An Unwavering Commitment to Customer Service – How one company energized its customer service culture from the inside out

TORRANCE, Calif. – April 6, 2015 – In 2011, Keenan & Associates, a California insurance brokerage and consulting firm with 700 associates began a new corporate initiative to bring their already outstanding reputation for customer service to the next level. At the center of the new initiative was the formation of a Service Council consisting of representatives of the departments responsible for direct interaction with the firm’s clients and prospects. Over the past three years, the Service Council has been a working group to optimize the customer experience through internal alignment of all business units and ensure a culture of continuous customer service improvement.

Jenise Tomasello, co-chair of the Service Council explained, “Our objective was to bring together all departments within the firm to share ideas and implement best practices that will enhance customer service. As a service organization, how we deliver service is an integral part of our culture and has a profound impact on our brand that is perceived in the market and in the communities that we service.”

Keenan’s Service Council explored the status of the company’s customer service approach and identified the priorities for bringing greater consistency and improvement to the delivery of service. Their plans were implemented over time to ensure that the customer service initiative became well integrated into the day-to-day interactions of the associates, both internally and externally.

Customer Experience Impact and Value

Keenan’s customers are collegial and tend to talk frequently with their peers from other public agencies. A great deal of their business depends on word-of-mouth. Customers often move from one agency to another during their careers and they may relocate to different parts of the state. It is important that the customer experience they receive in northern California is what they also find in southern California. If a customer receives great service in one line of business, they are likely to look to work with that firm on another line of business. The key to achieving this was making sure the service provided to customers is consistent across the company, and is provided in the most efficient and effective way.

Kelly Hall, co-chair of the Service Council, elaborated, “We want our people to be guided by the policies and procedures defining our best practices, while still allowing flexibility and judgment. When our associates can create positive defining moments in responding to customer needs, we know we are hitting the right balance between processes and people.”

Building a Customer Service Culture

Companywide customer service training, increasing recognition and rewards for outstanding customer service all contribute to strengthening and reinforcing it in Keenan’s corporate culture. This past October, the company joined hundreds of other organizations nationally and internationally by participating in Customer Service Week. It reminded every employee about the importance this initiative holds in the organization and was another way to communicate the commitment to customer service to their clients and prospects.
Excellent customer service doesn’t just make for a company that is easier and more pleasant to work with. It brings greater value to customers by streamlining workflow, improving communications and building synergy, within the organization, and between the company and the agencies they serve. It helps to improve efficiency, eliminate dysfunction and find more innovative solutions. It all translates into better cost effectiveness both for Keenan and customers’ organizations.

Reinforcing the customer service culture is essential in maintaining the momentum of the formal training. “We have created recognition programs that provide strong visibility of associates who have exemplified our standard for exceptional customer service.” says Tomasello. Keenan developed a new award for Exceptional Customer Service presented twice each year. On an ongoing basis, the company highlights weekly “WOW Service” stories that are submitted throughout the year on their intranet home page. According to Tomasello, “A large percentage of the individuals recognized for their WOW stories write back to express what an honor it is. It really meant a lot to them!”

“This recognition has been very effective in perpetuating and expanding the customer service culture, which not only improves how our external customers are served but also how our associates serve one another,” added Tomasello.

Developing a Policy That Empowers

Customer service is one of those things that can be difficult to define, yet you know it when you experience it. Keenan’s Customer Service Policy needed to be flexible enough to cover a wide range of circumstances while giving our associates clear empowerment to respond to the situations they encounter. The policy also had to be constructed simply enough so that any associate could readily remember it and apply it to their interactions on a daily basis. The solution was the development of the S-E-R-V-I-C-E acrostic:

S = Sense of Urgency
E = Empathy
R = Resolution Oriented
V = Value Our Customers
I = Initiative and Inspire
C = Create Positive Defining Moments
E = Exceed Customer Expectations

“The service acrostic sets a high target for each of us to aim in every interaction with our colleagues and our clients,” explained Christine Gerbasi, co-chair of the Service Council. This short and memorable set of guidelines made it possible to quickly get the entire organization up to speed on a consistent understanding of the organization’s customer service standards. Using the word “SERVICE” as a memory device and providing illustrative examples of the concepts represented by each letter facilitated the training and ongoing reinforcement. As each of the associates completed the initial Customer Service Training with their department, they received a ceramic coaster imprinted with the acrostic to keep on their desk. Further reminders included an initial email campaign that covered each of the seven elements in the acrostic; conference room plaques and “wallpaper” for computer screens presenting the concepts graphically; and the WOW Service stories posted each week that highlight the individual concepts.

