Strengthening the Front Line
Rate your value to your agency
How do you score on these four key factors?
By Emily Huling, CIC, CMC
To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, "Ask not what your agency can do for you. Ask what you can do to be of more value to your agency."
Smart employees know this to be true. Creating a professional reputation and image requires going beyond the successful completion of task-oriented responsibilities. It means contributing to the overall success and satisfaction of those you work with—both clients and colleagues. It's a commitment to strengthening your own abilities and skills. Determine how you can enhance your personal value by rating yourself on these four factors.
Go beyond your job description. A typical job description outlines duties and responsibilities of a position. Three essential duties of a CSR are placing new business with the appropriate company, following renewal guidelines and procedures, and taking care of clients. It's the how that differentiates one person's contributions from those of another.
Brad is an experienced commercial lines CSR who works for a growing independent agency. He's never wanted supervisory responsibilities, but you'd never know it given the positive influence he has on his coworkers. Brad's agency welcomes college interns during their work-study semesters. The agency seeks to hire the best and the brightest when they graduate. The interns and young employees love Brad. He likes his job, and it shows. He's approachable and shares his knowledge and experience. Brad's a solid role model.
Going beyond your job description doesn't have to mean doing more work. It can simply mean doing your job with enthusiasm, supporting others, and being a good role model.
Be a learner, not a quitter. Two CSRs have the same job, report to the same supervisor, and have the same years of experience in the position. A recent system change requires the CSRs to undergo extensive training to become proficient. Both employees are given the same opportunity to learn the new applications. That's where the similarities end.
The "quitter" CSR says, "I'll never learn this. The old system works just fine, thank you. I'm getting behind in my work while I sit in these classes." Stress builds. Anger and frustration set in. The CSR is correct. She can't learn the new system. But it's her resistance that gets in the way, not her inability to learn.
The "learner" CSR says, "This new system is different. I mastered the old one, and I will master this one." Eager to learn, she has an open mind during the classes, asks questions when she doesn't understand, and makes notes to aid her retention of knowledge.
Back on the job, the quitter's struggle with change and new knowledge takes its toll. She worries about her job, what her coworkers think, and what her boss will say. The learner takes her newfound knowledge and uses it to improve her own job performance, as well as to help others when they have difficulty. She is an asset to the department.
Changes are a fact of life. Are you a learner or a quitter?
Let your coworkers do the jobs they were hired to do. I was blessed with a great first boss. I began my insurance career as a commercial casualty underwriter at Aetna Life & Casualty. Like most newcomers to our business, not only was I struggling to learn the principles of underwriting, but also I was working hard to figure out how all the parts fit together. Sometimes I found myself doing my coworkers' jobs. Rating policies, processing endorsements, and ordering reports were someone else's responsibilities, but I had it in my head that it was easier to do it myself. My good boss stepped in.
"Emily, I've noticed you doing processing work, which is not an underwriter's job. What's up?" We chatted about it. His words of wisdom have stayed with me all these years. "When you do the job others are hired to do, you are insulting them. They may feel you don't trust them or they aren't smart enough, or that you think you can do a better job than they can. Demonstrate trust and respect by letting people do their jobs."
Do you support your coworkers by allowing them to do their jobs?
Speak with authority. The language we use sends a message. It's in the best interest of insurance professionals to express thoughts in a way that inspires customer confidence. If Joy didn't know the answer to a question, she was in the habit of saying, "I'll have to ask my boss and let you know." A better way to articulate that would be to say, "I'm not certain. Let me check and get back to you." Joy may still need to get help, but reframing her words powerfully bolsters her personal credibility and authority.
Some CSRs temper their remarks so as not to sound too forceful or opinionated. Here are some examples of phrases that undermine your authority: "Maybe it would be better if," "We sort of," "It's kind of like," and "I'm sorry to bother you." Avoid using these qualifiers. State your message with certainty. Be direct. Use phrases such as: "I suggest this," "May I interrupt?" "What do you think about this idea?" or "I believe it would be best to."
If you aren't certain, preface your comments with: "Based on the facts (or what I've heard), I'm not sure that would work. Let's get more information before we move forward."
The pitch of our voice also influences how others perceive us. A higher pitch is perceived as sounding emotional. A lower pitch sounds confident and convincing. If this is a challenge for you, consider working with a voice coach. I've worked with voice coaches over the years to improve my speaking skills and have found the investment well worth it.
Use your full name when answering your phone. Which sounds more professional: "This is Emily" or "This is Emily Huling"? Stating your first and last names conveys professionalism.
One last point: Always use appropriate language and correct grammar. Avoid using slang and never, ever swear or use vulgar language.
How we communicate orally influences how others view and respond to us. How do you rate yourself in this area?
Go beyond your job description. Be a learner, not a loser. Let your coworkers do the jobs they were hired to do. Speak with authority.
Following these four guidelines not only will enhance your value to your agency but also will build your personal reputation and advance your career.
How will you apply these ideas? Let me know how it goes.
Emily Huling helps insurance organizations create top-performing sales and customer service operations. She is a frequent presenter at industry conferences, serves on the national faculty of the Society of CIC, and is the author of Great Service Sells, Selling from the Inside, and Kick Your 'But.' For information on her products and consulting services and to subscribe to her free monthly newsletter, visit www.sellingstrategies.com.