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Customer Service Focus

Succession planning for agency CSR positions

Investment in recruiting and training pays off

By Angie Nyamburi, CIC, CISR, CSRM

Look around your agencies, attend insurance functions, and read articles and you will observe and hear about the aging of the insurance workforce. This not only applies to producers; it also has become prevalent with CSRs in today's agencies. According to a popular insurance staffing firm, 51% of the current agency staff will be retiring in the next few years. If agency principals have not already done so, now is the time to put together a plan to recruit and train the next generation of CSRs in order to create a smooth transition. Because CSRs have day-to-day contact with the customer, it is necessary to make certain that there is a succession plan in place, just as there should be one for the producer who may be looking to retire. If a plan is not put into place now, the producer and CSR could retire in a similar time frame, which could really disrupt the customer-agency relationship.

The steps in the process and the goals should include recruiting the right talent, training these individuals over time, developing their skills and knowledge, and retaining them for their entire careers.

Recruiting The individuals coming out of college with marketing and finance degrees are perfect candidates, but many are choosing banking or other industries over the insurance industry. We should become our industry's ambassadors. For example, I have volunteered to speak to the business class at our local high school about careers in insurance, and I also have served as a judge over the years for DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America, a student career organization) in the state of Minnesota. Getting out and meeting youth who are interested in careers in business can introduce them to the insurance industry and point out that it is a stable industry that provides variety and offers lifelong learning opportunities. In addition, don't forget social media, now the primary vehicle for communication with young people.

Training and Education Once we hire the right talent, we have to be willing to invest in their licensing in the appropriate jurisdictions and encourage them to participate in quality continuing education, such as the programs of the National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research and others. The investment is well worth it. Well-educated CSRs can work better on behalf of your customers, and investing in your employees' education also shows them that you value them and want them to advance in their careers.

It also is essential to provide training in effective communication in both written and oral formats. Effective letter writing and e-mail standards need to be introduced. Practicing proper phone etiquette, including voice mail and answering phones properly is essential. These may seem like basic items, but do not overlook them. The person just coming out of college who is part of the "Facebook and Twitter" generation may never have written a business letter, or may need instruction in proper phone etiquette. These are important to communicating with your customers. Have your new hires try some practice phone calls, introduce scenarios or have them listen to an experienced CSR before having them take any phone calls directly from customers. Teaching them about writing a brief outline before placing a call and reviewing appropriate material before calling on customers will help instill confidence and create an air of professionalism. Also teach them about E&O prevention through the documentation of all communications, whether by phone or oral presentations with customers.

Also necessary is ongoing mentoring of a CSR or group of CSRs in the agency and working with them on learning all aspects of the position. It should be formalized with a checklist to make sure that all areas have been reviewed so that the new CSRs are comfortable with renewals, new business, change requests, endorsements, cancellations, audits, claims, auto ID cards, certificates of insurance, billing, agency procedures and effective communication with customers, etc.

Insist that CSRs become familiar with the additional services that your agency or carriers offer. Also, make certain that they are aware if these are included in the insurance program or if there are additional associated fees that may be charged for such services as safety and risk management services or third-party administration. CSRs need to be aware of the value-added services available to the agency's customers.

In addition to training on insurance principles, it is essential to train them on customer-specific approaches. Have the replacement CSR work on at least one renewal cycle before taking over the book and make note of customer specifics, such as: Does the customer want paper policies or policies on a CD or other electronic format? How does the customer wish to handle certificate requests? All customer preferences should be followed.

If your agency focuses on specific industries such as transportation, schools, or contractors, you will want to provide specific training on coverages for these industries in addition to standard property and casualty coverage lines. Some industries have very specific coverages and insurance jargon associated with them.

Cross-selling Once the CSR is comfortable with the insured's current program, the ultimate goal should be to develop the ability to listen for cues on opportunities to sell other lines of coverage. There are opportunities in surety, directors & officers, employment practices liability, fiduciary liability, umbrella coverage, and builders risk coverage if the exposures are discussed or conversations are led in that direction. The agency may have entire departments that specialize in these areas or the CSR may have to jump in and ask for assistance, but either way it is an advantage for the customer that the CSR is aware of all of these coverages, at least on a cursory level.

Career path monitoring Regular, short meetings with a manager help to ensure that there is open communication, that the training/mentoring is going well, and that expectations are being met for both the trainee and the agency. It's essential for CSRs to have a clear career path—with specific levels to strive for. Our agency has several levels of progression, which creates excitement when promotions are announced, and it encourages individuals to takes on increasing responsibility over time.

After you have invested in these many resources, you need to make sure that you work on retaining these talented individuals. Make sure that you continually challenge them, and communicate with them on a regular basis in order to keep the relationship healthy for the new CSR and, most important, your valued customer.

The author

Angela M. Nyamburi, CIC, CISR, CSRM, is an account executive at Wells Fargo Insurance Services in Bloomington, Minnesota. Her current responsibilities focus on servicing middle market property and casualty commercial clients in a variety of industries. She has over 15 years' experience in the insurance industry and has held a variety of positions. Angela was awarded the 2012 Outstanding Customer Service Representative of the Year for the State of Minnesota. For information on the CSR of the Year Award or the CISR program, go to:


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