The Service Council created a new subcommittee last year, consisting of motivated representatives from every level of the organization. About 40 employees applied for the nine seats on the Service Ambassadors subcommittee and the Service Council was extremely impressed by the passion the applicants demonstrated in their submissions. The role of the Service Ambassadors is to carry the message and example of customer service, peer to peer, and demonstrate that customer service is part of everyone’s responsibilities, from the mailroom to the C-suite.

Following two rounds of departmental Customer Service training for every associate, along with the ongoing promotion and individual recognitions, the dividends of this investment are beginning to be realized. The Service Council surveyed the associates to find out how they perceive the way the service culture is improving in the company, particularly how internal customer service had changed.

Tomasello summarized the survey feedback: “I’m proud to say that one of the biggest impacts I have noticed is how much more aware our associates are of their actions and promoting the customer service message with their teams. What they are doing internally is carrying over to our customers. It all starts with treating each other with mutual trust and respect. If we can do that, we all know how to take care of our customers as well.”

“People are pointing out exceptional service when they see their colleagues going above and beyond. And when you can rely on your coworkers to go the extra mile, it makes everyone more productive and our jobs are more satisfying. Keenan Associates have embraced the initiatives of the Service Council and that makes us better as an organization.”

How S-E-R-V-I-C-E Takes Shape

For Keenan, the S-E-R-V-I-C-E Acrostic provides its associates with the policy guidelines for delivering stellar customer service. Here is a brief description of how each of the seven elements of S-E-R-V-I-C-E makes a difference at Keenan.

S = Sense of Urgency

There are many things we can’t control, but we can control how responsive we are to an urgent and important request from a customer. A sense of urgency is not accomplishing the task. It’s doing everything you can to accomplish the task, whether or not the desired result emerges. If you are standing by your client showing them that their problem is your problem, and looking for the solution, then you are showing the sense of urgency that your customer will remember.

E = Empathy

Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings that are being experienced by another person. It is basically being able to put yourself in the shoes of a customer. Taking that moment to think of what we would want to hear, or what help we would want in that situation… that’s empathy.

R = Resolution Oriented

Often when we face a problem we find ourselves only focusing on the problem. Providing great customer service in this case means that you understand their problem, and then quickly shift your thinking into finding a resolution. Wrapped inside every problem is an opportunity! When they can see you as resolution-oriented in responding to their problems, you are also building loyalty.

V = Value Our Customers

We value our customers and create innovative solutions for them. In turn, our customers value our service. We have a rock solid story to tell. But what if we could get more customers to tell our story? Never underestimate the value of your customer. A valued customer keeps coming back and brings their friends.

I = Initiative and Inspire

Taking the initiative to inspire your co-workers makes a big difference in how enjoyable our work is. Paying it forward has a way of returning to you. How much time and effort does it take to acknowledge your teammates’ contributions? Take the initiative and just say “thanks”; it will inspire others to do the same.

C = Create Positive Defining Moments

It takes only a moment to create a positive – or a negative – defining moment, and both are equally memorable. When your phone rings, you may encounter someone that is already frustrated and is unhappy with you even though the person doesn’t even know you. Now is the moment for you to make a positive difference. All it really takes is the sincere desire to listen and to be of service.

E = Exceed Customer Expectations

Exceeding expectations is about bringing it all together to deliver stellar customer service! None of the elements of the SERVICE acrostic stand on their own when it comes to customer service. So that last “E” is the culmination of it all. If we’ve worked through those things that should define us as Associates of an outstanding organization, we are already working to exceed everyone’s expectations.

 

About Keenan
Founded in 1972, Keenan is the 17th largest insurance consulting and brokerage firm in the U.S., and the largest independent broker in California. Keenan is dedicated to providing superior insurance products and services to schools, community colleges, healthcare organizations and municipalities for employee benefits, health benefit management services, workers’ compensation, risk management, and property and liability. With headquarters in Torrance, CA, Keenan has a staff of more than 650 insurance specialists and branch offices in Riverside, San Clemente, Oakland, San Jose, Rancho Cordova, Redwood City, Pleasanton and Eureka. For more information, call 800-654-8102 or 310-212-3344, email info@keenan.com or visit www.keenan.com.