Customer Service Focus
They came by chance and stayed by choice
Challenges and commitment to service attract CSRs
By Jim Cuprisin, CIC, CRM, ARP
Although most CSRs entered the insurance industry by chance, many have chosen a long career in an independent agency service position. The National Alliance Research Academy discovered this fact and made many other key findings in its most recent "CSR Profile" study. More than 1,400 CSRs across the country were surveyed, and some of the important findings are presented in this article.
Some agencies still use "CSR" or "customer service representative" as the title for a service job, but the majority of service positions have titles other than CSR. For commercial lines, the most frequently cited job title, by 44% of the survey participants, was "account manager." Only 16% classified themselves as customer service representatives or CSRs, and 12% said "account executive."
Some agencies use different titles to indicate each service employee's position in a hierarchy. For example, account executive may be the highest position, occupied by employees with the most experience; account manager may be second, also occupied by experienced personnel; and customer service representative may be the title for entry-level personnel with the least experience. Given the job titles that are used, one can infer that service personnel are typically doing more than routine service work; they are establishing relationships with clients, managing their accounts, and doing all they can to make sure they retain those clients for the agency.
Although many different job titles are used in practice, for ease of use, customer service representative or CSR will be used throughout the rest of this article to describe all agency employees who hold service positions. Only commercial lines (CL) CSRs are discussed in this article, although the full "CSR Profile" study also includes personal lines CSRs.
Most CL CSRs (69%) entered the insurance industry by chance; they were just looking for a job. The study indicates several other reasons for entering the insurance industry: It was a good match for their skills, a family member influenced their decision, and/or they received a referral from an agency employee.
Although there are a number of reasons, it is interesting to note that the vast majority of CSRs entered the industry by chance; they simply "wandered in." They often did not plan for an insurance career and did not pursue a college degree that would be applicable to the insurance industry. Once they got into the industry, however, many CSRs chose to stay because they found it to be a rewarding career.
The hiring/training process
According to the survey, about 20% of CL CSRs earned a bachelor's degree or an advanced degree. Whether or not CSRs are college graduates, they need significant training and education once they are hired for the CSR position. The Certified Insurance Service Representatives (CISR) program and the Dynamics of Service program can help CSRs move up the learning curve in a relatively short period of time. In-house training, mentoring, and other educational and designation programs also can help CSRs expand their knowledge.
Some agencies use personality or aptitude tests to help them ascertain whether an applicant has the skills and intelligence for the CSR position and is a good fit for the agency. According to the survey, 39% of CL CSRs took a personality or aptitude test, most often from the Caliper or Omnia testing companies. These tests don't tell interviewers everything they need to know, but they do provide important information that can be used to identify the most desirable candidates.
Agency service positions are still held predominantly by women. Survey results show that 98% of CL CSRs are women. In many other industries, such as airlines, telecommunications, and consumer electronics, service positions often are held by men. In the future, perhaps more men will fill agency service positions.
Do CSRs want to advance in the agency and move out of the customer service function? According to survey results, the majority of CSRs, 53%, have no plans to move out of their customer service positions. They are content in their roles and do not want to pursue sales or management positions.
Of those CSRs who are looking for advancement within the agency, the greatest numbers want to move into office management (27%) or marketing (19%). CSRs who advance into management positions often work as head of a department and supervise a number of CSRs, so they can share their knowledge and experience with new CSRs. Those CSRs who are interested in marketing often have extensive coverage knowledge and can work productively with company underwriters.
Although CSRs focus primarily on service, more of them are making a contribution to agency sales. According to the survey, the majority of CL CSRs, 61%, have some kind of sales responsibilities: 80% do account rounding where they sell higher limits or write additional coverage for their existing clients; 79% cross-sell to other lines of business; 78% pursue new business sales, much as producers do; and 67% conduct renewal sales to keep their existing clients on the books. Many agencies instill a sales mentality throughout the organization, and CSRs are often called on to be part of the sales process. Although their selling activity typically is secondary to their servicing responsibilities, CSRs can have a significant impact on sales.
Of the CSRs with sales responsibilities, only 40% receive additional compensation. Some agency owners reward a CSR's contribution to sales by increasing his or her salary rather than paying a commission. Some CSRs, 27%, do receive commissions for sales. In other agencies, CSRs receive sales compensation in the form of a bonus.
According to the survey, CSRs stay in their positions for a variety of reasons. The most rewarding aspects included: people contact (69%), change and constant learning (66%), diverse tasks and duties (65%), and meeting other people's needs (63%). CSRs' responses indicate that they are people oriented and enjoy helping others. They also show that they like to learn a wide variety of new things. Agency managers should encourage the professional development of their CSRs and offer them the opportunity to attend educational programs so they can improve their skills and knowledge.
CSRs often enter the industry by chance but stay by choice. Customer service professionals go by various job titles and assume varying responsibilities, and they all make major contributions to their agencies' success. Although many CSRs do not have college degrees, they are intelligent and hard working, as pre-employment tests often suggest. They prove this by the many ways in which they contribute to their agencies' success. Women still dominate agency service positions and are relied on for their insurance knowledge and diligence in completing tasks. Most CSRs are happy with their career choice, and they often contribute to sales and seek challenges of constant learning and helping others. Although they may not have planned for insurance careers initially, they make a positive impact in their agencies and with the clients they serve.
Jim Cuprisin, CIC, CRM, ARP, is research director for The National Alliance Research Academy, where he conducts surveys and publishes studies. He is the editor of Resources magazine and contributes articles to other insurance publications. Jim has over a quarter century of experience in the business and began his career as an underwriter. To obtain a copy of the most recent CSR Profile study, which includes valuable compensation and servicing volume standards, go to www.TheNationalAlliance.com.