Stand up for service

Customer service is a competitive issue for all companies. This sounds like an obvious point, but quite often firms don’t stray far from the established norms of their industry. Looking further afield for inspiration and breaking the mould might seem like a brave step, but it can bring great reward.

I set up Ellipse in 2009 to bring a new way of working and to challenge the traditional way insurers covered death and disability benefits offered by companies to their employees. I believed that sector was providing poor service, primarily through chronic under-investment in technology. So right from the outset we’ve looked to change that, by introducing online services to make it easier and cheaper for employers to work with us.

We broke the norms of our industry then and now we’ve decided to do it again.

From a customer’s perspective the financial services industry, which is still reeling from the banking crisis and PPI scandal amongst others, can seem very murky and opaque indeed. So to combat this, Ellipse has decided to take a more open and transparent approach and publish our Key Service Indicators (KSIs).

The KSIs are statistical benchmarks that track our service performance in key areas, namely, delivering quotes, issuing policy schedules, completing individual medical assessments and paying claims. We are the first insurer in our market to do this and we will be publishing updated figures every quarter.

To many in our industry this is likely to be seen as an unconventional strategy. We are committing to publish our service performance every quarter, regardless of how good it is and we are under no competitive pressure, or obligation to do so.

But is sticking to the industry norm really good for our customers? If you are confident in your ability to provide great service, why not share your data and be accountable for it?

We are confident in ourselves and we are confident that our customers – financial advisers and employers in our world – value a commitment to customer service which is evidenced by cold, hard data. Of course, being first to introduce such measures reflects well on our brand, which combine to give us the makings of a real competitive edge.

Indeed, talking about providing great service is one thing, but providing evidence is entirely another. If you are really good at the former, the latter shouldn’t be a problem.

So how can you be confident that you are providing great service? Here are some strategies that you may find useful:

1. Measure it. Identify the processes that are important to customers, make any improvements necessary to the design of the process, then record your performance against key benchmarks which matter to your customers.

2. Engage with your customers at every opportunity. Communication is vital because your customers want to feel valued and respected. They are also looking for peace of mind, so that they can trust you will deliver what you promise.

3. Ask for regular customer feedback. Surveys enable you to get an honest assessment of your business from the people that matter. We run a biannual survey in June and November every year, which allows financial advisers to score against key measures and gives an opportunity for open comments. Surveys are a great opportunity to learn and fix any problems or issues that have been highlighted.

4. Invest in great people. Ultimately, good customer service is driven by the people who are delivering it. To that effect we place a great deal of emphasis on hiring the right people. We have our core values – treating people as people and using clear and open language to name just two – and we make sure everyone we hire can demonstrate a commitment to those values. We also continually develop their skills and competencies over time.

5. View complaints as an opportunity to learn. We don’t get that many, but I always handle each complaint personally, as it gives me a great opportunity to understand what went wrong, why and what we need to do to fix it. In the words of Bill Gates, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

So in summary, there are two key implications for you.

Firstly, if great customer service is central to your value proposition and you think you’re good at it, then break the ‘rules’, be open with your data and accountable for it.

Secondly, if you’re not focusing on customer service and are relying on industry norms, be very aware that others will be. Some of these suggested strategies may be useful to you if you wish to address that.


About John Ritchie

John Ritchie is the founding CEO of Ellipse, a specialist online insurer covering the death and disability benefits offered by companies to their employees. He set up the business for Munich Re Group to challenge the long-established players in that sector and firmly believes that the digital age enables small, nimble companies, like Ellipse, to compete successfully with the big boys.