Hone Your Customer Service Skills at Relevant Conferences
Hey everyone. I’m Taylor Cechin and I’m a Customer Success Manager here at ActivTrak. I’ve been working to help businesses of all types become more successful since December of 2015. Now, thanks to a trip to a conference and what I learned there, I’ve discovered that conferences are a necessity if you want to improve your customer service skills and become a more successful Customer Success Manager.
I recently had a chance, along with my teammate Brandon Hill, to take a trip to Orlando, Florida for three days. Disney World?! No, not exactly. What we did was very… different.
Valuable lessons learned from a conference? You bet!
Allstate Insurance approached us about being a sponsor for their Mega Agency Conference. It’s a networking opportunity that was started in 2004 by a small group of about eight Agents for people with similar business models. One of the primary needs these businesses had was an idea or a tool to run a better and more efficient business. Surprisingly enough, there hasn’t been a sponsor like ActivTrak for as long as they can remember, but they felt that we could potentially meet the one need behind the existence of the entire conference: how to make the office more efficient. The need and the desire are there, but the solution wasn’t apparent just yet. And with a workload of more than 7,000 policies on an annual basis per agency, you can imagine how beneficial it would be to these 120 individual mega agencies to improve their efficiency and operating procedures.
This conference was held way back in September of 2017, so I’ve had some time to reflect on our experience. I’ve come up with three key takeaways from our time spent at the receptions, panels, meals, and exhibition hall, each one opening up exciting opportunities for us as a small business and teaching us how to improve customer service skills.
1. If you can attend a similar conference, do it!
Since the cost of trips and sponsorships add up quickly, sometimes its just not in the budget. We’ve been there. That was definitely something we thought about and one of the reasons we had previously never been to conferences like the Mega Agency Conference. That’s right; this was our first convention! I wasn’t sure if we’d get the approval to go, but when I crunched the numbers including all expenses and the potential leads we could generate, I pitched the idea along with the estimated ROI and got the green light. Doing something similar can help you get the approval too. And be sure to include in your pitch more than just monetary figures. Sometimes knowledge and connections made at these events are just as beneficial as a few leads.
Here’s what I mean. For a young business like us, the whole process of attending was extremely valuable from start to finish. Even something as trivial as booking flights and hotel rooms gave us a learning opportunity to plan future trips better. And once the conference started, we recognized the potential in front of us. For example, each morning there was a general communal breakfast. Since most everyone gathered in the same relaxed atmosphere at the same time, it was easy to just chat with people. No pressure. No pitches.
Meeting people from Allstate and other sponsors allowed us to learn more about them and what they do. Since speaking with people and understanding them and their needs is one of the many customer service skills I’m always working to improve, I can’t think of a better way to start each day. And you never know, you could open the door to a reliable connection. At the very least, it increases your brand awareness around the convention.
At conferences, if you take advantage of the panels, you’ll come away with some great information! I found these panels and presentations to be fascinating. In all, there were 13 scheduled sessions, mostly covering updates to Allstate operations. And though not everything applied to me as a sponsor, I did gain a lot of insight into the current state of insurance agencies and how they work. I especially enjoyed hearing key players from Allstate discuss new processes, software, and general ways of doing things differently and more efficiently. It was just another way I was able to better understand that particular industry and how they operate. Getting to know their internal workings and then absorbing tips on how to make our own operations more efficient was an invaluable type of insight to us as a SaaS.
And maybe I’m a little biased, but my favorite session was when Sean O’Donohoe, Mega Agency Owner and actual ActivTrak user, spoke about us for five minutes during the Sponsor Introduction. He told all 120 agencies about his success using our product. Having such a significant name vetting your product jump starts interest when you need it most – right when all of those people are about to head into the exhibitor hall.
The exhibitor hall was probably the most valuable part of the whole trip for us, especially in the context of improving our customer service skills. As part of our sponsorship, we had a booth in the hall. If you can get a booth, do it. And choose the location that has the most visibility if you can. We specifically requested the very first booth to the left, so it was the first booth people saw when they walked in and the last booth people saw when they walked out.
