More than ever, today’s business customers expect a high-quality experience when they’re trying to resolve an issue with a key service.

At Allianz Trade, our customer service teams bring technical expertise, local-market knowledge and a genuine human touch to every customer interaction. That ensures your enquiries – no matter how big or small – are handled professionally and smoothly, helped by an understanding of your business and the application of advanced technologies.

We asked two of our leaders in customer service — Raymon van Valkenburg, Head of Customer Service at Allianz Trade in the Netherlands and Allianz Trade in Belgium, and Marilena Zega, Head of Customer Service for Allianz Trade in Italy  — to share insights into their roles and the evolving services their teams deliver to customers.

Raymon van Valkenburg,  
Head of Customer Service, Allianz Trade in Benelux

Marilena Zega,  
Head of Customer Service, Allianz Trade in Italy

“Allianz Trade has a strong pedigree as an organisation that manages business risk effectively for its customers,” says Raymon van Valkenburg. “Today, customer-centricity has become embedded in that culture as we continue our growth as a customer-focused organisation.” Whether a query comes in by phone, email or message, he says the service needs to be easy to access for customers and effective in getting them the right answers to their questions.

Just as the expectation of customers for a highly effective service is rising, there is also changing demand in the ways they want to interact. Today 50% to 60% of our customers choose to make contact with service departments by phone, while around a third come in via email and the remainder through our customer platform Allianz Trade Online, or via account managers.

“We provide customers with easy routes to resolve their issues,” says his colleague Marilena Zega. “We are able to allocate our resources across all of these channels in very efficient ways to ensure we can manage, solve and close issues as rapidly as possible. And, most importantly, leave the customer satisfied,” she says.

The type of queries also varies widely: from easily resolved requests for copies of mislaid invoices, through to complex cases questioning why a credit limit on a customer’s client has been reduced or cancelled.

Trade credit insurance is not always an easy product to work with,” says Raymon. “If everything goes well, there are no issues. But there are, for example, certain timeframes you need to keep to, processes you need to understand when making a claim or issues that arise when managing a dispute with your client, and all of those call for expert advice.”

The goal of his team is to solve first-line questions – indeed, globally, 90% of our customers’ issues are resolved in their initial call. And that requires service teams to have a sophisticated and broad set of skills and experience.

Critically, customer service advisers need to be great and active listeners, so they fully grasp the customer’s issue and then can advise on a course of action. “They need to be able to express genuine empathy with the customer, and the problems and frustrations they have,” says Marilena.

“They also need great problem-solving skills, and to be supported by all the systems, processes, access to information, training and experience necessary to apply those,” says Raymon. And lastly, they need to be fluent communicators so they can come back to the customer with a clear description of a solution and a guide to next steps.

As a reflection of that, his team is able to resolve 92% of the questions it receives directly, without having to escalate enquiries to a second level involving the likes of risk assessors or claims teams.

In this context, Marilena has a favourite maxim: ‘Never stop learning.’ “We should always be updating our skills and knowledge: whether that is around new digital platforms and tools, new rules for risk limits, expertise in reading financial KPIs or a deeper understanding of how the state of a balance sheet impacts risk decisions.”

“What is key is that our teams receive timely updates on the three focus areas of our core service: claims and collection, policy management and the risk aspects that determine a credit limit explanation coming from reduction or cancellation,” she says.

One way in which we support that is through an ambassador system, which encourages knowledge-sharing between those different departments and customer service teams. “As a company, we really invest heavily in upskilling people and bringing their knowledge to the same high level,” says Raymon.

Alongside such knowledge-building, though, soft skills are equally important. Marilena aims to work every day with her team to ensure genuine empathy, understanding and friendliness are being expressed across all customer touchpoints.

And such efforts are certainly appreciated by customers. A customer from Italy recently pointed to “the good feeling of collaboration every time you contact Allianz Trade.”

Underpinning that broad skill set has been a major push in recent years to make Allianz Trade a truly customer-centric organisation.

“Listening and responding to the voice of the customer is so important,” says Marilena. An actuary by training, she has worked in numerous positions in her 21 years at the company, including recently as a data scientist – a role that led to her appointment as the Champion for Customer Centricity in Allianz Trade in Italy.

