Customer Service Grit

It is hard work to delightfully interact with insured’s and brokers every day, call after call, minute after minute.  But it got me thinking of a book I read years ago, and I wanted to share a little story about my history in the customer service world.

The book is well known – “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell.

One of the chapters is devoted to Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule.  The rule states:

“10,000 hours of deliberate practice is how you become world-class in your field.”

In the book he describes Michael Jordan’s lackluster college career, followed by 10,000 hours of shooting practice (more than any of his teammates) and his eventual success.  He describes the same situations for the Beatles, and Bill Gates.   His evidence is compelling to say the least (although hotly debated).

This blindly impacted my life when I started thinking about my first “real” job.  I started as a Customer Service Representative (CSR) for an outsourcing company answering calls from life insurance agents and their supporting staff.  Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day I was fielding these calls for almost 5 years.

Back then email wasn’t as common so rarely did I get time off the phone.  In other words, very little reprieve from answering the phones and constant interaction.  In fact, there were times late in the day where I finished my 100th call and looked down at my desk phone that displayed the number of calls holding.  And even after my gargantuan effort, there were still over 100 calls holding.  You can only imagine how painstakingly discouraging this was as a person who truly cared about helping people.

After those long days I remember going home and refusing to speak to anyone.  I was all out of words for the day, usually for the week.  When you interact with people that much on any day you start to yearn for a little alone time.

What’s the point of my story?  Well I started looking back at my roles within call centers and customer service teams.  In total I spent about 5 years on the “front line” answering calls.  5 years multiplied by 40 hours a week multiplied by 50 weeks per year.

My math tells me that I was practicing customer service for almost exactly 10,000 hours.

Despite achieving Gladwell’s point of world-class I don’t necessarily believe I was the best customer service person around at that time.  But I was very good.  While perhaps not deliberate, I remember the practice instilled great patience, and the ability to reset mentally before every caller and re-motivate myself to blow the minds off the next person needing help (in the most positive way possible).

I truly believe this ground level work early in my life is what has helped me achieve more than I ever thought I could do to this day.  As individuals our ability to interact with others is paramount to our future success.  No robot can successfully navigate these human to human interactions (well at least just yet).

For those of you reading this, I don’t believe you need anywhere near 5 years or 10,000 hours of practice to become good/great or world-class in your roles.  You are now working in a significantly more innovative industry.  Call centers became contact centers.  Contact centers became customer experience omnichannel support centers.  Customer experience omnichannel support centers became [insert next trendy industry phrase].  And over time executives no longer look at customer service departments as cost centers, but now more than ever as opportunities to build closer connections with those that matter most – their customers.  As a result, the insurance industry is heavily investing in training you and teaching you the skills that will last you for years and will allow you to scream past that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.    It will take grit to become a master of customer service, but in the end, it will be the foundation of your career and your ability to take on larger roles within the insurance industry.

Picking up the phone and doing a great job on each call is challenging.  It takes grit to do this day after day.  But each interaction is an opportunity to build trust and grow a relationship.  And that it is the most valuable thing we do in insurance – build relationships.

About Travis Van Dyke

Technology, and Customer Experience (CX) geek. Blockchain and cryptocurrency/blockchain hobbyist by night. Experienced leader (contact center) within the insurance industry by day. Skilled in Strategy, Operational Excellence, Process Improvement, and Team Building. Operations professional with an MBA and Masters in Information Technology Management from Creighton University.

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