Customer Service Focus
Investing in service
Making your CSRs the best they can be
By Rebecca Shivers, ACSR
There is nothing better in this business than receiving a referral from a respected client. When the referral is a glowing, passionate one, it is even sweeter. This type of referral doesn't come from a price point or a product that is sold; it is a direct result of quality service.
Our industry has been through the wringer lately. The soft market has evened out the competition element for most agencies. Independent agents can access the same markets and have the same tight relationships with underwriters. The way we can keep clients coming through our doors is determined by the level of service we provide for them. How can agency owners achieve and maintain this level of service from their employees?
In most agencies, the producer is the first point of contact for a new client. The producer may seal the deal, but then the account rests in the hands of your staff CSRs. The CSR staff is the backbone of any agency. A producer can sell a new policy every day of the week; but if you have the wrong people to service that account, at renewal you will lose that client nine times out of ten. In today's marketplace, everyone is confronted with how they can retain business and round out the accounts. The answer is to invest in your support staff. If you invest in education, agency technology, and provide financial incentives, your CSRs will be the best in the business.
Agency owners need to invest in their support staff's education; therefore, you will want to hire CSRs who have a desire to grow and learn about the industry. They should be afforded the opportunity to take classes beyond the ACSR level. Advanced education in the form of CIC, CRM, and CISR classes will help them become more knowledgeable in determining the correct coverage for your clients. Education increases a CSR's comfort level when he or she is talking to insureds regarding their coverage. Education helps the CSR become more confident, which is readily noticeable from the client's point of view. If your insureds believe that you have their best interest at heart and the knowledge to recommend the necessary coverage, you will retain those clients for a very long time. Not only will you keep those clients, but they will more than likely refer new business to your agency.
Keeping your agency's technology up to date can make a huge difference in your CSRs' ability to perform. If you have outdated systems or a slow Internet connection, that makes the job harder and takes longer to get anything done. There is no "one size fits all" solution here. The best way to understand the technology needs of your agency is to ask the people responsible for the everyday job functions. Have quarterly meetings with your staff to make sure all of their office needs are being met.
The key to keeping a support staff happy is to simply engage them in conversations regarding the decisions of the agency. Let them know you are listening. If their needs are not economically feasible at the time, then make sure they know you are now aware of the issues and you intend to implement the changes as soon as fiscally possible. The simple act of listening to your CSRs, making them feel needed, and knowing they are important to the business can go a long way in making them want to help grow the agency.
In addition to investing in your CSRs' education, you also need to invest in them as employees. I recommend profit sharing or other incentives to really get your CSRs invested in growing and improving their book of business. Determining the percentage of commission you can allocate for your CSRs is a personal decision that should be developed according to the contribution you believe each CSR makes to your business. Once this plan is implemented, they now have a financial interest in helping maintain their accounts.
The effort and care that CSRs will put into an account will increase with the knowledge that they are a respected part of the equation of a successful agency. If a percentage of commission will not work for your agency at this time, you certainly would benefit from providing an incentive on referral business. A small bonus for any CSR who brings in referral or cold-call business will have a favorable impact as well. Incentives may seem overused, but at the end of the day, incentives will always work with an ambitious CSR. In hard economic times, incentives allow you to increase your CSRs' income—as well as yours—while keeping down your overhead costs.
In the final analysis, this business is about our clients. In order to keep our clients happy and feeling secure in their choice of an insurance agent, we need to provide a level of service that goes above and beyond the expected. I truly believe that if agency owners will invest their resources in the CSR staff at their agencies, the result will be better service.
When you have employees who feel knowledgeable in their field, the confidence level of those employees will shine through to your clients. If your employees have the technology and office equipment to perform their duties efficiently, they will have an easier time handling their workload. When employees can work smarter not harder, it means faster service for your clients and less stress on your employees. These strategies will increase the service potential of your agency, but the main ingredient in this service recipe is financial incentive. When employees have a financial stake in the business, they will take that to heart. It will become a mission for your CSRs to succeed for the agency because that agency success is their personal success as well.
If every agency owner would take these steps in investing in the support staff of their agency, the productivity and quality of service will improve. Investing in service is the key to a successful agency. When that happens, your clients will feel satisfied and secure, and the agency should see the number of referrals grow.
Rebecca Shivers, ACSR, began her insurance career in 2003 at her family's agency, Shivers & Associates, in Waco, Texas. Rebecca moved to Dallas and has been working for Insurance One Agency since 2005.
For information on the Certified Insurance Service Representatives (CISR) program or the Dynamics of Service program, please go to: www.TheNationalAlliance.com.