The focus is on measuring and refining the quality of the customer experience day by day and constantly improving the processes that elevate customer satisfaction.

One area where that is applied involves the careful management of complaints from customers or intermediaries. “We register all customer interactions, and analyse them to identify the root causes and see how we can improve,” Raymon points out. “If an agent detects negative sentiment from a customer on a call then that is flagged as something we need to act on. We see any negative contact or complaint as an opportunity to improve. And that’s now embedded in our organisation – to the extent that in the Benelux team it is referred to as ‘TOP’, which rather than a reference to complaints stands for ‘towards perfection’,” he explains.

It is a sentiment echoed by Marilena. “We should use all of our capabilities, knowledge and personal attributes in such situations to get the customer onside again.”

She has also set up another process to respond to ‘detractors’ that involves team members following up any low rating to understand its root cause. “We make calls to any detractors to better understand the problem they faced, the topic they raised and why we were not able to satisfy their requirements,” says Marilena. “In doing so, we are able to analyse those shortcomings and develop improvement plans,” she adds.

Customer-centricity is just one of the approaches that makes Allianz Trade stand out in the market for trade credit insurance.

“When we benchmark against competitors, our data ­– coupled with the feedback we receive from brokers in the market – confirms that we’re doing a lot more on training, taking ownership of the customer’s problem and empowering our employees to solve issues directly,” says Raymon. “We do not have the delay of having to reach out through several layers of the company to get a problem solved that is evident at rival companies.”

We also structures our services so they can stay close to the customer – literally. Customer service teams sit at a local, country-specific level, in contrast to some other companies that have regionally or even globally centralised services or have outsourced customer care completely. As Marilena highlights, the approach ensures that advisers can readily apply knowledge of local market conditions, legal and governance rules, accountancy standards and so on, as well as working in local languages.

As she says: “Advisers can really give the best-informed assistance when they have a clear picture of the customer’s business strategy.”

That intense focus on the customer translates into metrics: “we are constantly measuring our performance,” says Raymon. “We’re asking if customers were satisfied with the answer they were given or if they feel their issue was fully resolved. We ask them about their experience of the knowledge and expertise of the agent they dealt with and if they would recommend us to someone at another company,” he says.

This is done both via 5-star surveys to rate the service at different touchpoints in the customer journey and via the classic Net Promotor Score (NPS). Gathered annually across the trade credit insurance industry, such NPS numbers provide an independent measure of customer perceptions of different players.

In 2020, the NPS showed that we maintained our leadership rating for customer service globally”, Marilena points out. “To me, it highlights that customers appreciate our knowledge and capacity to offer customised advice to find the best solutions for them, as well as the friendly way that service is delivered,” says Marilena — or in the words of one of our customers: “In terms of friendliness and willingness to help, I would give 10 stars.” 

One factor influencing that high rating is a commitment to invest in digital technologies designed to optimise service delivery.

Our capabilities have been enhanced through the introduction of a new core platform, giving agents faster access to the information they need to delve into and manage a customer enquiry — and, in turn, provide them with a quick resolution. “It’s now easy for teams to see the requests that have come in, what type of queries a customer has had in the past, and much more,” says Raymon. “The result is we have all the relevant information that customers might need at our fingertips.”

As well as progressively adding functionality to that platform, we are also recognising the need to engage with customers through new channels, with the aim of making it even easier for them to reach us. Live chat service is in the pipeline— a key innovation, in Marilena’s view, and mobile messaging services could also make a difference. “Given we all have personal experience of using WhatsApp and other mobile messaging apps, I believe that it’s vital to have this kind of free-flowing interaction with the customer via mobile and app channels – of course, alongside the existing more traditional ones.”

But it isn’t technology that excites either Raymon or Marilena most about their day-to-day roles.

“I’m a customer service person; I like to serve customers, to dig into their problems, solve them and empower and train my team do so. We are there to find solutions for all the trade credit problems our customer may have and to improve our processes so we can progressively serve them better,” says Raymon.

Most fulfilling for Marilena is the active part she is playing in the shift to true customer-centricity. “We can now activate a lot of customer-centric processes that were just theory before, processes that listen to the voice of our customers, assist them, solve real problems and generate satisfaction. The big gratification for me is knowing we are managing to do all that to our best level.”