Canadian Underwriter

What brokers can learn about customer service from an airline, a steakhouse and a boot shop

September 25, 2019   by Adam Malik

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CBC broadcaster and ad expert Terry O’Reilly explains the power of customer service at Gore Mutual’s Fast Forward Idea Accelerator in Toronto Sept. 24, 2019.

Eighty percent of CEOs believe they provide great customer service, according to a recent survey from IBM. However, only 8% of customers believed they receive such service.

That disconnect could be killing your brokerage.

“If you’re sitting here right now thinking about your level of customer service, and you’re confident that you think you could not be any better, you are falling into this hole,” said Terry O’Reilly, a lifelong advertising expert and CBC Radio host, at Gore Mutual’s Fast Forward Ideas Accelerator in Toronto Tuesday.

“Smart companies are always, always looking for ways to be better, to figure out another way to add to customer service. Because being customer-obsessed is your opportunity.”

Principals need to enable staff to go “the extra inch” for their clients – and make sure they know their actions will be supported. He calls it going the extra inch, rather than the extra mile, because it really comes down to the little things.

O’Reilly shared a story of when he bought boots at a Toronto retailer. The company offered to apply a winter protector to the boots, but that it would take upwards of half an hour. What to do to during this time?

The retailer gave O’Reilly a voucher for a free coffee and muffin at a coffee shop across the street. This gesture gave O’Reilly the gift of time. He had a chance to not only experience a coffee shop he’d never been to before but enjoy 30 minutes for himself. It left a lasting impression; he is a return customer to both the boot store and coffee shop.

O’Reilly also gave an example of a Southwest Airlines pilot who delayed his plane so that a man rushing to see his dying grandson wouldn’t miss the flight. “There are 100 business reasons why that pilot should not have waited,” O’Reilly explained, noting the domino effect of flight delays. “But that pilot knew his decision to hold the plane would be backed up by management. Because Southwest is a company that strives to put their customers at the heart of everything they do.”

Whether it’s Apple’s Genius Bar, Virgin Airlines’ tone from the top, Zappos customer-first attitude, or Morton’s Steakhouse delivering a porterhouse to a weary traveller at the airport, brokers can learn how small gestures and the right systems can great customer experiences.

“Don’t think of yourself as insurance brokers,” O’Reilly said. “Think of yourself as a service provider. Don’t just aim to deliver efficiency. Aim at establishing and maintaining really great customer relationships.”

Competition in the industry being fierce, brokerage principals need to regularly and honestly evaluate their business’ customer service.

“In other words, you have to constantly check the oil. Never assume you know what all the problems are,” O’Reilly said, adding that the best marketers are the best listeners, asking customers how they feel about the company. “I always wanted to know [what they hated] because, when you’re inside, your nose is always too close to the glass. So your customers will tell you what they dislike.”

Social media can help, O’Reilly pointed out. Looking through your feeds could unfurl opportunities that didn’t exist 15 years ago. It is also important to always monitor your social media, he reminded the audience.

While he gave examples from some of the biggest companies in the world – none of which are from the insurance industry – O’Reilly was hoping to change how brokerages approach the customer experience.

“You have to encourage a customer-centric culture at your company. Because a culture that celebrates customer service is untouchable. Your company culture is a competitive advantage. If your staff is encouraged to use creativity to build customer loyalty, your company will be utterly unique in your category,” O’Reilly added.

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