Recently, I watched a video by Kelly Donahue-Piro that discussed how agents’ fears about clients’ responses to rate changes can influence the way they handle the policy renewal process. She pointed out that most clients don’t offer negative feedback. Those who do make a fuss loom large in our memories, though. That prompted me to ask myself, How often do we allow a few “difficult clients” to determine how we deal with our customers in general?
Of course, every customer deserves a respectful hearing of their concerns or complaints. It’s one of the key steps in handling an unhappy client. What we learn from investigating undesirable outcomes can be critical to our ongoing performance improvement. It only becomes problematic when we allow such outcomes to have an overwhelming impact on our operational design choices. After all, if we’re making money and clients aren’t leaving, we’re probably doing things right most of the time!
So what can we do to keep a sense of perspective when it comes to customer feedback? Start with these three strategies.
Look for Trends, Not One-Offs
When a mistake, unrealistic expectations, or just a clash of personalities occurs, it can provoke a strong response both from the client involved and within our service teams. This is especially true if the event has serious repercussions: a sizeable fine or other regulatory action, a missed business opportunity, the loss of a valued customer, etc. Millennia of human evolution have wired our brains to focus on such “existential” threats in order to avoid them in the future if at all possible. But a single event – no matter how serious – shouldn’t cause us to discard or revamp an entire process.
A robust quality assurance program should not only analyze the specific incident to determine the factors that led to a particular outcome, it should also collect data about similar events over time. Analyze this information to answer the following questions:
- Is this a recurring problem or a genuine one-off?
- Do the factors that led to this situation also contribute to other unwanted outcomes?
- Is the unwanted outcome happening with increasing frequency?
- Is the impact on customers and/or the business becoming more severe? (Note that this can include cumulative damage as well as the fallout from any single occurrence.)
Once a trend emerges from this thoughtful consideration, then it’s time to look at modifying processes. The time spent collecting and analyzing data also provides a window for emotional reactions to subside.
Study Your Wins as Well as Your Losses
When something goes wrong, it’s logical to take steps to figure out what happened and to take corrective action. That’s necessary, obviously; but don’t overlook the importance of analyzing positive outcomes as well as negative ones. It’s easy to take our successes for granted. (For one thing, there’s often not a lot of customer feedback about them.) But when we do, we miss a huge opportunity for learning and growth.
Studying our wins has a number of benefits. First, it enables us to identify the factors that lead to the outcomes we desire. A surprising number of businesses have a very clear idea of what they want to happen, but little understanding of how they achieve that result. Don’t be one of them!
Second, focusing on what we do right encourages those same behaviors in the future. In fact, there’s an entire theory of management, Ken Blanchard’s Whale Done, based on exactly this type of positive reinforcement. Furthermore, sharing information about our successes improves employee morale and builds customers’ trust.
Finally, having data on our wins as well as our losses provides a sense of perspective as we assess how our teams and businesses are doing. We can see the ratio of positive to negative outcomes. It helps us avoid falling victim to the law of small numbers as we make design decisions.
Streamline Your Processes
An overcomplicated process – one with lots of “exceptions to the rule” – is often the sign of over-emphasis on negative outcomes in the past. A process is tweaked each time something goes wrong in hopes of preventing a recurrence. Over time, however, these modifications accrete into an unwieldy workflow that can actually cause more issues than it prevents.
Insurance is, obviously, a complex and highly regulated industry. That doesn’t have to result in convoluted processes, though. Adopt the KISS (keep it simple, silly) approach where feasible. For example, if you have two types of customers that need to be handled in slightly different ways, don’t try to force them into a single process. Instead, create two parallel processes. The team handling each then can develop deep expertise in their approach. Cross-training and regular communication can ensure that both teams stay up to date on steps they share and help them learn from one another’s experiences.
It’s Not Just for Upset Clients, Either
Lastly, don’t forget that these strategies for responding productively to feedback can apply to our internal as well as external customers. While having a shared goal with these individuals can promote cooperating and encourage constructive criticism, the intimacy of the relationship can lead to more interpersonal conflicts. As insurance businesses increasingly turn to outsourcing and strategic partnerships to strengthen or diversify our services, these relationships become increasingly important to our overall success. Give them the same TLC, and watch the positive feedback roll in!