Providing good customer service

It’s a rare company that can thrive despite its reputation for bad customer service. To be sure, such companies exist, but they’re not common.

Perhaps the company offers a product most consumers simply can’t live without, or the organization is practically a monopoly in a market where people have few choices. Or, maybe the company’s product is so integral to how we work and live that consumers couldn’t avoid it if they tried. (We see you Google!)

Alas, insurance providers generally don’t fall into this category. Instead, good customer service is a differentiator between your team and every other team selling what you sell.

But take heart! In a real sense this is good news. Developing quality customer service is within your control, and the rewards are high.

So here’s the $64,000 question: how do you know if your customer service is good?

Your Customers Say So
Customer praise, whether private or public, is an indication your customer service is good. Notice that you’re not looking for the occasional positive comment, although that’s nice. You’ll know you’re on to something when you’re getting regular positive feedback via multiple channels (e.g., snail mail, email, social media, client surveys) from various delighted customers.

Your Customers Recommend You 

It’s one thing for a customer to do business with you herself but another for her to recommend your product or service to someone else. A recommendation is a huge vote of confidence and ought to be regarded as such. When we recommend a product or service, we show our willingness to be held accountable for our opinion. Most people won’t do that unless they’re supremely secure in the quality of that good or service.

Your Customers Stick With You

Repeat business is a big way customers say “well done!” There’s no shortage of insurance agents and no reason for any client to give you his business unless you do your job well.

So when the competition is high, but your customers are loyal, most likely you’re giving them what they want and need (i.e., good customer service). 

Customer Complaints Rarely Reach the Executive Level (Or Heaven Forbid, Go Viral)

You know your customer service is good when complaints (and every company has its share of customer complaints) rarely reach the executive level. Most likely, that’s because your team is skilled and adept at resolving conflict before it gets out of hand. Consider this: when your customer service is good, problems solving almost looks easy!

Your CSRs Are Happy

Is a happy employee a guarantee of high performance that positively affects the bottom line? Probably not. As the author of “Employee Happiness Isn’t Enough to Satisfy Customers” put it, employers must “engage employees by giving them both reasons and ways to please customers; then acknowledge and reward appropriate behavior.”

Even so, it’s hard to image that deeply unhappy employees who blame the company for their grim attitudes are treating customers well. Putting aside any intentional malice, these employees most likely don’t possess the zeal necessary to interact with customers in a friendly and solution-oriented manner.

Truth is, we’ve all encountered the robotic, noticeably-lacking-in-enthusiasm CSR who didn’t seem to care whether we ended the encounter satisfied, unsatisfied, or even angry. Happy employees plugged into the company mission have a totally different attitude, and it shows in the way they address customers and their concerns.

Your Customers Are Engaged

Do customers respond to your survey invitations? What about your email or text messages? Are they commenting on your blog? Do they return phone calls? If the answer is mostly yes, your customer outreach is working, and you have the satisfied customers to prove it.

Your Customers Don’t Begrudge You Making a Living

Insurance can be expensive, and most customers are aware that part of the cost goes to pay the services of insurance agents. However, when customers like the job you’re doing, they’re okay with that. Everyone has to make a living, so why shouldn’t you? Plus, you’re serving their needs so you’re worth every penny.

Last Words … 

Recognizing what good customer service looks like, or even what it can sow (that is, increased business) is not the same as recognizing how to deliver it. Here, then, are a few tips for creating a work environment that encourages good customer service:

  • Hire the right people for the job. Behavioral assessments help employers identify individuals with the traits needed to get the job done.
  • Set clear expectations. When employees know what’s expected, they’re in a much better position to perform satisfactorily.
  • Invest in quality employee education. Continuing education is a must. When employees are growing personally and professionally, they’re more connected to the business and its customers.
  • Treat employees well. What do high performers really want in a job? It’s not a mystery, and a gazillion surveys have already provided the answer to employers with ears to hear. We’re talking good pay and benefits, work/life balance, opportunities for advancement, a chance to impact the business, and a sense that their bosses care about them as people. Anyone who’s getting all that in a job won’t be going anywhere anytime soon and will take pride in doing the best job possible.
  • Develop policies that provide as much responsibility as your employees can handle. Intelligent policies that actually allow for decision-making and problem solving will be welcomed by your team and your customers. On the other hand, policies that tie the hands of employees and prevent them from making customers happy are challenging all the way around.

