Everything I know about customer service I learned from…
My mom has an inspiring story. As a single mother, she raised two children, worked full time and put herself through college. But more than her accomplishments, it’s her advice that sticks with me. Growing up, she had three rules:
- Treat others how you want to be treated
- Always challenge yourself to be better
- Take ownership of anything you are doing
When I started my career, I found that following these principles didn’t just make me a more agreeable colleague, they also made me more productive and effective. These rules helped me create teams and solve problems. And they guided me tremendously in the past year, as we built our service operations at Berkley One.
I have the privilege of leading Berkley One’s service delivery functions. These include billing, print and postage, digital service and the service center operation (where all of the magic happens). I came here with almost 20 years of experience in the insurance industry, and the majority of those years have been spent in different roles which were all in support of delivering the customer experience.
As the world has changed, I have lived through a shift in how consumers interact with companies that has driven a rise in consumer expectations. I’ve found, interestingly, that the companies that have succeeded are those that have closely followed these same three principles. At Berkley One, we made them cornerstones of our service operation.
Look for people who want to help others
Creating a team with the right people was a key guiding principle for our development from day one. We focused, most importantly, on selecting people who had an innate desire to serve others. It’s my belief that you can teach people technical skills (in this case, insurance knowledge). What you cannot teach is a desire to help others.
In a world where products, including insurance, are increasingly commoditized, successful companies deliver an experience. At Berkley One, we care a lot about the experience that our clients and agents have each time they pick up the phone, send an email, or click-to-chat with us. We believe, strongly, that our experience differentiates us.
With our team built around people that are innately wired with the desire to serve others, we are able to connect with our agents and clients in a meaningful way. And we can help them.
Make it a journey, not an event
Another foundational component for us was a continuous improvement mindset. Being a startup comes with inherent challenges including, ambiguity, a learning curve for things we are learning to do for the first time, and the fact that we are building many things from scratch. Your organization might have similar challenges, or different ones.
For us, these realities drive the need for us to look continually at what we are doing and how we are doing it. They allow us to see gaps, and provide feedback on how we can improve the processes and systems that drive the overall experience.
I will tell you that this isn’t an event, but a journey that, for our team, will never end. In fact, we don’t want it to end. The only constant is change. There will always be new and better things that enable us to improve the experience for our agents and clients.
So, we are creating a service operation that is great at iterating. We have created internal processes to support the ownership of continuous improvement, and tied these processes to performance objectives for our team members. In a short period, we have collected numerous opportunities to optimize, which have enabled us to not only improve the end experience, but also given us the ability for all team members to contribute directly to our success.
You create an experience. Own it.
Lastly, and most importantly from my perspective, we are building a culture of accountability.
Douglas Hanna, CEO of A Small Orange, a web-hosting company that is also focused on customer service, shares the following view: “Accountability in customer service is our ability to account for our business actions and decisions. It is our willingness to show our customers that we really do care about them, and carry with this an unspoken pledge to respond to a customer’s request for information or help.”1
When I reflect back on the experiences in my career that drove the best results for customers, accountability bubbles to the top. And while it’s easy to own your successes, accountability also means owning your mistakes.
Every organization makes mistakes. It’s how you respond to these situations that defines the delivery of your experience. When you take ownership of an issue, apologize and execute strong service recovery, customers are more apt to understand that mistakes happen.
By no means am I saying that this be your sole philosophy. In each case, it’s important to look at what happened, and then provide coaching or adjust processes to minimize the chance of a similar situation happening in the future. This is another important part of ownership.
When everyone takes ownership, we can create a culture that isn’t fearful to make independent decisions. We can also create an environment where team members can and do surface mistakes, so that we can learn from them as a team and bring solutions to prevent them in the future.
For a minute, reflect on your experience with companies you interact with often and ask yourself these few questions. Have you ever experienced a breakdown in service? (In my mind, almost everyone reading this article should say yes.) What happened next? Did the company or person take ownership of the situation? If so, how did it make you feel? If not, how did that make you feel? In my experience (and maybe yours, too), ownership can make a tremendous difference in how the interaction went, and in the outcome.
What happens next
In our day-to-day service interactions, we are all navigating IVR’s (interactive voice response, or the automated system that gives you a menu of options when you contact many companies today). Often, we find ourselves jumping through hoops, pressing zero-zero-zero to try speak to a human, only to connect with someone on the other line that is reading from a script and unwilling to really listen to solve our problem.
At Berkley One, it’s not about getting to the next interaction, it’s about making a meaningful connection, listening intently and solving the concern.
We’re hearing from our clients and agent partners that this is making a difference. Recently, one of our producers in Colorado said they could not believe how quickly one of the Berkley One PriorityOneSM service team members called him back and how incredibly helpful the experience was. “There is not another carrier with a service team that helps and responds the way Berkley One does,” she raved. Another agent similarly shared that in fielding numerous questions, the PriorityOneSM team members they worked were extremely friendly, professional and courteous.
This is proof that by focusing on the right components, people, innovation and accountability, you can deliver a differentiated, unique experience to those you serve. Following Mom’s rules helps, too.
Kevin Worrell is Vice President, Customer Service Delivery at Berkley One (a Berkley Company).