It all starts with you: Create powerful, enduring customer connections

August 7, 2023

Typically, any service provider’s emotional state influences the outcome of that service interaction. Ensuring emotionally positive points of connection are among the best predictors of customer loyalty. Have you considered your insureds’ criteria to evaluate positive service interactions with your agency? Insureds and potential clients will assess your agency’s service in five key areas. How does your organization stack up?

What are the five key areas?

Reliability. Can people depend on your agency or call centers to resolve service issues accurately and dependably? Whether the callers are insureds or people representing carriers shouldn’t matter.

Assurance. Do your producers, customer service representatives, underwriters, and leaders convey confidence and profound knowledge about your policies? How much do your insureds and industry partners trust all your agency’s service providers?

Environment/technology. This deals specifically with the comfort and ease of interacting. It spans everything from conveying an appropriate physical office appearance and employee dress within an agency’s location, to how easily and elegantly an insured can interact with your virtual presence and portal. At the human level, are employees smiling appropriately, warm, genuinely open, and using easy-to-understand language?

While talking with clients over the phone, a smile, tone of voice, and the ability to listen intently can encourage positive interactions.

When interacting using virtual technology, your smile, body language, and tone of voice still are important. Here are other essential factors to consider.

  • Technology is only great when it works, so test it often.
  • Do you have a professional backdrop that lessens distractions for all?
  • Does your lighting and mic setup provide the best visual appearance and sound clarity? You want your virtual interaction to be as professional as if the exchange was happening face-to-face in your office.

Empathy. This vital skill demonstrates that a service provider cares.

Responsiveness. This involves providing prompt, timely service and measuring the effectiveness of the agency and the individuals to help customers.

Understand points of connection

A point of connection occurs every time someone encounters anyone or anything that is related to your insurance agency.

These points could include, but are not limited to, the mental effort and time needed to:

  • schedule an appointment with a producer,
  • find a parking space or enter a well-lit, safe parking lot,
  • locate the best entrance to your building or your office suite,
  • log onto the web portal or app,
  • wait for an answer or response,
  • deal with any negative attitudes or disappointing news from the staff, etc.

As you see, the list of points of connection goes on and on.

Every person decides whether the experience is positive or negative at each connection point. Each interaction will influence the overall impression of that customer’s experience. Of course, some connections may impact customers more substantially than others. A rude receptionist could be a more critical point of connection for an individual customer than not receiving a typical follow-up call.

A great exercise is to identify all the points of connection throughout your service cycle. An even better practice is to identify each one, then decide what the needed standard-of-service should be to exceed your customers’ expectations. Exceeding clients’ expectations can create a loyal customer base for your agency.

Connection starts with you

Connecting with the insured or client depends, first and foremost, on every individual service provider. It starts with emotional self-awareness. Each service provider must set the tone. Use your smile, sincere eyes, and warm and open body language to establish the right atmosphere for a great experience. The energy and passion in your voice also can make a positive difference. Research shows that people feel service providers need to realize how much their tone of voice impacts the experience.

Make sure you are sending the appropriate nonverbal messages. Behaviors and body language that express the things your customers’ value include:

  • smiling genuinely (recognizing that a smile is heard, as well as seen),
  • using and pronouncing their name correctly,
  • taking a genuine interest,
  • listening carefully,
  • keeping promises and commitments,
  • saying thank you, and
  • putting their needs ahead of your own.
  • Examples of nonvaluing behaviors include:
  • exhibiting an intimidating stare (whether intended or not),
  • ignoring them (seemingly),
  • demonstrating indifference,
  • sighing in disagreement,
  • rolling your eyes when they ask a question,
  • fidgeting,
  • breaking promises,
  • avoiding commitments, and
  • focusing on your agenda versus theirs.

The same techniques apply in organizations that typically deal with customers via the phone. A smile will be evident in your voice and your tone. By taking an interest through careful listening and choosing the questions you ask, you create opportunities to connect personally.

On the flip side, your insureds or clients also will be able to hear distractions in a phone call, and they will pick up on the cues if you are not paying attention, trying to multitask—or worse, only feigning interest. Whether you communicate with a customer in person, virtually, or via the phone, your customer can detect all your nonvaluing behaviors.

Reading a person’s body language can tell a lot about his or her feelings. Walking briskly and erectly usually means they are confident. What is being communicated when people are talking to you, but their hands are on their hips? Typically, this means that they are in a state of readiness or aggression, creating the illusion that they are ready to spring on you. In these cases, you must move swiftly to lighten the situation or try to reframe the subject. If natural to you, interjecting humor can have an excellent relaxing effect.