That boost from the Sponsor Introduction generated a ton of foot traffic. At times, I was giving demos for up to 20 people at once! This is your time to show off. With a solid strategy for how to run your booth and executing your awesome customer service skills, you’ll discover this is a much easier way to generate leads than something like cold calling since you have all of your potential customers in one place.
The number of leads we gathered more than made up for our expenses, but again, the knowledge we came away with and connections we formed were just as valuable. Take it from me; if you’ve never been to a conference like this, you are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to grow your business.
2. Your potential customers may not know they need you!
While we’re on the subject of never knowing, I think one of the reasons why we were so successful at our booth was because many people there had never heard of us or used a similar tool.
As I walked around the exhibition hall when I wasn’t demoing, it was interesting to see the different products the agencies use. One of the tools in my Customer Service Skills Toolbox is learning what other solutions our customers turn to. I found that most of the products represented in the hall were tools to make their lead generation easier. It hit me that at this particular conference, ActivTrak was unique. There was nothing else like us represented there. Sure, you had several HR products like payroll and recruitment software, but nothing that offered what we do. This was surprising to me and clued me into the oblivious nature that some businesses have of how they actually operate.
But once the attendees realized we could equip them with the resources they need to understand how work gets done in the office, they saw the value. In fact, the people who had never heard of us or activity tracking were the most eager to sign up! Budget was no issue for them because they immediately saw how we could help their operations improve, resulting in a larger bottom line.
Most importantly, they understood that ActivTrak isn’t simply an employee monitoring tool; it’s an employee behavior analytics tool. We don’t exist so Allstate Mega Agencies can micromanage their receptionists and spy on their Agents.
Clarify your usefulness
See, another important aspect of impactful customer service skills is making sure the customer knows the ins and outs of your product and how it can affect their business for the better. So we showed the visitors to our booth that by analyzing the data gathered from each team member while they are working, management can better identify tasks that can be streamlined, expensive software that isn’t used, and trends in Agent activity during different parts of the year.
So if you’re an insurance agency or any other type of business, learn all you can about the way your team operates. Your goal is to improve, and you can’t improve if you don’t measure. And at the conference, it was evident that some of the most successful insurance agencies in the United States understand that.
3. Excellent customer service skills require learning how clients think and operate.
Over the course of this blog, I’ve used terms like “insight,” “knowledge,” “aware,” and “information.” I guess that would be the ongoing theme of this post, making it a great final point! The trip was fun and it was great to come home with new business, but it also solidified the importance of meeting the people who we want to help. If we never leave our Dallas office, we’re missing out on the chance to connect with real people and understand exactly what it is they need to succeed.
Let’s follow the logic for a second. We want to help Allstate meet their needs. To do that, we have to know what their needs are. Sure, we could pick up a phone or shoot off an email and ask them what their needs are, but there’s something different about chatting in-person. By spending time with the Agents at the booth, we learned who they are as people. Super nice. Fun. Down to earth. They frankly spoke to us one on one, revealing that there’s a little ambiguity about who’s doing what in the office. Their NEED is for the office to be more efficient, but they either weren’t aware of how to do it or had concerns some solutions weren’t right for them.
By listening to them and learning what it is they think about in the real world of insurance, Brandon and I knew exactly how to step in and show them why ActivTrak would meet their needs. It was as simple as showing them how easy the installation process is, how painless it is to use, and the type of relevant data they could gather. We want to make their job easier, and to them as the smaller business owner, ActivTrak makes that possible by running on autopilot.
Lingering lessons from Four Seasons, Florida
Though it a while ago, I’m still excited about everything that I learned from this experience. I’m still applying this knowledge to everything I do and I’m working to improve my customer service skills each day. In fact, as I finish up this post, I’m getting back into the groove of things after a trip I took to the UK and India to meet with businesses there and discover what their needs are.
To wrap things up, I’ve found that I’ve become a better Customer Success Manager in part because of these three key takeaways. And I believe that if you attend a similar conference, identify businesses who aren’t aware of or who don’t quite understand your product and meet the people you want to help to understand their needs better, there’s a good chance you can improve your customer service skills and be instrumental in the success of your customers.