How to handle awkward customers

In a perfect world, we’d all be pleasant and polite all the time. Sadly, the real world’s not always quite like that. An awkward or hostile customer is still a customer, and if you want to keep them that way, it sometimes takes a little flexibility.

There’s an art to dealing with awkward customers. The first thing to stress is that you should try not to take anything they say personally. If they’re upset or angry, just ride it out, stay focused, helpful and constructive!

Easy to say, of course, but learning to take awkward customers in your stride doesn’t come easily to most people. And the time it takes to soothe, placate and humour such individuals carries a disproportionate time cost to the firm.

Conversely, leaving customers angry or upset can damage not just your relationship with them but your firm’s reputation on a wider front.

That’s why it pays to invest in training specially designed to help your staff stay calm why managing difficult customers.

Searchlight can provide a one-day participative workshop that analyses the emotions behind hard-to-handle calls and looks at how to communicate effectively, control the situation, and achieve a win-win solution.

These techniques will reduce work-place stress on employees who might otherwise be subject to tension and, ultimately, illness.

The workshop  involves role plays and an end-of-workshop action planning session to help bed in the knowledge and the techniques it communicates.

Both you and your customers will reap the benefits of having  staff who are proficient in dealing with otherwise damaging disputes. There is a wealth of evidence to show that customers who believe they have been listened to will respond with greater loyalty in the future.

This course is available as an in-house workshop – please phone 01372 361177 or email for further information.

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Meeting the client assets challenge

Regulatory responsibilities around handling client assets are a hot topic currently for many of the insurance broking firms to whom Searchlight provides training services. Under the terms of the Senior Managers and Certification Regime (SM&CR), there is increased focus on ensuring strong governance and a culture of accountability throughout regulated businesses. This means having a clear operational structure in terms of who’s responsible for what within a firm, ensuring there are no gaps or grey areas, and that an appropriate culture is in place from the top down.

All insurance broking firms who handle client money are required to nominate a single senior manager as the person primarily responsible for ensuring client assets are handled in compliance with CASS rules. This is one of the key ‘prescribed responsibilities’ under SM&CR that now apply to general insurance broking firms.

Selecting the right individual to carry out this role is vitally important. They’ll require a particular combination of knowledge, skills and experience – and also sufficient responsibility to perform effectively in upholding compliant CASS practices across the business. Any gaps in knowledge can be addressed with the right training input – but there’s no substitute for authority and experience.

Of course, assigning the prescribed responsibility is only one aspect of CASS compliance. We always stress when delivering CASS-related training that appointing responsibility to an individual in no way absolves board members of their CASS responsibilities and, indeed, that CASS responsibilities extend throughout a firm and should be explicitly reflected in job descriptions for all potentially affected roles.

This requires mapping and then monitoring CASS risks against practices, controls, policies, and procedures right across the business. A firm’s governance model must take account of CASS risks at every stage in the product, service, and client lifecycle.
Clearly this requires having a robust ongoing CASS training programme in place that includes in-depth face-to-face training for board members and senior managers – augmented with less intensive, but still thorough, training for other members of staff, perhaps delivered via e-learning.

The need for intensive training at senior levels is reflected in concerns expressed by many compliance specialists that senior management are often unable to articulate clearly exactly how CASS responsibilities are monitored and managed across different functions within their firms.

Another area of concern is around firms who are theoretically outside the scope of CASS rules because their business models do not involve holding client assets, they act purely on a ‘risk transfer’ basis, and do not have permission to hold client money. Problems can arise here if firms don’t properly appreciate that any failure – knowing or otherwise – to hold monies precisely in accordance with one or more of the terms of business agreements (TOBAs) that they have in place with insurers, could effectively mean they’re holding client money – and are therefore subject to CASS rules.

This underlines the importance of all firms understanding the full implications of CASS for their business. It can be challenging, of course, for smaller firms in particular to undertake regular (properly CASS-aware) reviews of their practices and procedures. But – with the regulator explicitly adopting a zero-tolerance approach to CASS enforcement, it’s not something they can afford to ignore.

If you’re operating on a pure risk-transfer basis, you’ll need to be able to document fully that you’re acting consistently in line with current TOBA conditions. If you do hold client money permissions, it’s essential your senior management and all other relevant employees fully understand and act on the duties and responsibilities this entails. Without in-depth CASS-specific training, there are countless pitfalls for the unwary.