Another critical key to reading nonverbal communication is interpreting what the hands and lips tell us. Reading hands and lips gives us more information about that person than any other nonverbal cue. Hands are said to be our most expressive body parts.

Do you look at customers’ hand gestures as a distraction, or do you read what those hands tell you? What are they saying if those hands are fidgeting, pointing, and waving frantically? Fidgeting would mean nervousness, pointing might be arrogance or impatience, and frantically waving could be anger
or excitement.

Lips give more subtle cues about inner feelings and moods compared to the hands. How about the customers whose lips are tense? Typically, that means they are concerned about something or anxious about their interaction with you. When people are biting their lips, you should focus on removing the tension and bringing the conversation to a more comfortable level for them.

Connecting with the customer can be enhanced by maintaining eye contact. Eye contact arouses strong emotions and connections to that person. Frequently looking away from the customer may indicate a lack of interest on your part or that you have just told the customer something untrue. Customers may be feeling shy or embarrassed whenever they look away from you. Maintaining eye contact reflects your sincere effort to help. If your customer maintains eye contact, it is typically a sign that he or she is accepting and beginning to trust you. Note that different cultures and ethnicities process eye contact differently, so if you work with a diverse client base, seek to understand the cultural uniqueness related to eye contact.

The two most straightforward emotions to read are anger and happiness. Anger is telegraphed by a tensing of the jaw, glaring, palms facing down, or angry noises that may sound like a growl or a grunt. Anger may have nothing to do with you. It may be from a bad day, an unrelated argument, or a delay waiting for someone to help them. Your reaction to them should be an open body position, a smile, and an attitude that communicates, “I am going to do my best to make this a positive experience for you.” While a happy customer is the easiest to deal with, always focus on the customer no matter what emotions he or she brings to the interaction.

Manage stress and impulses

Excellent producers, CSRs, underwriters, and leaders are in tune with the people they deal with through awareness, empathy, and emotional intelligence. They are proficient at handling conflicts and they can maintain positive attitudes while working. However, a continual barrage of negative customer interactions can be a reality within the role of a service provider, and they can cause what is commonly called emotional labor.

Arlie Hochschild, author of The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, defines emotional labor as displaying emotions that differ from those the service provider is feeling currently. Based on this definition, people in customer-facing jobs who must act differently than they are feeling can experience high doses of emotional labor, which can cause stress, fatigue, and diminished impulse control (i.e., short tempers).

Many emotions will fuel clients’ and insureds’ interactions. Producers, CSRs, and underwriters may deal with a higher stress level, no matter what policies they provide and discuss. Stress is a physical reaction when struggling with any harmful or threatening situation. Due to the direct connection between any service provider’s role and stressful situations, understanding, managing, and reducing stress becomes an important skill to master.

People under stress tend to be more on edge and may erupt quickly and violently, increasing their conflicts with people. Extreme stress saps everyone’s energy because our bodies are functioning in emergency mode. Reducing stress can have many health benefits and make life more enjoyable and rewarding.

Stress management

Stress management is your ability to deal effectively with adverse events and stressful situations without falling apart. Build or increase your stress tolerance by staying calm. Embracing a positive outlook on new experiences and change is beneficial. People who excel at stress management tend to face crises and problems head-on with a positive attitude rather than surrendering to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and self-doubt.

Understand where the stress comes from or what events activate the stressful feelings. Then ask, “What can I do to reduce or eliminate stress?”

CSRs may be dealing with some stress at any time but deciding to manage and reduce that stress whenever possible is crucial. Help yourself become happier, healthier, and more productive.

Effective impulse control is your ability to resist or delay an unconscious reaction, impulse, drive, or temptation to act. The lack of impulse control is closely associated with poor stress management. It is usually identified by impatience, anger, or both—making people uptight and anxious. Controlling your impulses means deepening your use of emotional intelligence, which entails building your capacity for accepting aggressive impulses, remaining composed, and controlling aggression, hostility, and irresponsible behavior.

With all these elements in mind, you can better provide services for your insureds, clients, and fellow employees. As an added bonus, it also may strengthen your relationships with your family members and friends.

This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of PIA Magazine.

Tammy Kohl & Doug Brown
Trusted Advisors Network & Paradigm Associates LLC

Tammy Kohl is a partner in Trusted Advisors Network. Reach her at (484) 507-9641. For more information, visit www.trustedadvisorsnetworkllc.com. Doug Brown is chairman/CEO of Paradigm Associates LLC. Paradigm Associates can add value to your business through strategic, executive, and sales development processes, whether you are on the insurance industry’s agency or carrier side. Visit Paradigm Associates on the web, www.paradigmassociates.us, or call (908) 276-4547.

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