Even companies that can afford bad customer service don’t want it. However, it’s not enough to merely think your customer service is good. Knowing is so much better.



2016 Human Resource Blunders

Everybody makes mistakes, and HR is no exception. As 2016 comes to a close (and what the year it was!), it’s always good to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and where the new year might be headed.

If you’re an HR professional, manage HR professionals, or are somehow responsible for overseeing traditional HR functions in your organization, we invite you to begin that process now, by focusing on these top HR blunders (and how to correct them).

Let’s get started!

Blunder #1 — Mindlessly repeating the company party line. As a company agent, HR has a duty to represent the company and support its policies without hesitation. This duty most especially applies to policies HR doesn’t like. That said, when employees bring issues or concerns to HR, it’s a mistake to do anything but listen while responding with the highest level of integrity. Employees appreciate being dealt with honestly and fairly. Being too careful to the point of refuting the obvious and unpleasant truth (e.g., XYZ policy isn’t being enforced fairly, XYZ manager demonstrates bullying tactics) will only result in lost credibility for HR and a missed opportunity to nip a troubling situation in the bud. 

Blunder #2 – Not keeping confidences. Naturally, HR should never blab private employee information to anyone without a need to know, but sometimes HR forgets that those who don’t need to know are in management. Employees need a safe place to vent and strategize. If HR can’t give them that, HR will never gain employees’ trust or the chance to de-escalate sensitive situations before they get out of hand. (See Blunder #1.) 

Blunder #3 – Not keeping up with what’s new. Anyone who works in HR knows that compliance is a big part of the job. New laws are passed, and old laws pass away. Keeping up is a job in itself, but that’s not the half of it. HR professionals also have to stay on top of trends in learning, motivation, engagement, recruiting, technology, and so on. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day, but staying out of the know deprives you of a more robust career and your employer of information that could make your workplace smarter, happier, and healthier.

Blunder #4 – Not trying anything new. HR is a great profession because it’s deep, it’s wide, and there’s always a puzzle to solve. If your old solutions aren’t working, try something new even (or maybe especially) if that means going outside your comfort zone. Having a hard time finding top talent? Try enhancing your recruiting process with a an employee behavioral assessment or two. Ditto if your teams are producing more conflict or less creative ideas. Learning better who people are, and deliberately managing to those strengths, is smart leadership. 

Blunder #5 – Not keeping your ear to the ground. You can’t know what’s good for your company if you don’t know your company. Refusing to work in a silo—by making a concerted effort to get out and about—is the best way to gain the needed knowledge. Take the time to chat with folks and find out what makes them smile, what drives them crazy, and why they work for your company and not somewhere else, and then use that information to develop intelligent policies and practices that add value. 

Blunder #6 – Not focusing on what HR does best. It’s essential that HR understand the business, but HR are the people people, and there’s no shame in it. No serious leader could fail to grasp the importance of solid people practices to the health and longevity of the company. So, quit making excuses for how you see the world. Empathy, emotional intelligence, and caring for something other than the bottom line aren’t character flaws. Savvy employers understand there’s room at the table for multiple viewpoints and that you can never take the human out of “human resources” without significant cost. 

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year!

When Your Employee Drive You Crazy

When Your Employee Drive You Crazy

Now and then, the employees you manage drive you crazy. In most cases the feeling is fleeting.

But not always. We’re all different, and at times those differences can be a bit too much to bear. What can you do when someone on your team regularly gives you a case of the grouchies?

First Things First: Take a Step Back

What is your job as a manager? It’s a simple question but one you’ll need to keep front and center as you find yourself becoming frustrated with your employee. Frustration has a way of causing us to think less than rationally and act less than fairly, and you can’t afford that. You have a job to do, regardless of how you feel about a particular employee. Your job is to get work done through the individual. Your job is to coach, counsel, and mentor your employees. Your job is to develop their gifts for the good of the organization. You can’t do all that if you’re focused on your negative feelings instead of your responsibility as a manager and leader.

Okay, So Now What?

Granted, putting your annoyed feelings aside may be easier said than done. How do you keep yourself on track?

