Control, Custody, and Care.

The challenge of competition can be met with a commitment to customer service. The 4C’s of Customer Service gives us a foundation upon which to form our efforts. Last week we introduced the core component of the 4C’s, Choose. In this note, we’ll expand on each of the remaining three C’s: Control, Custody, and Care.

Control. How much of the customer experience do we control? It’s not about manipulating a customer in some way, but trying to ensure we are the primary point of contact at each step of their journey. How can we embed ourselves into more aspects of the business relationship? How can we work to meet them where they are when they begin to realize they are interested in our services? What can we do to insert ourselves as their resource at each step? Are steps outsourced? Do we lose control of the customer relationship as they are moved back and forth between us and other vendors? Are we dependent on others for referrals? Are we dependent on certain technology for enabling the contact between our customers and ourselves? The more control over each piece of our customer pipeline we can exert, the greater our ability becomes to both serve and sustain customer relationships.

The better a business is at being crystal clear as to who they are choosing to work with as customers, the better they will be at being able to define the points of contact they seek to create with their customers. When a business is known as the go-to resource for people like _________, then these people find this business when they need these resources. Businesses benefit from the mass of a minor, specific market reaching out to them. The more a market sees you as the answer to their particular problems, the more you valuable you are. This is a relatively recent shift fueled by technology. Power has and continues to move from suppliers and producers of products and services to those who are able to develop and consolidate demand. Bill Gurley, a renown venture capital investor from Silicon Valley offers, “A lesson I have learned many times in my 20 years as a marketplace investor is that aggregating demand is the one & only key.” Florent Crivello, in a blog post, goes further, writing, “The lesson is simple: Have a direct relationship with your customers. If somebody gets between you and your customer, your margins will fall as customer acquisition costs rise.”

From our perspective, this component is the superpower upon which the best independent brokerages are built. Brokers often believe they are subservient to and dependent upon insurance markets for their raison d’etre. The logic is that without a steady supply of markets to offer, a broker has no value to provide insureds. The belief is that supply is king. However, controlling demand is ultimately of more value than supply in any market. If you have a relationship and direct contact with a group of people who need a particular product or service, there’s deep value in that. Now you can influence and attract suppliers your way. Influencers through youtube, Instagram, tiktok, and other social media platforms through videos, blogs, and podcasts have viewers or subscribers or fans. The community these influencers create results in the influencer having power over product and service providers seeking to sell their wares to the community. Suppliers line up seeking the approval of influencers to introduce their products to the community of the influencer. The influencer has what the supplier wants, a captive audience.

The company Uber owns no cars. It doesn’t control the supply. It tries to drive demand. It makes it easy for those looking for rides to find them. It is the power of connecting demand to individual suppliers of a driving service that is its strength. So, too, it is with companies like VRBO. They don’t own any real estate. They aren’t controlling supply. They are consolidating and coordinating demand and the suppliers are flocking to their service in order to connect with the demand. A final example offers the power of realtors lies in their MLS. They have no supply. They aren’t selling their inventory of homes. It’s the ease with which prospective purchasers (the demand) are able to see and learn about available inventory. The MLS draws demand which entices suppliers to line up and list properties with them. Owning demand in a market is working to amplify the power of purchasers. If you can aggregate customer interest, you can get supply forces to bend for you. Suppliers will, happily, do custom products and services for your market.

In Teeny Territories we talked about market segmentation. Success can follow a focus on a specific market. Picking an industry is choosing to serve those within that industry. In insurance, developing program business is way to choose customers by either industry or client type. Program business, in insurance, is about controlling the connection between a market’s demand and it’s supply. Promising programs are developed by brokerages that have key relationships within a given industry. What architects need for insurance versus what landscapers need are wildly different things. If you’re trying to sell the same, cookie-cut product to vastly different markets, neither will hear you nor take you seriously. The quality of relationship brokers bring helps them communicate the unique and specific needs of the particular industry to insurance markets. Brokers work with markets with their in-depth insight to help the market prepare a customized product. Reach of relationship of the broker breeds commitment from the market. The broker brings the demand and the market then provides supply. In future articles we’ll offer examples of how businesses have sought to increase their customer contact points to increase the value of their service offering.

