As a recruiting partner to insurance agencies, so much of my role is about sourcing account manager candidates that I believe a bigger piece of the hiring puzzle is overlooked. What happens to agencies once they onboard millennials? What is needed to train, manage and retain young customer service representatives (CSRs) and account managers? Agencies carry a sizeable burden for developing the insurance industry’s next generation. Here’s how client service directors tackle these challenges.
Menda Speckels, commercial team leader, Higginbotham & Associates.
“Millennials need a clear path with defined expectations. They ask three questions: 1. What’s my role?; 2. Where’s my career path?; 3. How do I get there?”
Speckels described a communication balancing act. CSRs want to address the next step in their career quickly, highlighting the importance of on-the-job learning. Higginbotham U was started for this reason. Designed for employees with little to no insurance experience, it’s coursework that teaches the basics to become an account manager. Speckels said it’s less of the “learn it yourself” model she grew up in but has been effective with employees.
Stephanie Zsittnik, vice president, Employee Benefits, Cross Insurance.
“It seems every agency is so desperate for talent, they’ll overpay, especially at junior levels. Given my recent experience hiring people in the 22-28-year-old range, I would guesstimate the average tenure is 18 months. Benefits analysts are particularly interested in growth, and quick!”
Zsittnik spoke to the competitive nature of the Boston market (which isn’t unlike many other insurance markets fighting for talent) where she’s seen $15,000-$20,000 raises to recruit analysts with just a few years of experience. She’s had to change her expectations about job tenure when reviewing resumes. She’s pleased with a solid two years in a job for a junior support role.
Zsittnik’s advice to retaining young staff, “Keep them engaged. Provide professional development opportunities, external and internal. As managers, we can only control so much, but it’s important to compensate fairly and provide opportunities. Stay true to yourself and your business values. If someone is interested in moving to a firm that will pay them 20% – 30% more with minimal experience, let them go. Focus on the long-game.”
Julie Stannard, director of client services, Ironwood Insurance Services.
“I think millennials get a specific reputation for wanting to be promoted quickly and to be paid very well. In some cases that’s true, but it hasn’t been my overall experience. Every situation is more about the person than a sweeping generalization. I find many young people to be humble. Coming out of college, their attitude is one of a desire and a willingness to learn.”
Retention being a critical piece of the process, Stannard runs toward, not away from, conversations with employees about compensation. Her mantra is, “It’s a candidate’s market. There are tons of opportunities out there. If you want to be with Ironwood, and earning more money is a goal, then I will work with an employee to create a plan that’s realistic.”
She offers more advice for hiring young service talent:
- Start people out as interns. Hiring them upon graduation has a huge impact on retention.
- Lean into recruiting tools. Find profile assessments that work based on personality and aptitude.
- Be transparent in the interview process. Stannard describes her environment as service-intensive, where the answer isn’t always obvious or easy to get to. The agency’s strong culture, despite challenging roles, is endearing to young people. They want to learn a lot and have fun.
- Onboarding is more than just paperwork. She recommends a 30-day review that continues consistently for the first 12 months. Her biggest questions are, “Does the job align with your expectations? and “What has been your experience?” This way, employee’s perceptions, which are the reality, give a glimpse into their happiness and longevity.
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