CSR sees technology building personal ties
Winner of the National Alliance 2011 CSR of the Year Award achieves balance in work and life
By Alice Ashby Roettger
Taking an innovative approach both to life and to her work recently paid off big-time for Account Executive Laura Falanga CIC, CISR, AAI, AIS, of the Moore & Johnson Agency in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her creative response to the essay topic set by the National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research reflected that quality and helped garner her the 2011 National Outstanding CSR of the Year Award.
The National Alliance asked CSRs to respond to the statement: "Many insurance service professionals believe that their personal relationships with clients may be threatened by agencies' and companies' efforts to use more technology." Laura crafted an imaginary conversation between a CSR and client as, ironically, they deepened their personal relationship through the use of multiple technologies.
First, she described a video iChat that allowed them to meet face to face (if not in person). "Laura, this is great to finally meet you," said the client. "It's almost like being in your office!"
As the process continued, the client witnessed the use of an on-screen renewal form, along with instant messaging to an underwriter who immediately responded to and confirmed by e-mail the request for an extension, as well as Laura's helping the client fill out a confusing part of the application.
Laura further described the process of instructing the client to sign the renewal form and send her a scanned copy so that the underwriter could add his signature—all before lunch.
This was followed by Laura's suggestion that the client visit the agency's Web site to learn more about coverages (the client didn't want to bother Laura). In addition, she guided the client to safety videos on YouTube and to the agency's Facebook page.
The customer concluded: "Laura, did you realize that I just got to meet you and you helped me fill out my renewal, you got me that extension I need so badly, and I now have a place to go to get information I can share with my entire company! All this and we never left our desks!"
Reflected within this narrative is Laura's tendency to carry out her tasks at a much higher level than 100%. The essay contestants were asked to describe "four courses of actions(s) that a CSR, Account Executive, or Account Manager can take to preserve and/or enhance relationships with clients and/or companies while continuing to utilize and benefit from current technologies." Laura's response featured at least nine such actions.
Also paramount in her work life is balance, which, according to Laura, "is the top responsibility of a CSR. I always try to make sure that I'm doing the right thing for the customer, the agency and the company. CSRs know best what's going on everywhere. It's a juggling act to keep everyone happy."
Doing the right thing by her clients came easily to Laura—via her parents' teachings, she says. "Mom and Dad raised me to realize that doing what is popular isn't always the best thing. It's doing the right thing that's important, even when it isn't always popular. Ethics is important in this industry."
Her mother's influence also guided Laura to the insurance industry. A pre-law graduate of the University of Central Florida, Laura realized that she just didn't have a "taste" for the law. But she was fascinated with the field of contracts. Her mother, the CFO of a large company, often dealt with people in the insurance field, reading leases and contracts, among other things. Sensing her daughter's desire to use her own contracts background, she steered her in that direction—to the insurance industry.
Laura and her husband decided to move to North Carolina to escape the heat and humidity of Florida. They settled in Raleigh, found jobs and began a family that now consists of two daughters, ages 4-1/2 and 1.
The Moore & Johnson Agency became Laura's business "home" in 2003. According to President Charlie B. Hoover Jr., CPCU, CIC, ARM, AAI, "Laura has met each challenge before her and moved up through several positions successively to become our current commercial lines service department manager. As the youngest account manager in the department, she is on a pedestal that demands unwavering commitment to excellence in action and an unquestionable work ethic. . . . Laura is continually questioning, challenging and solving workflow issues that allow us to operate more efficiently."
He continues: "The customer experience and highest ethical standards are Laura's guiding principles. In day-to-day servicing of customer needs, or in reviewing their total insurance program, or in managing others who carry out these important functions, she has always empathized with the client and taken a leadership position of 'doing what is right.'"
Vice President Richard J. Johnson Jr., concurs, saying, "She has exhibited great initiative and diligence in each position that she has held here. I have received numerous compliments from agency clients about her service, whether promptly answering a complex coverage question or expeditiously providing a certificate of insurance."