Custody. The third of our 4C’s of Customer service is Custody. Is responsibility for a relationship and/or a request clear and delineated? Is one person on our customer service team assigned accountability for service? Responsibility falls on two criteria. The task itself. Are we able to track and assign accountability from the moment an incoming customer service request is received to when it is completed? From this logistical question comes the strategy question of do we want requests assigned by the task to an individual or to whoever is available to service the request at the time? That is, are we comfortable with many hands touching one customer’s request? Is it one person, one request or one request and several people supporting? The separate strategic question becomes are we assigning requests based on the customer to our individual service representative or team?

Call-centers at large organizations, brokerages or direct writers included, typically offer support on the strategy that requests are handled by whoever is available as they come in. Incoming service items are assigned ad hoc. In our view, this is a weakness of larger organizations and a wonderful opportunity for smaller organizations to differentiate and delight customers. Customer service that is personalized separates shoddy service from experiences that engage. If incoming requests are handled by different people every time, there is no opportunity for a relationship to develop.

Moreover, where multiple people touch the same request, customers are likely to be frustrated by the learning curve of bringing each new contact up to speed on their issue. As a customer, there’s little more frustrating than proffering your problem to the person taking your call just to be passed to a different department or representative only to have to revisit the same effort all over again. Customer consternation is further compounded when the request isn’t handled in one session but must be managed over multiple interactions over several days or weeks where the same story is recited repeatedly to different service representatives. We encourage independent brokers to stay as far away from this approach as possible in order to create more efficient, personable, and effective interactions with customers.

The transition between external sales (producers) and internal sales (CSRs) also involves the Custody component. Do customers know with whom they will be dealing and when? Are we able to manage expectations as the experience moves from prospecting to customer? When does contact shift from external sales to internal? Who is responsible for communicating this change? Is the customer onside with the transition? Have we done a good job communicating what our customer can expect and when? Where a customer has a great relationship being built with their sales rep and is abruptly handed off to an internal servicing team, fumbles can be costly. In Never Lose a Customer Again, Joey Coleman writes, “how most businesses treat their customers. The salesperson does all the courting, makes sure the agreement is finalized, and may even celebrate the new relationship. But then the customer is handed off to account representative “Bob” after the celebration is over. Bob wasn’t on any of the dates! Bob wasn’t at the dinners. Bob didn’t hear any of your hopes and dreams. . . . Is it any wonder that this typical handoff is so jarring to our new customers? Here’s a pro tip: If you wouldn’t do it in your personal life, why do you think it’s acceptable to do this in your professional life?”

It’s not just customer contacts within a sales department where custody counts. It implies any contact a customer has with your business. It could be with accounting, with IT, and more. For insurance, custody can cover from initial customer contact through to claims. The more consistent the customer contact is throughout the entire insurance experience, the more likely the customer is to feel positive and supported. In our experience, the more streamlined, consistent, predictable, and personal the contact can be, the better the customer experience.

It has been said that the surest way to starve a dog is for two people to say they will feed it. Responsibility can’t be easily distributed amongst two people. Either one person is completing a task or two people will think the other is taking care of it and be less motivated to pay attention. “Our problem” is a lot easier to hide behind than “my problem.” Enabling and empowering your customer service team to own responsibility for a customer relationship is a win-win for both staff and customers and is what the Custody component of the 4C’s Customer Service framework is all about.

Care. How can we help? Caring for your customers is about looking for ways to improve the lives of those you serve. It implies an outward, external focus working hard to see their world and adapt solutions for their problems. It’s adopting the version of the Golden Rule that suggests we work to understand what others want and treat them the way they want to be treated instead of the way we want to be treated. What do they need? What problems can your business become the solution to?

The ability to truly see, anticipate, and understand the problems your customers are facing is driven by the detail with which you can define (and Choose) your customers. Moreover, the more contact points (Control) there is with a customer, the deeper your perspective of their world. The depth of relationship follows time spent directly with customers through the Custody component. When your business has committed to Choose, Control, and Custody, then coming up with additional ways to Care will become a natural result. Your business strategy conversations will circle around a question like, “What other services can you offer which will serve your customers?”

We hope the 4 C’s framework is helpful for you. We originally introduced it in our book, The Key, on pages 65 – 72 related to insurance brokers. In the future, we look forward to offering articles which will include specific examples of how others have applied each of the 4 C’s framework into their business efforts.