After you’ve reminded yourself of your duties as a manager (and this will have to become a habit; the first reminder probably won’t be enough if your employee is truly challenging), be prepared to continue with the cognitive therapy, because let’s face it: changing your attitude about this employee is your best chance of reducing your stress where he/she is concerned.

Here’s a few truisms to keep top of mind whenever you find yourself getting exasperated with your “problem child” employee:

  • Your employee isn’t you. No, seriously. If you’ve ever hired someone who had a similar work ethic, work style, and worldview as you, you know how great it feels and how rare it is. Mostly, your employees won’t be you, and that’s generally a good thing. Diversity teams are most productive. So ask yourself: is your employee driving you crazy because of a legitimate performance deficiency, or is he/she simply being him- or herself when you’d rather he/she act more like you?
  • Your employee isn’t paid to think like you. Yes, I know it’s popular to take the position that a good employee will behave as though he’s as invested as the boss, but come on. Unless your employee’s position comes with the pay, perks, and autonomy of your position, he/she shouldn’t be expected to act as if it does.
  • As the manager, you set the standard. On the other hand, you have every right to expect an employee to work to a reasonable standard. If your employee makes you nuts because his/her work is not to standard, well, perhaps you’ve been a little lax in enforcing said standard? It doesn’t take much laxity for some employees to get the idea that certain unacceptable behaviors are, in fact, acceptable. Before you get annoyed with an employee who’s not getting the job done, be sure you’ve clearly communicated your expectations about how it should be done.
  • Realize you don’t have to like an employee to work well with him or her. You may truly dislike your employee’s personality, but if he/she has the traits for the job; interacts with you, other leaders, and his/her peers respectfully; and gets work completed to your satisfaction, that’s about all you can ask for. Let the rest go. 

We spend a lot of time at work, and it’s only natural to want to like everyone there. That’s probably not realistic, though. It’s also not realistic (or efficient or particularly good leadership) to fire everyone who makes you a little crazy, even if you have the authority to do so. Instead, figuring out how to manage your time with him or her is in everyone’s best interest.

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Re-engaging the Dis-engaged EmployeeAll the surveys prove it—more than two thirds of Americans would rather be working somewhere else. Worldwide, the problem is even worse. A 2013 Gallup poll found that internationally only 13% of workers are engaged.

What Causes Disengagement?

Many articles have been written about the causes of disengagement, but most experts agree that employee feelings of under- or unappreciation are a major factor. Whether the feelings stem from dissatisfaction about pay, work tasks, level of authority, work environment, or something else, once they’ve taken hold, reduced enthusiasm for the job follows.

Unfortunately, many employers don’t notice the warning signs of disengagement or think employee happiness is a nonissue. So long as people seem to be doing the work, that’s all that matters, right? Um … wrong. When an employee begins to lose interest in the job, nothing but a pointed intervention can stop the employee’s attitude from going from bad to worse.

Getting the Disengaged Back on Track

 All the surveys can’t be wrong. Chances are, you’ve got a disengaged employee or three in your camp. How can you get these folks back on track? Doing nothing is a mistake. Disengaged employees are less productive, less creative, and more prone to absences and accidents. Follow the tips below to minimize the potential disruption.

#1. Know the signs.

As mentioned earlier, employers don’t always recognize a disengaged employee when they see one. However, early intervention can’t happen unless the problem is caught early. Warning signs of disengagement include:

  • Decreased participation. Disengaged employees will shy away from offering opinions about what’s working and what isn’t, because they’ve stopped believing their ideas make a difference, or they’ve stopped caring, period.
  • Increased absenteeism. Disengaged employees want to be somewhere else and take whatever opportunity they can to be somewhere else.
  • Increased late arrivals and early departures. Ah, those pesky but necessary job interviews! Disengaged employees have to fit them in somewhere.

Again, these signs reveal themselves in the early stages of disengagement, before the employee has moved from antsy to deeply disgruntled. More severe signs include a notable number of missed deadlines, increased mistakes, and decreased cooperation.

#2. Face the issue squarely.

Don’t hesitate to approach the disengaged employee for a frank discussion. The goal here is not to criticize but to express concern. For example, you may say that you’ve noticed the employee seems a little distracted lately, and you’re wondering if there’s anything you can do? The employee will either deny or confirm your observation, but regardless you’ve opened the door for conversation. If you’ve timed this correctly, and the employee is in the beginning stages of discontent, you’ll have an excellent chance of turning things around by proving you care.

