02/28 2011

Customer Service — USAA Style

Banking and insurance giant USAA has set quite a record for itself – for the past 4 years, the firm has been in the #1 or #2 spot in Business Week’s/J.D. Powers “Customer Service Champions” survey. Awhopping 87% of respondents say that they would buy from USAA again (far high from the average score of 36%). In addition, USAA’s retention rate is a near-perfect 98.7%.

Started as a company focused on meeting the special demands of deployed services personnel, USAA now has expanded their product offerings to compete in virtually every segment of the financial servicesworld. Customers laud praise on the level of service provided by USAA, including the ease of filing insurance claims and conducting financial transactions.

What is USAA’s secret? A recent Business Week article outlined the following distinguishing factors:

  • Training – Call Center Representatives receive up to 6 months of training before actuallyanswering customer calls – the goal is to ensure that the representatives understand the lives of military customers.
  • Benefits – Believing that better benefits will result in representatives who provide better service USAA employees receive generous health care, bonuses that can exceed 16% of salary, and even relocation assistance.
  • Systems – USAA has invested in high-tech software that allows their representatives to see the same on-line screens that customers are seeing on their PCs at home.
  • Technology — USAA recognizes that popularity of mobile services for their customer base – banking customers can even deposit checks by taking pictures using their smartphones.
09/17 2010

What We Know About “Emotional Intelligence” – And Why It Is Important

Research shows that Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a key ingredient to success in both work and non-work settings. In fact, the EI variables contribute significantly more to success than does a person’s cognitive ability (or IQ).

While a person can be ineffective in a job if s/he does not possess the cognitive ability required by the position, simply possessing high cognitive skills does not guarantee job success. Conversely, possessing high levels of EI is correlated with job success, regardless of job level.

Daniel Goleman popularized the EI term in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman’s model outlines the following four EI domains as being important for managers and leaders:

  • Self-Awareness (the ability to read one’s emotions and recognize their impact)
  • Self-Management (controlling one’s emotions and impulses)
  • Social Awareness (the ability to sense, understand, and react to other’s emotions)
  • Relationship Management (the ability to inspire and influence others while managing conflict)

How can organizations assess EI in job candidates? Assessing EI normally involves the use of standardized assessment instruments, along with behaviorally-based interview questions that allow the candidate to demonstrate situations where s/he has demonstrated high levels of EI.

Ideally, the results of the assessment tools are incorporated into the interview process itself, allowing for a more in-depth evaluation of each job candidate.

Can EI be developed or trained? The answer is both yes and no. Briefly stated, a person’s EI is largely determined by previous life experiences, but does change over time. As with many types of development initiatives, self-awareness is an important part of changing one’s EI preferences and tendencies. Individuals working to change their EI behaviors need to actively solicit candid feedback on the behaviors they wish to change, and also need to be committed to changing behaviors that may be automatic and long-standing.

This type of change is not always easy – and it does require both the learning of new behaviors, and the discipline to apply these newly-learned behaviors. Therefore, individuals without the discipline to change – and those without feedback or reinforcement mechanisms in the workplace — will be particularly challenged to change.