When I worked at Allstate, my first job in the insurance industry, they published something called the Agency Service Standards. Yes, we all made fun of the acronym, too. Anyway, the idea was to publish a set of guidelines that would create a sense of uniformity for customers should they visit different agencies. Like all good ideas, it eventually turned into a bureaucratic monster and we all half-expected them to tell us which way to part our hair.

However, they published some interesting stuff and I’ve kept this one for over a decade. Why? Because when I read it, I immediately noticed how true it was, not only in insurance, but retail and other businesses as well. What continues to amaze me is that in the past ten years I have not yet come across one business that takes this seriously. Here’s in part what Allstate said:

In 1991, a comparative service study was conducted on telephone contacts as a satisfaction driver. Considering that 78% of customer contacts are by telephone, Allstate has a higher percentage of telephone-related problems than other companies in the industry. The table below shows the particular problems encountered and occurrence percentages. Support staff have to realize the importance of quick and pleasant service on the telephone.

Telephone Related Problems

% of Total Respondents

Allstate Others
Telephone busy or rang too long 9.4 9.4
Asked to hold too long 7.0 6.2
Request not answered on the spot 24.2 23.4
Call back required - not timely 7.8 6.2
Had to call more than once 20.3 140
People did not have good attitude 9.4 7.8

If you notice, the first five rows indicate problems that are completely preventable with proper staffing, technology, and tracking results. This constitutes 68.7% of all the Allstate calls (as studied at that time) and 59.2% of other insurance companies. Trust me — I’ve seen companies, even very recently, have far worse percentages.

So while perception of employee attitude hovers around 7 to 9 percent, between half and two-third of all respondents point to reasons other than the employee’s attitude that gives them dissatisfaction on their call - reasons which can be directly attributed to the employer. Some companies talk a big talk (”we answer all calls by the third ring here” or “we return all calls within one hour if they call before 4:00pm”), but they just make bustling proclamations. They don’t really have a solid method for tracking results and dogmatic followup to see that this is what takes place every day. And frankly, as much money as your business spend to promote your telephone number, you should never have any call go to voice mail ever. Remember, what gets measured gets done.

Technorati : Allstate, customer satisfaction, insurance, telephone

Posted in: Management & Small Business