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Cover Story

By M.Afzal Janjua
Deputy General Manager, State Life
Sep 27 - Oct 03, 1999

Ever head of a business organization which says "We don't care for the customer"? In fact no one would say so but very few really provide real good customer service. Large organizations specially those in the service sector need very elaborate and well chalked out customer care programmes, due to the size of their clientele and a variety of needs to be met. This applies more to life insurance organizations where each client has special needs and specific plans to cover them.

First and foremost factor in Customer Care Programme, is the Corporate Culture. A culture built around the concept "Customer is the king" helps to build the programme. Such a culture by virtue of its very existence ensures customer satisfaction to a great extent. On the other hand absence of such a culture will defeat all formally announced programmes to show ‘we care'. Such programmes without supporting cultures will hardly achieve worth while results. These in fact will create false hopes and the customer who does not find satisfaction of his needs, will instead by more unhappy.

So an organization serious about serving its customers must, first of all set up a good culture. The staff must think "Customer First". This attitude can be developed through training, supervision and motivation. Staff members or executives who are not customer focused are likely to jeopardise the programme and should be employed in jobs having no or indirect exposure to customer service.

A customer profile must be prepared, as it helps a lot in knowing your customers, their needs, getting close to them and satisfying their needs. Such a profile should not be limited to external customers only but anybody who uses the output of a function or work should be treated a customer e.g. for Personnel Division of a company's, people in the entire organization are customers. If they are dissatisfied, the external customers suffer eventually as it will affect the working conditions.

A customer profile includes gender, age, marital status, income level, occupation, and life style etc. Such a profile can be prepared through market research that uses methods like questionnaires, focus group discussions, customer audit, and attitude surveys etc. While market research work done by professional researchers is helpful an organization's own people can do it much better. It is the focus that matters, besides access to the needed information and knowing its reliability.

For setting up a really effective Customer Care Programme, sincere commitment of the top management is important. Some other factors, like good quality sales literature, its clarity, simple buying/ordering procedures, properly quoted prices without hidden extra charges, clear invoicing, prompt delivery of products and good after sales service also provide support.

Even with the best possible after sale service, complaints cannot be eliminated altogether. Always look at the complaints patiently, rather welcome them as an opportunity to improve. Giving immediate attention, prompt and sincere feed back to the customers after attending to their need can convert unhappy customers into good advocates for your company.

In the beginning, we had talked about the corporate culture. Such culture will be built, through training the people and rewarding good performance, by employees. It is most important that service is actually provided and not simply talked about or claimed.

Customer Care for a Life Insurance Company or Corporation is of vital importance. It is so because the customer has to be provided service for two or three decades: sometime even longer. The services includes, age admission, keeping current postal address for contact, issuance of premium due notices, receipts, bonus certificates and supplying all needed information. We at State Life are fully alive to these needs and have a policyholders service unit at each of our 26 Zones and a Division at Principal Office to ensure that all these units perform well. Still State Life, is always finding the need and scope for improvement to provide the best possible service to around two million policyholders.