I recently left one of my insurance agents because of poor customer service. The whole situation could have been easily avoided, and I’d like to share the story with you in the hopes that you can prevent this from happening.

One of my policies carries a unique rider which allows me to collect a check if I ever spend the night at the hospital. Earlier this year, I checked into the hospital for a few days for some routine testing. Before my stay, I called the agency to let them know that I would be staying in the hospital and find out what I needed to do to claim my hospital income. They assured me they would send a form to me via mail as soon as possible.

My stay came and went, weeks went by, and no hospital income form came from my insurance agent. So I called them again, spoke to someone else, explained the whole situation over again, and had the form in my mailbox two days later. I filled it out promptly and sent it back.

After a month or two, I received a letter from the insurer stating that they needed some verification form or another — frankly, there was a lot of agent jargon in it, and I had no idea what I was reading. I called my hospital and read the letter to them, and they said in order to send the form to me they needed the permission of my insurer (I don’t pretend to understand how all of this works, so I just went with it). Once again, I called my agent and explained the situation. I gave them the phone number for my hospital and the name of the person I had spoken with, and they promised me they would take care of it.

So when I got another letter from the insurer a few months later, I assumed it was my check. Wrong. It was simply a notice, nearly identical to the first one, that my claim couldn’t be processed until they had the form they needed. I called my agent again, and had to leave several messages before I eventually got through.

To make a long story short, it took another few months, a third letter from the insurer, and a very angry customer (me) to finally get my check in the mail. The whole time this was going on, and I wondered whose fault it was. Was it the hospital’s for not releasing the information to the patient? Was it mine for not understanding the letters? Was it the insurer for having a complicated process and contacting the client instead of the agent when something went amiss? Or was it the support staff at the agency, who never returned my phone calls and only took action when I became irate? Ultimately I decided it was some combination of the insurer and the agency, so I left both and haven’t looked back.

Issues like this are so easy to avoid by simply listening to your clients. Most regular people have very little knowledge of how insurance works — writing for ASJ has given me access to the kind of information about the industry that the average person will never have. You need to know that just because you understand something doesn’t mean your clients will. Your job is to help them understand.

Often, insurance agents are dealing with clients when they are at their most vulnerable. It wasn’t easy for me to talk to a complete stranger at the insurance agency about my health problems, but I did it because I had to. Having compassion goes a long way. So listen to your clients, help them through the process, and set aside a time every day where all you do is return phone calls — or, better yet, try to pick up the phone on the first ring every time. And always follow-up and follow through when your client is having an issue. Otherwise, you are sure to see your book of business dwindle.

Heather Trese is the associate editor of the Agent’s Sales Journal. She can be reached at HTrese@AgentMedia.com or 800-933-9449 ext. 225.