Remember, skills can be taught, but not attitude

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • All insurance companies sell the same products.

  • What sets us apart is the connection we have with our customers.

  • A call centre is thus key to our company because it enables us to be in touch with clients.

  • This assures them that we are always available to serve them and attend to their needs. 

Naomi Wangui Gichuki is the head of customer experience at Orient Group.

What does your role entail?
As the Head of Customer Experience, I run all the customer experience touchpoints for the three business units under the Orient Group. These units are Kenya Orient Insurance Limited, Kenya Orient Life Assurance Company and Orient Asset Managers. Therefore, I oversee the department that is in direct contact with clients either face to face, by email, through the phone, or on chat on the website. I am also the link between the company and the regulators such as the Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA) and the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK).

What does a typical day at work look like for you?
Every day, I attend to customer inquiries and complaints and also educate clients. This involves handling calls from our clients and also connecting them to the various departments while trying to find out how we can make sales, and build and maintain relationships with them. 

Working in customer experience means that we are the contact point between the company and customers. We therefore need to be subject matter experts in everything the company offers. Our work days also include training on company products and solutions. People working in customer experience are also involved in sales because they need to contribute to the bottom line of the company. Thus, I also do sales for the company. 

What is the importance of in-house call centres to companies like yours?
All insurance companies sell the same products. What sets us apart is the connection we have with our customers. A call centre is thus key to our company because it enables us to be in touch with clients. This assures them that we are always available to serve them and attend to their needs. 

Call centres also help companies in collecting and measuring data as data is the new currency. In our case, our call centre allows us to understand who our customers are, what they do, and also what our competition is doing from the insights we get while engaging customers. We also take count of how many hours we lost, how many complaints were resolved, how many were left pending and why that was the case. This is important in improving our service delivery. 

On top of that, call centres also equip individuals with soft skills. I would encourage anyone starting a career to start here because it is fertile ground to equip you with necessary soft skills that prove relevant to great leaders such as negotiation, communication skills and conflict resolution, among other skills. 

You pursued a degree in sociology and political science, has the course been relevant to your work?
Yes, because when studying social sciences, you learn about the behaviour of people. You also cover areas such as anthropology, which is to do with patterns of people’s behaviour, economics and different cultures. All these inform how a customer buys and interacts with insurance. Customer experience is all about connection. People buy people first, and products second. This means that to connect with a customer and build rapport, you must know what is important to the customer as determined by their different temperaments, age groups, social classes or religions. Studying social science equipped me with the skills needed to connect with our customers better.

As someone involved in hiring, what do you look for in candidates?
Almost every career involves serving customers. Therefore, regardless of what anyone studied, they can pursue a career in customer experience. However, it is important to note that as much as skills can be taught, attitude cannot be taught. Regardless of your level of skill, if you join a company, you will be onboarded and trained to learn the systems and procedures. However, your attitude is what will carry you through and differentiate you from the rest.

A great attitude makes you teachable, ready to learn, self-motivated, slow to anger and even quicker to admit to wrong. During the hiring process, I do not only focus on the technical prowess of the individual but also seek to incorporate questions that give me an understanding of someone’s character because that is what builds into the culture of an organisation. Therefore, I value the right attitude in a candidate.

You have witnessed tremendous career growth since you started working, what’s the secret?
I have always aligned what I do with the message in Ecclesiastes 9:10 which says that whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might. For instance, there was a time the Orient Group announced redundancies and I was a supervisor. I had to go back to picking up calls and attending to customers, which is something I still do today. The lesson here is understanding the importance of where you have been placed at a given season in your life. Do the work you’re given, without focusing so much on titles. I remember we would spend nights at work moving files from one end to the other, doing excel sheets, going for marketing drives and trying to understand how finances work. All these have contributed to my career growth and helped me stay relevant. In whatever role I take, I give my absolute best and do what needs to be done to get results, without caring about the title I hold.

What are some of your proudest achievements?
I set up and led an in-house contact centre. I am also proud that I have been instrumental in the career and personal growth of my team members. Every member of my team has experienced tremendous career growth. To help them achieve this, I look at their skill sets, attitudes, strengths and weaknesses and actively work to get them into positions that would suit their unique qualities. I also help them build on their strengths and work on their weak areas. I have also grown and thrived by helping my team members through coaching and mentorship. Importantly though, I have helped Orient Group achieve its goals over the years.

You’ve been at Orient Group since 2015, what has informed your decision to stay at the company all that time?
I am thankful for the exposure that I have been offered over the years. My employer has been gracious to me and allowed me to be myself. I have also been exposed to how information technology, human resource, finance and even marketing work even though I don’t work in those departments. Through this, I have learnt a lot, and this makes my career very fulfilling.

I am also lucky to have supportive bosses. Bosses have power over their staff and having supportive bosses goes a long way. My supervisors have given me room to make mistakes since they understand that I am on a learning path and they trust me enough to let me run my department without interference. Additionally, they have allowed me to thrive by offering me the opportunity to advance my studies. 

How would you advise someone interested in a career similar to yours?
I would advise them to be teachable and have an appetite for learning. When working with customers, every day is a learning experience. They also need to regularly invest in learning to augment their knowledge by pursuing online courses on platforms such as LinkedIn Learning or Coursera and networking with like-minded individuals. To help them with their career growth, I’d also recommend getting mentors. Mentors are helpful in supporting growth, setting goals, maintaining accountability and also serving as a source of knowledge. Lastly, you need to genuinely love people. This is a people centered career.

How do you unwind?
As much as I like being around people, I also enjoy alone quality time. When I am not at work, I watch a lot of British comedies and listen to podcasts. Additionally, I am very active in church and engage in a lot of church activities.