ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

Re-defining Customer Service - According to The Customer

In the course of our consultancy we occasionally have the opportunity to purchase automation equipment on behalf of our clients. While we often do so through agency management vendors and our own wholesalers and suppliers, we sometimes go right to retail outlets to take advantage of sales.

Recently we needed to purchase a quantity of printers and found that a large retail store had the best pricing through arrangements with the manufacturer. In the course of my visit to purchase this equipment I found that the retailer's concept of Customer Service and the customers concept of service seemed light years apart. It was relatively easy to compare the retailer to insurance agencies to determine whether or not we are making the same critical mistakes that are causing the computer retailers to assume the same reputation as used car dealers in the eyes of their customers.

The retailer was a large store with two categories of employees, salespeople and customer service representatives. The store was busy. There were many customers. Some were seeking advice on entire computer systems. Others were asking questions about single pieces of equipment. Still others were asking about software and how to play computer games. The salespeople on the floor were assigned to helping all of these customers.

The first problem occurred when the salespeople treated with customers according to who approached the salesperson first, not according to the value of the sale involved or the complexity of the question. While customers for complete networks of systems (hardware and software) waited for a salesperson, he was explaining the intricacies of a $50 video game to another customer.

I tried to hail three different salespeople during my first 30 minutes in the store, in each case trying to tell them that all I needed was someone to go into their warehouse area and pull a supply of printers for me. In each case, the salesperson told me that they would be back to me "in a minute" and that they were with a customer already. Obviously, none of the salespeople returned to me because as soon as they were freed, other customers imposed on their time.

The second problem occurred when I approached the Customer Service area and asked for their help. These employees were responsible for the registers and taking returns. They indicated that I would simply have to get a salesperson to go into the warehouse to pull the printers from stock. Then they would be happy to help me.

When I finally found the manager he was embarrassed and apologetic (to the extreme) and assigned a Customer Service employee to get the printers and complete the transaction. He indicated that the parent company had determined that the store's sales were not high enough to justify the number of salespeople hours on the floor and had cut staff.

The result of 1) cutting back salespeople and 2) not directing service staff to supplement the salespeople when customers needed help certainly did not increase new sales. Most of the customers were disgruntled and echoed my feelings that the only reason they were at this store was the discounted pricing. What do you think will happen to this store when the discounts stop or the competition increases their own discounts?

Now let's look at your insurance agency.

1. Do you treat all customers the same? How do you think your big ticket customers feel about that if their issues have to wait?

2. While each type of position in your office has their specialized responsibilities, have you told your staff -- often-- that when a customer needs something, each and every employee of your agency is a CSR.

3. While you may not have hundreds of customers entering your agency each day, the telephone calls result in the same type of workload. How many times are your employees satisfied taking messages for other employees. How many of these calls (= customers) could have been helped without that message and delay being imposed?

4. When your commissions are reduced and your margins decreased, are you more likely to respond by eliminating employees (or not hiring replacements for departed employees)? You may ask the remaining employees to work harder, but what impact does that scenario have on your customers and prospects? Will they have a harder time getting through and getting helped?

The continued success of your business depends on satisfying the customers. Just as cutting sales staff hours is a self-defeating defense in the computer retail business, decreasing service quality and time is similarly self-defeating for insurance agents. Your future success will be measured by getting new clients and building your revenue base, rather than by cutting your expenses to match your reduced income in these difficult times.