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As fast as the world around us is changing, it’s clear insurance agents need to improve their customer service if they want to not only bring on new clients but retain the ones they have. As small businesses face intense pressure of their own, ranging from supply chain issues to hiring challenges, their tolerance for poor customer service from their vendors/service providers tends to be low. Insurance agents need to be aware of small businesses’ high expectations and the increased need to go the extra mile. Because as it stands, customer satisfaction can improve within the commercial insurance world.
In fact, customer satisfaction scores have fallen two years in a row, according to the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Small Commercial Insurance Study.
So, if insurance agents want to turn this trend around and build stronger customer relationships, they need to improve customer service. In this article, we’ll focus on four customer service improvement strategies that agencies can use to better meet customer needs and ultimately provide great customer service.
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Be Extra Courteous
Being courteous may sound obvious, but the reality is that many small business owners feel that their commercial insurance agents are missing the mark when it comes to basic customer service skills.
“Interactions are largely based on soft skills, which are where commercial insurance providers have historically shined. Factors such as ‘courtesy’ saw sharp declines in both agents and call center interactions, according to the [J.D. Power] survey,” explains a PropertyCasualty360 article.
So, across all your customer touchpoints, it’s important to revisit whether you’re doing enough to be polite and show customers you care while meeting customers’ expectations. Keep in mind that customers might be more sensitive during some interactions, such as dealing with claims following a difficult event in their business, so you need to go the extra mile to improve customer service at these times.
That means going beyond saying please and thank you.
Talkdesk, a call center software provider, advises call center agents (not just in insurance) to understand that: “Respect also involves understanding the caller’s needs and making an effort to accommodate them. Agents should attempt to understand the causes of the customer’s problem, realize how their problem affects their behavior, and respond with compassion.”
Make Interactions Easy for Customers
Another way to solve how to improve customer service is to make interactions as easy as possible for customers, whether they’re speaking with a customer service rep, an insurance sales agent or anyone else. The J.D. Power survey finds that nearly one-third of customers say “they had to exert a great deal of effort to interact with their agent.” A year ago, however, only 10% felt the same.
And simply adding digital customer service channels isn’t enough to solve the problem.
“Digital interactions were no less immune, increasing to 34% from 10% year over year,” notes J.D. Power.
Instead, commercial insurance agents need to make sure customers can quickly and easily get the information they need, regardless of the channel they use. Part of figuring out how this can be done may depend on your clients’ specific preferences, but there are some broader changes at play, like a desire for more self-service options.
Providing these options can make insurance-related interactions easier for some customers, while also freeing up agents’ time to handle more complex customer service issues.
“Self-service may be encouraged and supported via an on-demand portal. By allowing customers to freely access and manage their policy and documents, customer service staff can focus on other concerns and issues, including fulfillment of a more ‘support’-type role,” says Katherine Jones, Communications Manager at insurer Coterie, in a guest post for Talage.
Insurance agents can also look into tools like chatbots and live chat software to make interactions easier, but there’s a fine line between helping and annoying customers with these tools. So, one solution could be to provide customers with the option to try to resolve their issue with a chatbot via your website contact page, such as if they’re trying to get in touch with you outside of normal business hours. Depending on your business and customers, that might be perceived as an easier interaction, than, say, using a chatbot for all initial touchpoints.
Be Thoughtfully Proactive
In many cases, insurance agents can also improve customer service by being more proactive, but they need to be thoughtful about how they go about this outreach and what they communicate. The J.D. Power survey finds that proactive outreach can still make a positive impact, but even though more agents are doing so, it’s often too little too late.
So, some potential solutions can include the following:
Make sure you’re proactive with new customers:
While existing customers may feel like you’ve already dropped the ball by not being proactive so far, you can at least start to turn the tide by ensuring you get off to a good start with new customers.
For example, you might proactively cross-sell new customers, such as automatically providing a cyber insurance quote when a customer is signing up for a professional liability policy. Doing so can show new customers that you’re looking out for their needs and can provide convenient coverage options, even if they decide not to go with the additional policy at that time.
Focus on accurate outreach and customer comprehension:
Part of the problem with proactive customer service is that customers don’t necessarily get the right information or might get confused. Nearly half of customers surveyed by J.D. Power who had proactive outreach still report problems and/or billing issues, and this has increased since 2020.
So, insurers need to double-check that any sort of proactive outreach — whether that’s about upcoming renewals, setting up general check-ins, etc. — includes factually correct information, as well as ensuring that customers fully understand what agents communicate. If you’re already going the extra mile to be proactive, it makes sense to also do a little more to make sure this outreach lands well and leads to a happy customer.
Focus on Clarity
Related to the issues above, insurance agents need to focus on clarity to improve customer service. From taking some extra time in order to explain coverage details during onboarding, to double-checking that customers have the right information about their policy renewal options, insurance agents need to make sure customers are clear on whatever the situation may be.
Part of improving clarity also means helping customers understand exactly how they can resolve issues. Inevitably, some customers will run into problems, so you want to make those customer support interactions as smooth as possible. As it stands, however, customers having issues are more likely to use multiple channels to try to get answers than customers who aren’t facing problems, finds J.D. Power. In other words, customers might not know where to turn to or are having trouble getting answers from whatever channel they initially choose.
One way to remedy this issue is to proactively inform clients, such as during onboarding meetings, how they can best get in touch in the event of an issue. Insurance agents can also take steps such as including more information on their websites or social media channels that clearly explain how to do X in the event of Y.
Better Customer Service Is Within Reach
While customer satisfaction levels may be relatively low right now, insurance agents that take these types of steps can improve customer service and deliver a great customer experience in both the short and long term. Using tools like Wheelhouse can also help, as customers can gain access to self-service quoting capabilities, and insurance agents can be more proactive around areas like managing renewals.
In turn, improving customer service can help an insurance agent improve areas like customer retention, customer loyalty and gain benefits like more referrals to potential customers, all of which can lead to growth.