When I was growing up, I often helped my parents out with their dry cleaning business. Over the years, I learned a valuable lesson from my father. He would often say that nobody wants to drop off and pick up their clothes — it was merely a chore that needed doing. So, when working the counter, if I were anything but perfectly pleasant and accommodating, I’d be giving them a reason to take their business elsewhere. While he didn’t call it “customer experience,” or have the data to back it up, he knew what he was talking about. Today, customer experience is more important than ever in every industry. And in the insurance industry, the stakes are particularly high.
Customer experience is vital in insurance because the adoption of technology and an increasingly remote workforce are causing significant shifts in the industry. The role humans play in insurance companies must evolve as job responsibilities shift to become focused on customer experience, and less focused on processes that can be automated or handled remotely such as claim inspections.
In this new landscape, insurance customers are increasingly interacting with chatbots and applications instead of real humans. So, where does this leave the people working in insurance? How will technology impact their value? These questions have been discussed at length in enterprise leadership curriculums, during speeches by LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, and by experts at the World Economic Forum Conference in Davos. These experts all agree that the answer lies in leadership and communication skills that enable organizations to prioritize their interactions with their valued customers.
These fundamentals of effective communication have become more imperative than ever and must be cultivated for employees within any industry, but are particularly critical in insurance. At its core, the reason is no different than what my father taught me. Having to speak with your insurance representative is usually an even bigger chore than dropping off your laundry, with much graver consequences. Insurance employees often interact with customers during emergencies or, at the very least, on some of the hardest days of their lives. The false pleasantries of a call center representative reading a script is no longer satisfactory. The key to providing an outstanding customer experience is making sure your team is excellent at the following essential soft skills:
This skill might seem obvious, but it is perhaps the most important one for insurance employees to master, especially with more and more customer interactions happening remotely, rather than face to face. A recent Udemy report found that listening is a crucial component of effective communication. The process of active listening greatly enhances your ability to connect with the other individual and steer the conversation to an effective outcome.
As an active listener, you must be patient and absorb everything the speaker is saying in order to understand their needs or concerns better. Because you are unable to rely on social cues like body language in a remote customer interaction, asking clarifying questions (such as “when you said X, did you mean Y or Z?”), and repeating what someone says back to them will ensure you are on the same page. This practice in reciprocal conversation begins to build an effective rapport.
People don’t typically call their insurance agents for a friendly chat. Rather, they call because they have a problem and are seeking a solution. Maybe their basement flooded, or their house was broken into when they were on vacation. Whatever the case, they want their experience with an insurance agent to be as frictionless as possible.
If the insurance representative doesn’t make an effort to set an empathetic and considerate tone from the start, insurance claims calls can feel rushed and transactional. You can build rapport by expressing empathy, asking thoughtful questions, and being genuine — make your customers feel like they’re talking to an actual human, not a robot.
You need to develop a strong, positive relationship with customers, starting from your first interaction, even though it might be short-lived, so they feel like they are being taken care of, and their claims representative has their back.
You’ve probably heard the adage “the customer is always right,” but how often do you hear, “the customer is only right sometimes?” If you work in insurance, the answer to that question is “every day.” When customers call in with a claim, they often do not fully understand their policies, their coverage, or its limitations. A claims representative has the difficult job of telling the customer why they are wrong.
As a result, strong negotiation skills are vital for maintaining a good relationship with customers while denying their requests or pushing back on their presumptions. In fact, in a recent report, LinkedIn listed persuasion as the second most important soft skill employees can have across all industries. There are many tactful and effective ways to negotiate and persuade someone. Essential communication skills such as anchoring and framing help insurance representatives stand their ground in the face of agitated customers. Continuing to empathize and provide individuals with an option to compromise where possible, while still within company policy, achieves rapid, cost-effective results that ideally leave the customer satisfied.
For decades now, a consistent cadence of continuous learning and improvement has often fallen to the bottom of the priority stack for busy employees and managers. The future of work is not on the horizon, it is right here and now and our workforce is largely underprepared for the shifting ground beneath it. But regardless of the careers people choose or the roles they end up in, one thing will remain true: The ability to communicate effectively with customers and coworkers is vital. It goes well beyond what I learned at my parent’s dry cleaning business — smiling and being pleasant only scratches the surface. In a work landscape that is evolving sometimes by the day, cultivating a deep set of professional skills and leadership management tools will provide a competitive advantage.