This may seem like an odd thing, but routinely we find that answering the phone in an agency is a hard thing to do really well. For agencies that have a receptionist (or we like to say Director of First Impressions), it’s no easy task sounding amazing 200 times per day. Also, for agencies that share the phone greeting responsibilities, it can be an interruption in the day when you are about to finalize something critical. Finally, agencies with automated phone trees often get the frustrated caller who just wants a human. So, when we all make and retain our revenue by the phone ringing, why is answering it such a challenge?
From the Perspective of the Receptionist (AKA Director of First Impressions)
While there are different perspectives on this, the front desk job can be a bit like juggling one too many balls in the air. Answering the phone is not the only responsibility for many receptionists, however, it is the most critical. Some common challenges that our friends at the front desk face include (but of course are not limited to):
- Phone calls come in waves. It’s 100% true the highest volume of calls will come into an agency around lunch time. This is when many of your customers have a moment to connect with you. Unfortunately, this is also when your agency can be the lowest staffed. Keeping up with the volume of calls can be a challenge.
- Clients often announce their entire request to the front desk person, even though they may not be the one to handle their matter. It can be a challenge to be polite and not interrupt the person while still alerting them that you can help them get to the right person. It’s a fine line between interrupting someone and having them waste their time. We often recommend to clients that they answer the phone with their standard greeting and then “How may I direct your call?” This indicates that they are the passer, not the receiver.
- While on the topic of passing, many front desk professionals are often not greeted very warmly by the team who they are passing the call to. It’s not uncommon to hear “uggghhh, again?” or “can someone else take it?” For a front desk person working to efficiently and effectively handle the front desk traffic, it’s easy to take the comments personally.
- The front desk receives all calls, even from the upset people who maybe didn’t get a call back from the team. It’s easy for the front desk person to develop certain opinions and feelings toward the frequent flyers who don’t return client requests quickly.
While all of these difficulties occur in most agencies, it’s still imperative that the Director of First Impressions rise above them to do their job at the agency. The role of the front desk professional is to professionally and efficiently answer all calls coming into the agency with a uniform friendly greeting. From there, they are to connect the client with the team member who is best suited to help them (regardless of who they ask for). This means even when the day is difficult, the agency is short-staffed and the building seems to be on fire, your role is to protect the client from any negativity or a bad experience.
From the Perspective of the Account Manager/Agent
From time to time we all have to pick up the phone. This could be due to overspill on the phone lines, the receptionist being out or because it’s our job. Every person in the agency will have to answer the phone from time to time. However, when we are asked to rise to the occasion, I don’t think anyone is looking for any attitude around it. Unfortunately, when the front desk person goes out on vacation, we see many agents who are grumpy about having to serve time at the front. Or we hear them groan when the phone rings and they are next. Embrace the challenge and rise to the occasion to serve our customer. Here are some common challenges we see in agencies:
- A licensed agent is in the middle of a complicated remarket or Accord Application, and the phone rings with someone wanting to make a payment. This can be distracting and disruptive. We need to work to focus on one thing at a time, and when the phone rings, this is our number one priority.
- When people are on vacation or you have to cover the front desk, remember that people cover for you when you are gone. The front desk spot is no different! While it may not be where you want to spend a chunk of your time, a change of scenery can’t be all that bad.
- It is very helpful for calls to be warm transferred within the office. A warm transfer happens as a two-part process. First, when you find the person you will be transferring the call to, let the team member know the client’s name and reason for calling. Second, when you connect back with the client, alert the client who will be receiving the call, and if you can, it’s great to provide the team member a little boost. A boost may be something like, “I’m transferring you to Stephanie — she’s great with certificates.” Adding a kind, little statement before transferring never hurts!
From the Perspective of the Client
Let’s face it — calling an insurance agent is probably not the highlight of anyone’s day. It’s a to-do list item, and how we handle that call will leave the client in one of three moods:
One major problem most agencies need to tackle is realizing that making a client feel indifferent about you is just as bad as making them feel frustrated. An indifferent client is just as likely to leave as a frustrated one. We also have to realize that in 2019 many clients don’t need us all that often. When they do call, we have to be better and rise to the occasion. This means every “hmmm” and “uggghh” counts, even to each other. We all need to remember, in every moment, that clients are not an annoying interruption; they are the reason we get paychecks.