I am writing this article on a Sunday afternoon while watching football. A couple of hours ago our son called to speak to his mother. On Friday, he made an innocent banking mistake. It was nothing that could not be corrected. It should just be a matter of him making a phone call on Monday.
In the eyes of a father, it was just a learning experience. He just graduated from college last May and this is just the first of many tests in life where he will not get a letter grade. Life’s tests are often graded, pass or fail.
It reminded me of lessons I had to learn early in my career. No matter how conscientious and detailed you are, someone is going to eventually become upset with you. A career in insurance sales confirms Abraham Lincoln’s famous saying, “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all of the time.”
Below are a few techniques to help you when you have to deal with an angry client. They will not work in every case but they will help you out of some customer service jams.
Keep personal responsibility
When you have the misfortune to pick up the phone call of an angry customer, take personal responsibility to find a solution. People often get frustrated when they call for help and are transferred from department to department.
If you have no choice but to transfer an angry client, get a telephone number from them and call them back a little later to verify they got the information for which they were looking. That extra step can head off future problems and build your reputation as a professional insurance expert rather than just another insurance sales person.
If you are human, you will make the occasional mistake. That is why Errors and Omissions insurance exist. Unless every transaction is done through the internet between your clients and the insurance company, eventually, you are going to deal with an upset client. No matter how hard you try, you eventually are going to make a mistake, or at least be blamed for one.
From a legal point of view, an attorney would advise you not to admit personal liability. Once you agree to the fault behind a problem, you have tied your attorney’s hands and you could end up being responsible for restitution.
You should, however, assure your upset client that you will personally do what you can to find a solution to their concerns. If you make such a promise, remember, that client is now counting on you. You now have a legal, moral and ethical obligation to attempt to solve the problem.
In many, but not all, cases, the person who causes the problem is going to be the customer. Insurance policies are legally contracts. The rights and responsibilities of both the insured and the insurance company are written down. Both parties are provided copies.
Insurance companies understand the liabilities they assume. They know, not only their obligations to their policy-holders, they also understand the potential penalties they are liable for with each state’s department of insurance. Insurance companies have teams of lawyers to review their policies and actions. While some of their decisions may be questionable, they are rarely contrary to the policy.
In most cases, it is the fault of your client. Many clients fail to read their policy. They assume their insurance has no limitations or exclusions and covers everything. In 23 years of working with insurance policies, I have never seen one that had no limitations or exclusions of any sort. If every client would read their policies when they got them, the number of upset clients we get would be much lower.
Keep your cool
In many cases, all you will need to do is direct your client to the portion of their policy that they are misunderstanding. When the limitations and exclusions of their policy are pointed out to them and the proverbial “light bulb” of understanding comes on, many, not all, clients will back down from their erroneous position.
There are some people who believe in the old saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” They base their complaints entirely on their emotions. They refuse to accept any limitations or exclusions within their policy. They do not care in the least what policy they paid for. They want what they want and who cares about the facts of their policy.
When you get one of those types of people, and you will, do what you can do for them. After you have done what you could and they are still unhappy, invite them to contact your manager. You will want to do this for two reasons.
1) Your manager will be perceived by the client as having more authority than you. After all, as far as the client knows, s/he has more experience and knows more about insurance than you. That may not be the case but is the assumption that many clients will make.
2) Their strong emotion could “bring you down.” Sales can be discouraging enough even when things are going the way they should. You need to stay as positive as possible.
3) Their strong emotions could be contagious. Many insurance agents are, by nature, very emotional people. Most of the time they are able to keep their emotions under control. Unfortunately, that control is often easily lost. You want to get rid of any person who will not allow you to reason with them before you lose control of your emotions and say something that you will regret. They will ultimately forget about you and what you said but you will replay the conversation for the rest of your life.
As an insurance agent, you should want to keep everyone one of your clients happy. In marketing, the rule of thumb says that it takes 10 positive referrals to offset just 1 negative referral.
Keep a record
The techniques for record keeping have changed during my career but the need has not. If you are going to take personal responsibility you will need to prove what actions you took to resolve the problem. In the old days, we had to keep a phone log of who we spoke with, when we spoke to them and what was said.
Today, things are a great deal easier. Rather than picking up the phone, turn your computer on. By doing your entire problem solving through email, you have a record of what questions you asked, to whom and when you asked them.
The very fact that you are able to give your client a record of the steps you took can go a long way to convincing your client of your professional credibility. It proves that you are willing to do whatever is required to find the truth.
These are just 3 tips to consider when dealing with an upset client. There are many more. Just remember, the laws of agency. While you may be tempted to act in the interests of your client, you need to remember who paid you. If you accepted a commission from the insurance company you are legally required to act in the best interests of that insurance company.
If you have had experiences with angry clients, you have learned things to do and things not to do. Please share your thoughts and techniques in the comments area for everyone to learn from. I have not met one insurance agent who prefers dealing with angry clients. All of us need to learn from each other.