You’ve heard of conservation practices in the building industry and in agriculture, but you may not have equated the terminology to the insurance industry. However, a firm grasp of customer conservation can save your company millions of dollars over time while strengthening your team.

A recent analysis by McKinsey & Company found that insurers who offer a consistent “best-in-class” customer service experience are likely to grow more profitably and quickly.

Add to that the fact that bringing on a new customer costs an insurance firm far more than retaining existing customers does, and you’ve got the perfect reason to focus on customer conservation.

“Our team knows that every time they talk to the customer, regardless of why they’re talking, that’s a conservation opportunity,” says Becky Reisinger, head of operations and customer management at Aspida.

“Even if it’s just a quick question, we personalize the call to make contact with the customer in a personal way, listen to what they’re saying and make sure we’re meeting their needs.”

At the Core

Once an insurer understands how essential customer service is to retention, it becomes clear that hiring and training a strong customer service department is the key to maintaining customer ranks.

Start at the Point of Sale

An optimal conservation strategy starts at the point of sale, Reisinger says.

“When an agent first sells the insurance product, they want to make sure the customer is properly educated on the ins and outs of the benefits of the policy they’re buying, what they’ll get in the mail and when their payments will be due,” she says.

It can also help to have partner agencies do a sales run-through with the customer service staff.

“The sales agent will show our customer service team the brochures they use, and the application and the verbiage they use during the sales process,” Reisinger says.

Therefore, if customers later say something about not remembering a detail of the policy, the customer service rep can say, “During the sales conversation, do you remember talking about this…?” and that can ring a bell for the customer and help cement the relationship.

Be Proactive

Aspida’s research finds that when customers aren’t fully versed in their policy details from day one, the first time something happens that they didn’t expect, it puts them in an uneasy place and can lead to distrust. Therefore, it’s important for all team members to think ahead during every customer contact.

You also should consider what any change means for that customer in terms of the future and anticipate questions they may have when they receive the policy documents or bills in the mail, Reisinger says.

Follow Up

If the customer asks questions during a phone call and you promise to get answers for them within the week, call that customer by the end of the week, even if you don’t have their answer.

“You should call them and say that you’re still investigating the issue, just so they know they haven’t been forgotten,” Reisinger says.

Reevaluate Ways to Make Products User-Friendly

Making customer service an essential part of your conservation strategy comes down to people, process and products—so you should evaluate your product to ensure that it’s easy for the customer to use.

For example, if making a policy change currently requires consumers to fill out two forms and make a call the office to speak to a customer service representative, consider whether the same change could be accomplished by just one form, or just one call.

You should also take customer feedback seriously, and if customers seem to give the same comments repeatedly, you should sit down and ask yourself whether their comments should prompt any changes in processes, staffing or products to improve the overall experience.

Train Staff on Identifying Red Flags

Customer service staff members should be well-trained to identify red flags when talking to customers.

“Not all customers will say they’re thinking of cancelling,” Reisinger says. “Some will say, ‘I was just wondering how far this is paid up,’ which can mean they’ll let it go until it’s paid up and then will cancel. So, listen for red flags like that and know how to respond,” she notes.

Once they’re well-trained, staff can respond to customers by pointing out positives of their policies and share information that may propel them to stay with the company.

“Customer service reps aren’t always licensed agents—they can’t try to resell or offer another product—but they can educate the customer on the benefits of their policies,” Reisinger says.

Make Conservation Fun

Retaining customers doesn’t have to be a chore—you can institute fresh ways to incorporate customer retention into your customer service staff’s routines that make it fun.

Larry Keefe, chairman and CEO of Starkweather and Shepley Insurance Brokerage, told a Forbes reporter last year that the company looks at the hospitality industry as a model for how to handle customer service, since hotels famously offer five-star service.