Customer Service Focus
Continuing education: A wise investment
By Amanda M. Williams, CISR, CPIA, AAI, AU, AAIS, AINS
King Solomon, an Old Testament figure who was revered for his wisdom, declared: "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting, get understanding." (Proverbs 4:7 KJV).
Wisdom and understanding are of great importance to professionals in the insurance business—a volatile industry where new exposures are constantly emerging, sophisticated coverages are regularly being developed, and policy forms are rapidly being updated. Today's independent agency owners would do well to heed Solomon's timeless advice and support the continuing education of their key employees—their CSRs.
Most newcomers to the insurance industry arrive fresh out of a pre-licensing course, having just passed a state exam, and are ready to take on the world of insurance. Often these newcomers are under the impression (or misconception) that their insurance education is complete.
While a pre-licensing course does provide basic knowledge of insurance and the passing of a state exam does indicate a general understanding of the information, is this enough? Of course not. No single course can offer an in-depth analysis of every coverage on the market, nor can a multiple-choice exam prepare a CSR for every possible coverage question or claim scenario he or she might encounter. Perhaps even more important, a pre-licensing course and state exam do not teach the basics of customer service—the primary role of CSRs!
Education beyond licensing is essential for CSRs, and it should begin with "Customer Service 101." My introduction to customer service was a course called Dynamics of Service, which was offered by The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. The course focused on building customer relationships through improved people skills, communication methods, and behavioral styles.
It also offered tips on how to deal effectively with different personality types while maintaining a positive attitude. I found this to be one of the most informative and influential courses I've ever attended with respect to developing good customer service skills; and after applying what I had learned, I noticed immediate improvement in my customer and carrier relationships. The Dynamics of Service course would prove beneficial for any CSR.
A resource for customers
While it is important that CSRs be educated in the skills and behaviors necessary to provide excellent customer service, it is equally important that they be able to discuss coverages knowledgeably and provide accurate answers to their customers' questions. After all, CSRs are typically the employees whom customers call on for their day-to-day service needs and insurance-related advice. Customers depend on CSRs to have the answers they're looking for.
If a CSR doesn't have confidence in his or her level of insurance knowledge, that uncertainty will be conveyed to the customer. Two key ways that CSRs can enhance their insurance know-how are by participating in continuing education courses and professional designation programs.
Continuing education courses are a requirement for maintaining a state license and as such are sometimes seen as a necessity rather than an opportunity. In fact, continuing education courses offer CSRs an excellent learning opportunity. Professional insurance organizations regularly schedule courses to address key coverages (such as business income or equipment breakdown) and other important topics (such as additional insureds or certificates of insurance). Courses are taught by knowledgeable, licensed staff, and CSRs are encouraged to ask questions to gain clarification in gray areas of coverage.
Insurance carriers also provide continuing education courses for their agents, often free of charge, especially when they're introducing a new product or when they've made a change in a program or policy form. There's no limit to the number of continuing education courses that a CSR can attend, and I encourage CSRs to take advantage of as many of them as possible.
Go for a designation
Professional designation programs are another excellent way for CSRs to increase their knowledge base and confidence level. There are a number of programs to choose from, each concentrating on a certain aspect of insurance, and they typically require a set number of classroom or self-study hours along with the passing of an exam. Professional designation programs are much more in-depth than standard continuing education classes, and they require significantly more time, effort, and dedication to complete; but the results are well worth it.
Earning a professional designation not only brings industry recognition and respect, but also conveys to customers that the CSR belongs to an elite group of insurance professionals. It shows that the CSR's knowledge level is superior and that he or she is fully qualified to assist customers with their insurance needs.
Equally as important as formal insurance education for the CSR is learning through on-the-job experience and from supervisors and mentors. Each situation presents an opportunity to learn from success as well as failure. For example: How was a CSR able to protect a client's valuable camera equipment by recommending an inland marine floater? What endorsement would have provided coverage for an uncovered claim? Scenarios like these come up every day, and they offer excellent learning opportunities.
CSRs also must keep current with industry trends and developments that can affect their customers' exposures and coverages. Industry publications, both online and in print, are good sources of information about legal and regulatory changes, adjustments in insurers' ratings, relevant court decisions, and catastrophic losses. CSRs also must stay attuned to changes in their carriers' underwriting guidelines, coverage offerings, and policy forms.
For CSRs in today's rapidly evolving insurance industry, continuing education is essential. As we learned from Solomon, wisdom and understanding are of the utmost importance, and CSRs must continually strive to improve in these areas. The result is a CSR who has a broader knowledge base, increased confidence and skills, enhanced professionalism—all of which benefit not only themselves but also their customers. Well-educated, knowledgeable CSRs are of immeasurable value to both customers and the agency, so an investment in their continuing education will always prove worthwhile.
Amanda Williams is a licensed property and casualty agent with 10 years' experience in the insurance industry. She is a commercial lines CSR/account executive for Maverick Insurance in Richmond, Kentucky. She was recently named the 2010 Kentucky Outstanding CSR of the Year by The National Alliance. For more information on Dynamics of Service or the CISR program, go to: www.TheNationalAlliance.com.