. How friendly is your prospecting? Do you position yourself
    as a valuable resource, or a purveyor of insurance? Is your prospected price-centered or
    value-centered? Do you prospect to x-dates, or to potential clients? Do your prospects
    feel that they are valued?

  5. How effective is your marketing material? Is your marketing
    material corporate “puffery”, or does it provide needed information to a
    prospect’s decision making process? Does your marketing material really tell your story?
    Does your marketing material include testimonials and endorsements? Does your marketing
    material make the recipient feel that they are and would continue to be valued by your organization?

  6. Do your producers add value to the relationship? Are your
    producers serving as risk management consultants to their clients? How frequently does
    your staff conduct informative seminars? Are your producers committed to the success of
    their clients? Would your producers forfeit a commission in the best interest of the
    client? Do your producers know the business of the clients they serve? Do their (your)
    clients feel valued?

  7. Is your customer service department client-centered, or
    function-centered? Are client calls eagerly welcomed, or an intrusion? Have your CSR’s and
    the clients ever met face-to-face? Do your CSR’s know to what extent they are empowered to
    solve client problems? Do your CSR’s go beyond the task at hand to keep the overall best
    interests of the client in mind? Do your CSR’s make the clients feel valued?

I could continue this series of questions into how the employees (your first customers)
are treated–because that foretells how they will treat your customers and prospects; your company
relationships; your vendor relationships; your community relationships; your commitment to education
(both employee and client); your accounts receivable and payable policies; and so on throughout every facet
of your business operations.

Every question centers on your service to the client and their perception of the value
of that service to them.

Successful agencies, brokerages, and companies know one simple fact: You don’t sell
insurance, you provide service!

Jack Burke is the president of Sound Marketing, Inc. and author of Relationship Aspect
Marketing and Creating Customer Connections. For more information, please visit,
call 1-800-451-8273 or e-mail to [email protected].