Common issues around handling of client money include:

  • Banking arrangements e.g. bank charges, establishing compliant bank accounts, &c.
  • Reconciling accounts to bank statements
  • Commission withdrawal arrangements
  • Maintaining ‘buffers’
  • Premium finance recourse arrangements
  • Client refunds, bounced cheques and accounting for bad debt
  • Life commissions

If you’d like to know more, call us on 01372 361177, or email and we’ll be happy to help.

A version of this article first appeared in T-C News.


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Have you updated your FCSC disclosures?

The Financial Services Compensation Scheme provides compensation to individuals who’ve suffered misleading advice, poor investment management, or misrepresentation from a firm that’s since become insolvent.

Customers are only eligible to claim compensation if they do not fall into one of the categories detailed in COMP 4.2.1R of the FCA Handbook and are claiming in relation to a protected claim as defined in COMP 5.2.

On 1 April this year, the upper limit for the amount of compensation increased from £50,000 to £85,000, per eligible person, per firm. For some categories of insurance-related claim, no fixed limit applies.

From that same date, you’re now required to disclose the new compensation limits. You would normally do this through your website, marketing materials, client agreements and/or other client documentation.

The FCA regularly reviews firms’ online materials to check this information is accurately displayed. If you act as principal to one or more appointed representatives or tied agents, then you are responsible for claims against them.

If you haven’t already updated your materials to reflect these revised disclosure requirements, the time to act is now.

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A brief video introduction to Business Interruption insurance

Business interruption insurance can protect a business that is unable to continue operations as normal due to events beyond its control.

Business Interruption is one of the most valuable types of a company can buy. It is also a relatively complex insurance product.

And there are many pitfalls for the unwary. In this brief video we look at calculating gross profit and choosing a period of indemnity.

These topics and more are explained in far greater depth at Searchlight Insurance Training’s face to face training workshops on Business Interruption (BI) Insurance and across a range of online e-learning training resources.

To find out more visit

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Taking the measure of competence

Are your staff up to the tasks you expect them to perform? And, just as importantly, are they up to the tasks your customers expect them to perform?

If you’re not already 100% sure they are, here’s an insurance training workshop you might be interested in.

Searchlight Insurance training’s Measuring and Recording Competence workshop  is designed for managers, team leaders, coaches and learning specialists and provides the skills and knowledge they need to assess competency effectively.

It is particularly useful for those who are creating or reviewing their own competency framework, and is based on a case study, which is followed through the process of competency assessment and subsequent review meetings.

The topics covered in this interactive workshop include:

• Competence and competencies –defining terminology

• Using competencies for recruitment

• Assessing competence for an existing role

• Using competencies for development for a future role

• CII competency framework

• Using the framework to benchmark your firm’s approach

• Performance management

• The competency review

• Providing evidence of competence

• The personal development plan

• Strategies for ongoing review of development

• Effective record keeping

• Continuous professional development

• Completion of personal action plan for further development

For further details or to book places click here.

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Here’s a top tip for stretching your training budget

Do you have 3 or more members of staff who need training on a particular topic?

Not sure you want to fork out for a dedicated in-house training workshop?

Then, why not consider hosting one of our open market workshops at your offices?

This saves you travelling costs and lost staff time – and we offer special rates to customers who host training events

For further details, call us on 01372 361177 or email

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Time to brush up those interviewing skills?

Searchlight’s Interviewing Skill training workshop provides the knowledge you or your staff need to carry out interviews effectively, consistently, and professionally.

After all, if you recruit the wrong person it could cost your firm a great deal of money and time. Time invested in taking our course could pay significant dividends further down the line.

The workshops is suitable for anyone who’s responsible for recruiting and selecting staff, and will benefit experienced managers who want to refresh their skills or those who simply wish to master these skills quickly.

By the end of the workshop delegates will be able to:

  • Describe the importance of setting clear core competencies
  • Identify standards of performance for these competencies
  • Describe the legal issues relating to recruitment and selection
  • Specify the preparation required for a selection interview
  • Describe the key communication skills required for an effective interviewer
  • Explain the importance of clear record keeping
  • Conduct a selection interview following an agreed structure
  • Describe the follow up procedures

They will also have covered all of the following areas:

  • The objective of the selection interview and the costs of getting it wrong
  • Agreeing core competencies and recruitment criteria
  • Identifying performance standards
  • Legal issues in recruitment and selection
  • Short-listing for interview
  • Interview planning and question preparation
  • Interviewing skills
  • Questioning techniques
  • Listening and note taking
  • Establishing rapport
  • Body language
  • Skills practice
  • The selection decision
  • Personal action plan for further development of skills.

Click here for further details.



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