“There is only one boss – The Customer. They can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down simply by spending their money somewhere else.”
1. Track and optimize the customer experience
So, how do you know if you’re doing a good job or not? Retention and referrals are the two best indicators of the kind of service you are providing your customers. If you do not track your retention, you’ll have no clue where you stand on keeping customers. For example, 95% retention is great but it would still be fun to try to improve it. 75% retention is bad and you must work hard to improve that. Track and monitor your referrals and have a plan for getting more and more referrals.
In addition to monitoring retention and referrals as indicators for your customer service, you can also ask your customers to give you a score. We have always asked our customers how they heard about us. And, if it’s a referral, we have also asked the name of the person who referred them. In addition, we track that information in our agency management system and believe it’s important to always thank the person who sent us the referral. It’s easy in our agency management system, and probably in most agency management systems, to have automatic direct mail, email, and/or text message sent to our customers and prospects for a variety of reasons. This is a great way to ask the customer’s opinions of your service. When new customers get an automated email from your agency saying “Thank you for becoming a customer,” that’s a great time to not only tell them about the other services you offer but to ask them for referrals. It’s also an excellent time to ask them to score their experience buying insurance from you. If you track the score, it will not take long for you to determine your average score. Once you know your average score, you can start making changes and monitor the score to make sure the changes you are making are working. You can do the same thing for renewing customers as a part of your retention plan. Use automated emails, direct mail, and/or text messages to your current customers to notify them of upcoming renewals, payments due, etc. and include a customer survey from time to time asking how you are doing.
2. Net Promoter Score (NPS)
I have been reading a lot over the last few years about the Net Promoter Score or NPS. I have not used it in the past but have plans to implement it into Jenesis soon. Here is my view of how it works.
You send an email to your existing clients asking them one simple question. That question is, “How likely are you to recommend us to others?” Ask them to respond on a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 being very unlikely and 10 being very likely. If they respond with a 9 or 10, you should note that in your software to know who those people are. You should also thank them and ask if they would be willing to give you an online review on any of the sites that might help you. Give them the links to the sites and remind them they can copy and paste from one to the other to make it easy for them.
If they respond with a 1-6, email them back or call them if possible, and ask what you could do to improve the experience they are having with you. For this part, take it seriously and do all you can to make needed changes.
The 1-6 group is called detractors, the 7 and 8’s are called passives, and the 9 and 10’s are called promoters.
To calculate your NPS, subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. For example, if 40% of those who respond are promotors and 20% are detractors, you will subtract 20 from 40 to get a NPS of 20.
Once you have your score, don’t spend too much time worrying about what your NPS score “should” be or how it should be compared to your competitors. Get to work to improve your score and don’t waste your time with others except to learn what they might be doing better than you.
3. Use automation to improve the customer experience
You should have systems in place to automatically send texts, emails, and/or direct mail, strategically to prospects you have quoted but not yet written, new customers, those who have sent you a referral, customers who have left you, and the list goes on. Invest the time to put these processes in place; then, move on to working on other things while this happens every day automatically.
Do anything that may improve the customer experience. You should accept credit cards and checks over the phone, rather than requiring a customer to come in. You should also offer an electronic signature option. Accepting credit cards, checks by phone and offering an electronic signature option for your customers allows them to do business with you without the inconvenience of being forced to come to your office.
You should also suggest ACH payments to all customers. From the standpoint of retention and convenience for both you and the customer, having their payments drafted from their account automatically by the carrier is a win-win-win.
Make sure you have a chat option on your website and make sure your sales team is available to engage with customers and prospects. This is growing in popularity as are chatbots, and I am excited to see where this goes in the future.
4. Answer the phones always and quickly
I have spent a lot of time at many insurance agencies. I have had the privilege to watch and learn from some of the best. Agencies who have the largest teams and who serve the most customers always answer incoming calls and do not let them go to voicemail. They also answer them quickly and with a standard phrase. They never say “hold please” and put the caller on hold but they get their permission to put them on hold. They are pleasant to the caller even before they know if it’s a customer, prospect, or telemarketer. Now, you may say that’s easy for an agency with a large team. What about those agencies with just two or three staff members or a one-person startup? I agree that a smaller staff may present a challenge if you are with a customer and a call comes in. My point is to work hard to answer the phone quickly and in a way that makes the caller happy to be speaking with you. I have been in agencies when the phone rang, the staff continued their personal conversations with each other and let the phone ring several times while they finished talking about something that could have waited. This makes me cringe. One thing I want to add about talking on the phone is to always smile. A smiling person sounds like a happy person. I was wrong—I have one more thing while we are talking about phone customer service. Did you see how I did that? I admitted when I was wrong. If you are wrong, admit it. Another huge communication trick is knowing that the tone of your voice is more important than the words you choose. If you smile, that will help. Give thought to your tone and energy. Something simple like, “I will do what I can to help you” said without energy is so different than, “I will do what I can to help you” with energy. Try it now. Consider a few changes like, “I will do what I ‘can’ to help you,” where you emphasize the ‘can’ may sound negative, whereas “I ‘will’ do what I can to help you,” where you emphasize the ‘will’ may sound like you are going to bat for the customer.
5. Return calls and emails
There will be times when you don’t return a phone call or email as quickly as you should or even don’t do it at all. The reasons for this are normally because you dread it for some reason, you are just too busy, you don’t feel it’s important, you completely forget, or you never got the message, voice mail or email because of human or technical error.
You will become known as someone who is dependable and returns calls and emails, or you will become known as someone who is unreliable and doesn’t respond. I recommend you work hard to become the first.
One trick to help with this is to answer calls when they come in rather than letting them go to voicemail. Listening to them later takes time, as does returning the call. When you return that call, you may or may not connect with the person and you may enter a game of time-wasting phone tag. In my experience, I am glad I answered the call the first time rather than letting it go to voicemail. The only potential advantage of letting a call go to voicemail is that you can listen to the message at your leisure and have time to prepare to return the call if research may be in order. If you know who the caller is, I recommend answering the call.
One major rule here is to always return calls and emails on the same day unless the call or email came in after normal business hours. One way to make sure you do this is to schedule a few minutes at the end of each day to review any outstanding calls or emails from the day. If you are not going to be able to return a call on the same day, at least send an email to let them know you received their message and that you will call them by [give a specific time of day] the next day. Then, make sure you do what you said you would do. It’s even better if you give them a quick call, even if it’s after normal business hours. If you don’t get them but get their voicemail, they may be impressed that you called after hours. Just let them know it was important to you to return their call and you are sorry you missed them. Tell them you will call again tomorrow. Don’t put the burden on them to call you back, but let them know you plan to call them again and when they can expect your call. The same is true for returning emails. If you were not able to reply to an email quickly during the day because you were busy or traveling, taking a few minutes at the end of the day or in the evening to reply will show that you care enough about the person to be thinking about them after the workday has ended.