THE NATIONAL ALLIANCE NAMES 2018
CSR Award Winner
Ashley Fitzsimmons says “It’s all in the family.”
By Alice Ashby Roettger
“Eat That Frog,” quipped Ashley Fitzsimmons, CISR, in her sometimes whimsical but ultimately pithy approach to an essay prompt that was a part of the National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research’s qualification for its 2018 Outstanding CSR of the Year Award.
What did Ashley mean by that bit of whimsy? And how did it apply to the following prompt?
“In today’s business environment, CSRs are finding that more work is required from a smaller staff pool. As a CSR, what four ways have you found beneficial in helping you accomplish work tasks while still providing excellent customer service? In short, how do you do more with less?”
Before launching into her four ways to adapt to a heavier workload with less time and personnel, Ashley set the stage: “There’s a saying that ‘not all superheroes wear capes’—and personally when it comes to customer service representatives in an agency, this saying couldn’t be more true. We are the front line. We are the people that clients first think to call when they have a question. When there is a problem. When they just had their first loss or accident, are panicked and don’t know what to do. They call us.”
Realistically, however, she acknowledges that “not everyone loves insurance.” And as staffs become smaller, CSRs have to work harder “to find the best way to manage our workload while still being able to provide the customer service that our clients deserve.”
Adaptability was Ashley’s first criterion. She acknowledges that the industry is changing, and “clients’ preferences are changing with it. You’re reading this essay right now and I’ll bet your cell phone, iPad or computer is within arm’s length. An e-signature cuts out mailings. There’s no sending out and getting back because something is incorrect. It’s one shot.” Of course, as Ashley wryly acknowledges, “The extra time we earn fills up with something else.”
While relishing the fact that making use of tech-based improvements saves her time, she’s careful to tailor her methods of communication to the wishes of her clients. Michele Minella of Travelers notes that “Ashley is always looking for ways to help her clients with their insurance needs and works with multiple generations of clients, which requires different skills and communication methods.”
In addition, Minella observes, “She makes sure customers are aware of different tools offered by carriers that can help them, such as various apps, payment options, etc.”
Ironically, Ashley’s adapting of her own post-high school life brought her into the industry she has come to love. She had no intention of following in the footsteps of her grandfather, grandmother, father, and uncle by joining the 118-year-old Fitzsimmons Insurance Agency in Forest City, Pennsylvania. “I had every intention of getting away—far, far away. But I first needed to earn money.”
Interviews here and there had not provided her any opportunities for work that she might love. Just about that time, a 30-year Fitzsimmons agency employee retired. And her family offered her a job, emphasizing that she could stay for as long or short a time as she wanted, even just for the summer—no pressure.
Says Ashley, “The business presented the right opportunity at the right time,” and she adapted her life goals. She became the fourth generation and the first female agent in the Fitzsimmons Agency. Her grandmother had worked there keeping the books, but had not been an agent. “I ended up loving it. Here I am eight years later.”
During those eight years, she has taken CISR courses, has become the youngest person to be nominated for and inducted as a director on her state association’s board of directors, has been highlighted in association and trade publications, and contributes to websites that publish blogs designed to help other agents improve and grow. In fact, Ashley quips, “One of my more recent articles was about how to find more time in the day.”
Added to these activities are her service as a keynote speaker at various events and her contributions to her state association’s Future’s Conference, an annual event for agents under age 40.
Enter the second criterion: “Eat That Frog.” Drawing from Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, Ashley points out, “We’ve all been there. The file that just sits on our desk. The one that collects dust because we are forever ‘getting to it eventually.’ I’ve learned that you need to handle that task first.”
She continues, “You don’t realize it, but that file sitting there can subliminally be causing you anxiety, which ultimately affects your productivity” [and wastes precious time]. In addition, if she’s falling behind, “getting in the office an hour early allows for time to clean up items from the day before and get a head start on the day.”
Next comes Ashley’s acknowledgement that It Isn’t a Nine-to-Five Job Anymore. The Fitzsimmons Agency’s motto is: “You’re Part of a Family.” A family doesn’t function on a nine-to-five basis, says Ashley, and neither does she as a representative of the family firm. In fact, in her mind, family, business and community are one seamless entity.
Acknowledging that the newer technologies make instant communication a given, Ashley encourages her clients to “feel free to contact me outside of office hours. Being available on Facebook Messenger, via text, or by phone calls pretty much all the time allows me to better service my clients.”
Drawing on her father’s work/life flexibility that in some ways reflects the lifestyle that most Millennials follow, Ashley says, “Growing up, what I remember most was knowing that Dad would be at any important school event; he was always there.” Yet, she adds, “I saw how hard my dad worked. People thanked him at the end of the day, and that made it all worthwhile.”
Ashley has followed his example. She doesn’t feel guilty taking a long lunch or leaving for a community event. “I think it’s important to support local businesses, being there for people. That’s a big one.” On occasion, however, “when things really get hectic, I’m not afraid to put some time in the office on the weekend.
“Which leads to my final secret for doing more with less, which is: Genuine Love of the Insurance Industry.
“This is huge,” Ashley declares. “I truly believe that when you are passionate about something, it makes you that much better at it. I think it takes a special breed to be an insurance agent.
“Not only do we have to deal with people daily, but we have to educate them and sell them an intangible product,” she adds. “We have to show them the importance of something that they can’t physically hold in their hands. Why am I so productive? Because I love what I do on a daily basis. I care about people, and I want to help them.”
Client Brian Wilken’s story sums up Ashley’s four points: “I was sitting at my kitchen table when I heard a horrible noise and felt a rushing wind. A huge pine tree had just fallen on my garage, two trucks and part of my house. If the tree had fallen three feet closer to my house I wouldn’t be writing this letter. I would be dead. It was shocking to say the least. No one was hurt; that was the good thing. The rest was anything but good.
“I Facebook messaged my agent Ashley Fitzsimmons, who promptly called me and set the wheels of repair in motion. In no time flat we were on the way to recovery as a family. The next day she showed up with coffee and doughnuts.
“Ashley also brought something else that is all too often lost in today’s world. Empathy. She actually cared about our family and our situation. She continued to help us through the days of recovery with excellent service and support.”
In another case, Ashley could have simply entered a claim. But she turned up at the scene of a fire, then went out and bought a $50 gift certificate for the family. “I can see how one’s life can change immediately. That’s why they have insurance, but that’s why I go beyond to help.”
After all, it’s a Fitzsimmons family thing.
THE OUTSTANDING CSR OF THE YEAR AWARD
The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research has been honoring outstanding CSRs since 1991. The Outstanding CSR of the Year Award is based on a candidate’s contribution to the insurance industry and community involvement, as well as an essay that responds to a specific prompt from the Alliance.
The winner receives a gold and diamond lapel pin and $2,000 in cash and has his or her name inscribed on a sculpture that is housed at National Alliance headquarters in Austin, Texas. The winner’s employer receives a scholarship for any National Alliance program, and the nominator receives $1,000.
The four national runners-up each receive a gold and garnet lapel pin and $500 in cash.
This year’s other finalists were:
Starr L. Marshall, CISR
Stacey M. Migliano, CISR
Trotter Insurance Group
Kendall I. Pori, CIC
Protectors Insurance, LLC
Laura A. VanderSteeg, CISR
Fisher Brown Bottrell Insurance, Inc.
For more information about the Outstanding CSR of the Year Award: www.TheNationalAlliance.com