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Customer Service Focus

From "tadpoles" to "frogs"

A training program for turning raw talent into professional CSRs

By Barbara Golden, CIC, CPCU, AAI

Unlike many other organizations, McConkey Insurance & Benefits finds it more beneficial to develop a client service agent from the ground up. Experienced hires often come in with different ways of performing a procedure or even with bad habits they may have learned at other organizations. Good habits need to be acquired from the very beginning.

Training is one of the most essential elements of developing a reliable employee. Tadpoles (trainees) at McConkey learn the insurance basics through this program. As the educational process continues, the life cycle becomes a progression of energy-gathering, growing up, maturing and developing into a full-grown frog (CSR). The metamorphosis can take from 16 weeks to eight months.

McConkey starts with a two-week orientation program. The new employee meets with various department heads in the agency in order to receive an overview of the organizational structure, including the firm's history and philosophy. Each manager or supervisor explains his or her role in the agency and the essential functions of the employees within that department, all the time stressing the importance of teamwork.

The next step is training, provided by the administration department, on computer basics such as Outlook, and the McConkey computer insurance program. From there, the new hires independently train on an interactive computer-based training program, which McConkey's computer vendor provides.

The trainees are then turned over to the department supervisor who provides concrete, realistic personal goals and job expectations. Their parameters of responsibility are defined. The supervisor also provides the trainees with basic insurance books so that they can become familiar with basic concepts and insurance terminology. Educational days are scheduled for in-house or outside seminars.

One of McConkey's more seasoned employees, the executive client service agent, begins hands-on training on the basics, such as applications, activities, audits, auto ID cards, billings, binders, cancellations, certificates of insurance, change requests, policies, dividends, endorsements, excess & surplus lines procedures, proposals, renewal strategies, etc. On a daily basis, at least an hour of training is provided on each of the basics. The goal is to provide a steady growth of knowledge, instead of trying to cram everything in at once.

McConkey has developed its own procedures and training manual, with written steps and procedures for each of the basics. It is continually updated as something in the industry changes.

Moving to the next level

After the basic program is completed, the trainees can be assigned a specific mentor or can shadow various customer service agents on a rotating schedule. By sitting with the CSAs, they can be shown how to process and prioritize paper on their desks. Listening to telephone conversations will teach them how to develop communication skills and form relationships with clients.

Forming relationships and learning how to convey to clients that they are valued is one of the most important elements of a trainee's job. They should be taught that a smile should be heard through their voice tone, and a positive attitude always gives off a great impression. Letters and e-mails should also reflect a smile—and always be professional. They need to understand how important it is to be responsive to clients and be accountable for their own actions. They may also listen to the CSA converse with various company underwriters over the phone; the CSA may be asking the underwriter questions or may be negotiating on a renewal, and so forth.

In order for the trainees to observe the diversity of the job, they should accompany the account executive and client service agent on selected appointments with clients. They can observe how business is conducted at a renewal review or proposal meeting. When a client comes into the office for a visit, the trainee can sit in on the meeting and observe.

Another great idea is to have the trainees visit an insurance company so that they can see how the carrier side works.

Guiding the fledglings

Supervisors need to stay visible to the trainee. Follow up in a few weeks to see if they are able to recall procedures and how to apply them. Reinforce the procedures by giving them repetitive work. Keep checking their work, and enhance and sharpen their skills. Continually challenge them so they do not get bored. Do they have the motivation and continual willingness to learn? 

New hires say that the most difficult part of the job is piecing everything together and seeing the big picture. They also have stated that they learned that they need to be patient because everything does not come overnight. The job can be overwhelming, and it takes time to develop a seasoned customer service agent—perhaps even five years.

Until the trainees are licensed, they cannot speak to clients or answer questions, so their role is assist the customer service agents in their job duties. After the trainees are licensed, they are encouraged to go after insurance designations, such as (CISR) Certified Insurance Service Representative and (CIC) Certified Insurance Counselor. They can maintain credits for their property and casualty license and gain a wealth of knowledge this way.

During the process of "metamorphosis," the trainees need encourage-­ment to break free and fill the next position that becomes available. From there, they will need to take initiative and continue to grow, learn and develop into a fine customer service agent.

A case in point: One person in the McConkey organization who started out as a word processor moved up the ranks from that position, became a client service agent, then an account administrator, and is presently an account executive.

The author

Barbara Golden, CIC, CPCU, AAI, AU is the commercial lines supervisor and client service manager for E.K. McConkey & Co. in York, Pennsylvania. She has been in the insurance industry for 32 years and is the state winner of the Outstanding CSR of the year award. For more information on the award or the CISR program, go to:


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