Customer Loyalty Is The Holy Grail For Insurance Businesses Today

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Everybody today is spouting off about how essential customer service is, saying things like: “Customers are the lifeblood of our organization,” “Our customers come first” and “The customer is always right.”

Do those statements sound familiar?

Its easy to come up with gallant slogans, but is it all just lip service? Is your dedication to customer service changing how you conduct business?

If you want to thrive, you had better be changing how you operate. With the explosion of customer relationship management (CRM), many financial services companies are going through intense reviews of their customer service processes and even their corporate culture regarding their relationships with their customers.

Customers today are more self-reliant, more guarded about time and personal information, and less interested in familiar or unquestioned loyalties. We live in a time that is unprecedented, not so much for the change that is occurring, but for the speed at which change develops. For that reason, we need to focus more than ever on a concept that is time-tested across all industriescustomer loyalty.

Increased customer loyalty is the single most important driver of long-term profitability. Think about this question: How do you make the transition from a company that manages customer interactions in a competent and even superior way to one that does it in a way that builds loyalty?

To do the right things right, you need to look at all aspects of your customer service strategy, paying particular attention to seven components essential to creating a “best-in-class” customer service initiative. The seven components are: strategic vision, benchmarking and measurement, process design, customer loyalty, quality/value, communication and people.

Your strategic vision must be tailored to your organization, but at its heart should be the goal of providing best-in-class customer service. Make that service a reason for people to do business with you. Your overriding goal is to use superior customer service to gain a competitive edge, to be a customer-driven organization. Being customer-driven means that you must look at everything you do from the customers perspective, or from the “outside in.” This may involve a shift in focus for youone that demands significant changes in many of the ways youve delivered service in the past.

For benchmarking and measurement, you need to identify key areas, with customer input, where you can make a difference, then benchmark and measure yourself against the best. From there, you need to identify gaps and improve on your performance. You can use the obvious tools, such as customer satisfaction and loyalty surveys, to help you measure your progress from the customers perspective, but you should also look at scoring your customer service efforts through other means.

Concerning process design, you may want to look at your processes in order to improve your service and delivery, and change them where necessary. Dont change them just because someone came up with a good idea, or because you can implement a cool technology. Change your processes when they add value to your service delivery from your customers perspective. Along with process redesign, be willing to change your organization, if necessary. If your most knowledgeable and experienced customer service representatives (CSRs) “graduate” from contact center work to analytical or project work, thats fine. Just remember that your customers may then be left with inexperienced CSRs.

Customer loyalty is the true measure of your success. The actions you take to build upon the relationships your agents and brokers have developed with your customers will be key in maintaining and growing your customer base. Find out what it takes not just to satisfy customers, but to make them loyal. Then, do it.

The companies that will succeed in the future will move from providing quality to providing value. In the service areas, this means moving from a mindset of “doing things right” to “doing the right things, right.” While handling transactional requests well is important, it only “gets you into the game.” You need to make sure you are a problem-solver, one who delivers value at every opportunity.

It is not possible to over-communicate. From a service perspective, good communication begins with listening to your customers and those closest to themyour agents and brokers. Use focus groups and surveys to develop both a customer-listening strategy and an associate/employee-listening strategy. Then, tell them what youve learned and what youre doing about it.

When it comes to your people, a strong service team, dedicated to your vision, is a must. Your team must build on your relationships with your customers. You must understand your customers needs, wants, preferences and values; reach the right customers/prospects in the right way; retain valued customers; and align processes, organization and technology with what customers value.

You might even consider adopting a “customer comes second” philosophyyour employees come firstand youll see a renewed vitality for your company from your staff. Then, watch that vitality manifest itself in the way your staff serves your customers.

The bottom line is that you need to scrutinize how you operate in each of the above seven areas. Your efforts to provide best-in-class customer service will push your organization to be more customer-driven and provide you with a valuable competitive edge over your competitors.

is a Customer Service manager for Mutual of Omaha, based in Omaha, Neb. He can be reached at marty.mccaslin@mutualofomaha.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, December 10, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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