#3. Recognize that disengagement is an emotional process.

People disengage from work because of how they feel about their job tasks, their workplace, or their employer. If you’re not prepared to deal with the employee’s emotions, you won’t be able to re-engage him or her.

#4. Be ready to give something.

Disengaged employees have needs that aren’t being met. Perhaps the need is for more money, more interesting assignments, or more autonomy. Whatever it is, they’ll be disengaged until they get it. Your job as a manager is to get work done through your people, so you’re obliged to supply whatever resources, support, or encouragement you can to make that happen.

#5. Keep the door open.

Work is a continual negotiation. Consciously or unconsciously, employees are constantly weighing whether what they’re getting from work (recognition, sense of purpose, intellectual stimulation, compensation, etc.) is worth their investment of time, energy, and talent. Engagement, therefore, is not a one and done. It can wax and wane, and managers need to stay tuned to the morale of their employees. Keep the door, and the dialogue, open.

Disengaged employees may be common, but they don’t have to be common in your organization. In fact, if you follow our tips, they won’t be.

For more on how to better engage your employees with your own “open door” policy, Check out our previous webinar “Fuel Employee Trust and Engagement with Authentic Communication”


Hiring for keeps

Hiring for keepsIn a very real sense, you won’t know whether your ideal candidate will turn out to be your ideal employee until several months post-hire. A lot of factors are at play: the personality of the new hire; the personality of the new boss; the personalities of various coworkers, including those in key positions; the workplace culture; the job duties (which may or may not match the employee’s pre-hire expectations); the length of the employee’s commute; the general physical work environment, including the attractiveness of the workspace; and the convenience of the surrounding neighborhood.

Considering all that, there is absolutely no way any hiring manager could predict with certainty how well a potential hire will perform or for how long. The workplace is a dynamic, changing system, and people change right along with it.

However, none of this means the pursuit of good hiring practices is a waste of time. On the contrary. While hiring is inherently risky, it’s not a crap shoot. Certain proactive moves can reduce the risk and could even lead to your very best hire yet.


Here are three especially essential ones.


#1. Know What You Need

This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many hiring managers start a search without a clear idea of what needs doing and the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) required to do it. As a result, they end up hiring the wrong person for the wrong role.

For example, consider the company that hires its first senior level HR professional (a little something I know about), without really wrestling with the fact that other senior staff is in no way, shape, or form prepared to follow this HR pro’s lead. Because the staff has been doing as they please for years, input from HR is regarded as more hindrance than help. It’s a recipe for sure frustration for all parties involved that could have been avoided had the organization done the proper groundwork, including preparing the staff for the new role HR would be playing within the organization.

#2. Take Inventory

Have you ever hired someone who looked great on paper and interviewed like a champ but then performed like a dud? I have. After that experience I vowed never again, and to keep that vow I started formally testing candidates on what they said they knew. Talk about eye opening! However, skills testing is only part of the equation. Behavioral assessments, which reveal behavioral tendencies that will enhance or detract from job performance, are another smart move. If the job requires a certain level of, say, assertiveness, detail orientation, or extroversion, a behavioral assessment can help determine whether your candidate actually possesses those traits.

#3. Check References

It’s easy to get swept into the excitement that comes after you’ve interviewed your “perfect” candidate, but a good interview alone does not a sound hire make. Solid references ensure your perfect candidate isn’t hiding a seriously imperfect background. There’s no need to go overboard by looking under every rock for the smallest speck of dirt, but it’s important to verify job history and previous job titles and duties. Individuals who tell untruths about where they worked and what they did are best avoided.

Wrapping It Up

A survey by Equifax showed that more than half the employees who left their jobs in 2013 did so within the first 12 months. This statistic should give every hiring manager pause.

Hiring is an investment of time, energy, and money, and when someone leaves just a few months into the new job, that’s a huge loss. The unenlightened manager might tell himself that “hiring is a crap shoot” and accept the loss with a shrug before moving on, but savvy managers will take a different approach. While no hiring process is foolproof, there are steps you can take to ensure more successful hiring and, ultimately, better employee retention.


For more about best retention strategies, check out Omnia’s pre-recorded Webinar Employee Retention Strategies for Keeping Top Talent.