A series of articles to familiarize Pipeline readers with the basic principles of TQM and the re-establishment of insurance agencies as entrepreneur and customer oriented.
Part One: A Commitment to Service
Service as we use it is not equivalent to the concept of customer service as used in many insurance agencies. Service is defined as providing customers more and better service than can be provided by your competitors – in terms of proactive, rather than reactive sales and post-sales contacts, comprehensive products offered, effective response to any customer need, and efficient response in terms of getting it right the first time, every time.
If you can be the most proactive insurance professionals for customers and prospective customers; if you can offer the most comprehensive products and competitive pricing; if you can respond quickly and accurately to any customer request — you will be Service Excellence agency.
The theory of Service Excellence is sound and simplistic. The integration of these theories into your current operations, replacing some time-worn methods used by agencies for generations, is much more difficult.
First a few assumptions – if you disagree with them, this series is probably not for you.
1. A competitive advantage based on price is impossible to sustain.
2. Agencies that are perceived as unique enjoy more success and greater financial rewards than agencies that perform similarly to the majority of insurance agencies.
3. No agency can be successful by trying to be all things to all people.
Next, let’s define “Commitment”. We need to do this because too many agents talk “commitment” but don’t act it. A commitment to Service Excellence implies making whatever changes are necessary to react to what the customer feels is important (as opposed to what we think is important for the customer). This type of commitment must come from the top. If the agency owner doesn’t act as if he is committed to Service Excellence, using the terms and re-training the employees is useless. You can not be committed to something as important as Service Excellence and TQM without studying it thoroughly because it may involve changes, some radical, in the way you do business. For the longest time, we, as insurance professionals, have decided what the customers needed and acted accordingly. How many of us have actually polled our customers and asked them what would make them fully satisfied with an insurance agent.
Yes, price will be one of their primary considerations, but not the only one. And, after all, if price was the only consideration, why don’t all customers change insurance companies (and agents) every year to get the best rates? How can some insurance companies (and the agents who represent them) stay in business and thrive when they do not necessarily have the best rates?
In order to achieve Service Excellence through Total Quality Management principals you must reflect your commitment to service in a few distinct ways:
1. Support your staff in any efforts that go “above and beyond the call of duty” to satisfy customers.
2. Focus on the customer base and product lines with which you can stand out as a unique servicing company.
3. Never – Never – Never accept mediocrity in your workforce. You must be the spark plug to create and sustain excellent performance in your employees. Reward excellence visibly and publicly. Criticize mediocrity (privately) and retrain, re-motivate, or replace mediocre employees.
4. Create a book of positive stories and add to it at every opportunity. The positive stories are those that give you bragging rights about how well your staff performs for the customers. Ask for examples of positive stories from every employee on a regular basis. Your asking will show the employees your level of commitment. It will also stress that doing what is required is insufficient for the type of Service Excellence organization that you are building.
Agency Consulting Group, Inc. stands ready to assist you in the development and implementation of TQM and Service Excellence in your organization. Call us to exercise your “commitment” to the process and learn more about these concepts.