In addition, Eric I. Stevens, Moore & Johnson's commercial sales executive, observes, "Laura demonstrates a constant desire to perform her job to a standard of excellence that is unmatched in our state, and frankly in our industry. Her technical background is nothing other than impressive, and her ability to interpret insurance forms and contractual arrangements on behalf of our clientele is truly an incredible resource for our organization and our industry. Laura has an ability, within a simple five-minute conversation, to recognize gaps in coverage and identify exposures that a client may face."
Echoing those sentiments is Clay Garst, the manager of the employee benefits division of Moore & Johnson. "Some of the areas where Laura has assisted me or my department are administrative help and training, projects and project management.… In the area of projects, we are constantly training to show how a new program will better suit a new client. I discussed my vision of the project and ultimately how the spreadsheet should look. She took that idea and redesigned it so prospects could quickly and clearly see the benefits of the new program we offer."
Laura earned her CIC designation in 2009 and is currently fitting classes into her busy life in order to earn her CSRM designation. Other designations that appear on her résumé are CISR, AAI and AIS. She may be the youngest person to have been elected president of the IIA of Wake County. In addition, says Charlie Hoover, "Being named to the Commissioner's Advisory Committee usually is an honor bestowed on persons with many more years of experience and speaks volumes about her reputation and stature in the industry already."
Other industry activities that have benefited from Laura's sense of service are the Education Committee of IIANC, where she is currently subcommittee chair for the Southeastern Insurance Institute scholarship; the North Carolina Department of Insurance Continuing Education Advisory Committee; and the agency councils of The Hartford and Builders Mutual.
Witnessing the challenges faced by some fellow employees inspired Laura to serve her community via the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure events.
Added to all of this, she assists in the educational development of new producers, and acts as an agency resource for training co-workers on carrier guidelines and technology-related issues. She also is taking charge of launching social media sites for the agency by serving as chair of the newly formed committee to create and launch a new agency Web site.
"There's something different every day, something new and something to learn," says Laura of the insurance industry. Laughing, she adds, "It's a steady job. Everyone needs insurance."
Addressing the technology vs. personal service conundrum, Laura says, "Technology is now a tool that, when embraced, can provide a great competitive advantage in all areas of the client interaction with the agency as well as the client and account manager's interaction with the carrier. . . . By using technology efficiently, we can enhance the client's experience."
Nevertheless, Laura is quick to caution: "Technology can never replace a handshake and sincere smile." Even if it's via iChat!
THE OUTSTANDING CSR OF THE YEAR AWARD
Each year since 1991, The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research has presented an Outstanding CSR of the Year Award, based on the candidate's contributions to the insurance industry, community involvement, and the submission of an essay that responds to a topic suggested by the Alliance. The winner receives a gold and diamond lapel pin, $2,000 in cash, and has his or her name inscribed on a sculpture that is housed at National Alliance headquarters in Austin, Texas. The winner's employer also becomes a winner—of a scholarship to any National Alliance program—and the nominator receives $1,000.
The four finalists receive a gold and garnet lapel pin, a $500 cash award and publicity in a national trade journal.
This year's winner, Laura Falanga, and the four finalists were chosen from a field of 40 state winners. The finalists were:
• Jessica L.C. Adkins, CISR, of the United Security Agency, Huntington, West Virginia
• Robin A. Delano, CIC, CISR, ACSR, CPIW, DAE, of Clark-Mortenson Agency, Inc., Keene, New Hampshire
• Jaye E. Kasper, CIC, CRM, CISR, CPCU, CPD, ARM, of United Fire Group, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
• Kara Plowman of HNI Company, Inc., New Berlin, Wisconsin
For information about the Outstanding Customer Service Representative of the Year Award, go to www.TheNationalAlliance.com.
Alice Ashby Roettger is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. She also serves as an assistant editor at the Rough Notes Company.
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