Customer service, it isn’t for sissies!

In my corporate years I was primarily a leader in the call center (customer service) department for large health insurance plans.  We were the Rodney Dangerfield of work units; we never got any respect.  I’m not talking about a lack of respect from our customers when I say this. I’m talking about other departments.  You know, our co-workers – the ones who are supposed to be on our side.  More on that in a moment.

We use the term, “low man on the totem pole” in reference to being the least important, which is often how one feels in the customer service area.  But, we don’t use that term correctly.  First of all, the bottom is the foundation that everything else is built upon.  It’s the thing that holds everything else up.  The bottom section of the totem pole is held in the highest regard and is carved by the most skilled. 

No one, but those of us working in customer service, saw us as integral to the organization as other departments like finance, reimbursement services, medical management and provider relations.  Rather than being seen as the foundation, we were often regarded as pests that needed more information (read, “help”) from other departments.  There is no way to say this without sounding bitter but, the customer service area was the scapegoat for the other areas. 

Before you accuse me of being a cry baby, let me add that this is perfectly understandable behavior for others who have not been in our shoes, or who have forgotten what it was like to be in those shoes.  The reason I say this is perfectly normal behavior is because the other departments were responsible for just one piece of the giant puzzle of a health insurance plan.  They knew their piece of that puzzle incredibly well.  So, if customer service didn’t always have a firm understanding on their processes, it could be incredibly frustrating for them.

Bear in mind, the customer service department not only has to understand their own job, they must understand how all the areas work together at very high level as well.  Taking into consideration how often things change in the benefits and health care world and how complex some of the systems can be, it’s easy, for me at least, to understand why we needed information and ongoing education from the other areas. 

All that said, I feel we did an excellent job of learning and understanding benefits, claims payments and denials, the appeals process and all the other pieces we needed to serve our customers well.  Other departments that never had to see or speak to a customer had the luxury of saying things like, “Well, that’s just the way it is and the customer has to accept it.”  But in customer service, you absolutely must be able to say it in a way that is caring and doesn’t alienate the customer.  And, hopefully, provide the customer with feasible options.

So, what is my point for writing this?  Good question.  I always say, everyone is in the business of customer service.  Even if you have a job where you never directly interface with an end-user, you are providing a service to someone, somewhere.  Therefore, it’s important that you hone your skills, always put yourself in your customer shoes and give a darn about others.  You can be an amazing technician and have impeccable skills in your chosen field.  But, if you can’t wrap your mind around the fact that you are a customer service representative, you will never truly be successful.

To your success!


Loree Selbst is a Partner in Your Remote COO. She is a leader who has a passion and expertise for identifying the strengths in others and helping them achieve success. Over the course of her career, she has succeeded in accomplishing more effective ways to optimize operational efficiencies. Loree is Six Sigma Yellow Belt Certified with a reputation for building strong teams focused on quality and exceptional customer service.