A Good CSR is Hard to Find

May 5, 2003

It’s no secret that these days CSRs oftentimes are in contact with clients far more than an agent or producer is, and therefore, are crucial to the agency’s success. The role of the CSRs has evolved over the past couple of years— many CSRs are taking on greater responsibility and additional job duties, making their function in the agency all the more valuable. In fact, CSRs are in such hot demand throughout the country that agencies are forced to vie for the best, offering lucrative benefits and competitive salaries.

“Account retention for agencies is really key,” Mark Rolland, president of the Society of Certified Insurance Service Representatives, a component of the National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, said. “If an agency is being run properly, what you really want your producers doing is producing. The key to making that whole operation run is the CSR. They’re responsible for placing the business and making sure that you retain the business.”

A 2000 study conducted by the Academy of Producer Insurance Studies Inc. revealed several interesting statistics about CSRs and their roles in the agency-statistics that are surely to have changed even three short years later. Of the more significant statistics revealed, 79 percent of CSRs have earned the CISR designation; whereas 11 percent have earned the CIC designation.

“Our agency regards CSRs as vital to the service we provide,” Jill Bookman, vice president of Marketing at American Collectors Insurance, said. “We used to not have CSRs. We used to make our underwriters ‘do it all’—handle all the phone calls in addition to all their paperwork. We realized it was important to put trained CSRs in our underwriting department to help handle that volume. They really are charged with satisfying the customer —resolving whatever that customer needs.”

“We write about 75-125 new policies per month and we don’t even have producers,” Veronica Ramirez, CSR at Weeren Insurance Agency, said. “Here in our agency, basically each CSR does it from start to finish. What I mean by that is we sell the policy, we service the accounts, we have more contact with the customers.” Ramirez and her team of five other CSRs—two personal lines, and four commercial—essentially manage many of their clients’ assets and therefore have developed strong relationships with them.

Trends abound
Proof of the CSRs’ rise in prominence comes from the numerous trends currently rippling through the marketplace. CSRs take the punches along with the rest of the industry when the hard market comes knocking, but in many cases, the intensity of the hard market allows for the perfect opportunity for the CSR to shine.

“Not only are they handling more accounts, the value of those accounts are increasing greatly,” Rolland said. “That’s a real big trend that we are seeing, and in order for agencies to be profitable they have to be as streamlined as possible, and that just puts more and more pressure on the CSRs.”

Rolland explained that CSRs are dealing with new responsibilities when servicing accounts. The many changes in the nation’s landscape over the past two years have made insurance a risky business. And the CSRs need to be fully aware of these changes taking place across the industry. Some of the challenges they face are the many exclusions in coverages that didn’t exist before—terrorism, mold. In addition to these changes, the CSR must also explain to the customer why the changes are taking place, and why, in many cases, the insured’s premium has risen.

CSRs are also charged with placing business outside of standard carriers when coverage cannot be found elsewhere, a challenge Ramirez welcomes. “I find satisfaction in that because I like to help my customers,” Ramirez explained. CSRs are also responsible for reviewing carriers’ financial strength ratings. “The due diligence for the CSR has increased substantially because they have to look at so many more factors than they had to three or four years ago,” Rolland said.

Another prominent trend has been the entrance of more male CSRs into the workforce. Formerly a predominantly female-oriented field, Rolland said 20 percent of all attendees to their CISR program are males, whereas five years ago, the number was only 10. Furthermore, both male and female CSRs are moving through the ranks of the agencies.

According to the study, 83 percent of CSRs are more involved in the sales aspect of the agency. Many CSRs continue on to become producers, and Rolland reports that 10 percent of the participants in their CISR program are agency owners. “[It’s] a real diverse group of people that come to the program—60 percent of them have over 10 years experience in the business.”

Finally, the role of automation has greatly affected how the CSRs conduct business on a day-to-day basis. For Ramirez, this is the part of the job she enjoys most. She works diligently in the areas of automation and interfacing, and is currently exploring a new program for a major carrier on a trial basis. Most, if not all CSRs, use the Internet on a daily basis, which is why automation has become a major focus of not only agencies, but also carriers.

Continuing education
As with any profession, learning is encouraged as a lifelong experience. CSRs are no exception. Like an agent or producer, they are encouraged to work towards designations—the most popular being the CISR (Certified Insurance Service Representative). Other popular designations include the ACSR (Accredited Customer Service Representative) and the CIC (Certified Insurance Counselor).

There are many options for continuing education in all 50 states—among the offerings are in-class seminars and online course offerings.

“A lot of agencies are so busy, they don’t have time to train their own people,” Julie Brown, president of San Diego Insurance Staffing, said. “What we’re trying to teach people is how to do the job.” Brown offers job skill training that instructs students on how to process paperwork, insurance terminology, etc.

“We believe very strongly in the well-rounded CSR,” Rolland said. “In fact, that’s a foundation for all of our programs, including the CIC program. We believe that in order to take advantage and be prepared for account rounding and cross-selling opportunities, that it’s essential that all personnel understand all coverages.

“The key to any educational program is faculty,” Rolland continued. The National Alliance draws on insurance agents and practitioners as their faculty, allowing the Alliance to focus on current issues pertinent to the industry. “We take the policies that the CSRs are dealing with today, and we basically tear them apart, and explain to them ‘here’s what’s covered, and here’s what’s not covered, and here’s how you can cover that coverage gap if you have that situation.’ We’re a real practical format; we do a lot of real life situations.”

The majority of continuing education and designation programs are funded by the employers. “CSRs are in such high demand that finding good quality CSRs is really a key issue for all agencies,” Rolland said. “Agencies are realizing that if you want to keep a good CSR, you’re going to have to invest in them in a number of ways. One way is education. A lot of agencies are really investing in their CSRs in order to get that loyalty for them to stay with that particular agency.”

Not only does Bookman face the challenge of getting the agency’s new CSRs trained in its particular niche, antique & classic cars, she also needs to keep CSRs informed and motivated throughout the year, even when business is slower in the winter months. “We are busiest during the warmer months of the year because that’s when collector cars in most parts of the country are being driven and enjoyed. So what we try to do throughout the year is provide refreshers, updates and re-training so that people stay challenged and enthusiastic.”

In demand
Brown said she sees the demand for CSRs only intensifying in the future. “I have seen clients leave agencies because the CSR is gone. I think it’s a really vital position.

“There’s a lack of [good CSRs]. We no longer have people with five or more years of experience. On the staffing side, when I help clients find good candidates, I see them lowering their standards. They will pay a pretty good salary for someone with less than five years’ experience, whereas three or four years ago, no way.”

“We feel that we can never stress good customer service enough,” Bookman added. Bottom line, CSRs are essential to servicing customers, and ultimately, an agency’s success.

To comment on this story, e-mail: cbeisiegel@insurancejournal.com.

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Insurance Journal West May 5, 2003
May 5, 2003
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