When asked what constitutes good customer service, M. Dale Janes says, "First and foremost, it means listening to your customer." And the most effective way to listen to your customer is to have face time, he says.The senior vice president of institutional and participant relationship management at MassMutual Retirement Services describes how he and the company's relationship managers visit their clients on a regular basis. These are employers who offer MassMutual retirement plans to their employees. "As much as the client wants us to be there-and as much as we need to be there-we spend time getting to know them, talking to them, and touring their offices and factories. That's how we connect and build relationships," says Janes.

MassMutual also recognizes the importance of face time with participants in their retirement plans. "We put our specialists in front of almost 65,000 participants last year," Janes adds.

The company also recently formed a client advisory committee composed of approximately two people from 10 client companies in a variety of industries and company sizes. MassMutual so far has held two on-site meetings with this group, and several conference calls to get feedback on various issues and initiatives.

"For example, we're rolling out new defined benefits financial reports," says Janes. "So we showed the prototype to a group of these clients and asked, 'What do you think? Does this work for you?'" Similarly, MassMutual asked for the client advisors' feedback on a new hand-held enrollment device the company was developing.

These interactions are a way to ensure the company's investments in customer service improvements are sound-while also engaging MassMutual customer service staff with the people they serve.

"Our staff has learned that the people they're dealing with every day are just normal, regular people," Janes says. "They're people who have a job to do. They're trying to help their employees prepare for retirement-and they're just looking for help to make that job easier."

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