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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



August 30
10:15 2022


A review of basic skills needed to succeed in an agency’s crucial service role

Whatever course an agency owner chooses, the goal is the same—to hire and retain a staff of experienced customer service personnel to ensure consistent delivery of excellent customer service.


By Sarah Warhaftig, J.D., CRM

Whether your agency considers them customer service representatives, CSRs, account man- agers, or any variation of the title, the role that these key players perform is what matters. A client- facing position that must be handled with tact, grace, and confidence, the service representative role is challenging and complex. They are the face and voice of the agency.

CSRs deliver the agency’s promise to insureds and help agencies function smoothly and succeed. Insurance producers and the sales force depend on their CSRs to foster and grow client relationships and to ensure that customer needs are met. Service reps are responsible for nurturing client relationships through to renewal time and are critical to account retention.

Customers who feel that agency personnel are responsive and that their needs will be met are less likely to switch providers at renewal time. This means that providing excellent customer service is more important than ever.

What customer service means

What do we expect from our account managers and CSRs? There are several key components to excellence in customer service. The first step is to be client focused, putting the customer or client first. How clients are treated and their perception of that treatment drives customer service and impacts retention.

Ask yourself:

  • Do clients feel welcomed at the agency?
  • Are clients comfortable and relaxed with their CSR?
  • Does the CSR make clients feel unique and special?

Certain skills are needed to be successful in a customer service role. Some of these are natural attributes and some of them must be learned.

  • Administrative and technical skills. These include general computer proficiency and the ability to work successfully in the agency   management system. CSRs need to follow established workflows, timelines and service standards for task completion. Client service must be delivered on time, every time. If an auto ID card needs to be completed and sent within 24 hours, that standard must be met—always. Strong time management, prioritization and organizational skills improve the capacity to deliver customer service and maintain the goodwill of the agency.
  • Strong communication skills. CSRs must be active listeners, understand client needs, and deliver the desired service. They must be able to explain coverage details to the client and deliver unpleasant news in a way that still maintains a positive relationship. Handling complaints with tact and following through on promised actions contribute to continued client satisfaction. Effective CSRs establish realistic client expectations and then follow through and fulfill those expectations.
  • Being an effective questioner. Through questioning, CSRs can identify additional exposures and potential coverage gaps. Using simple questions like “How will you be spending the holiday weekend?” shows interest and care for the client; at the same time, it may reveal the acquisition of a new boat, camper, or even a new cabin—all of which need appropriate coverage.
  • Polished written communication skills. Tone in email and letters needs to be cordial and reflective of a focus on the customer. Policy transmittal letters or email should contain a brief synopsis of the coverage provided.
  • Foundational coverage knowledge. CSRs need in-depth coverage knowledge of the major lines of business the agency writes. Whether the focus is personal lines, commercial lines, or life, health, and benefits, CSRs are charged with explaining coverage to the customer. If the book of business is specialized—for example high-net-worth clientele—the CSR needs to know the difference between mainstream policies and those designed for specific clients and should be able to advise them accordingly.
  • Commitment to professional education and development. Beyond devoting the hours required for licensing continuing education, CSRs should seek additional knowledge. Insurance policies, forms, rules, and regulations change constantly. As insurance professionals, CSRs are obligated to know about and understand these changes. Agency owners must invest in educational opportunities to develop successful account managers/CSRs to ensure their continued success.

Recruitment challenges

Agency owners face several challenges in recruiting and retaining professional CSRs. The insurance industry in the United States is losing talent. The employee base is aging. More professionals are leaving the workforce than are entering it. We have a serious talent gap and there is insufficient trained talent to fill open positions.

Agency owners seek driven account managers and CSRs who want to learn as much as they can from the industry and their peers. The greater the depth of knowledge, the more valuable the CSR is to the agency. As a CSR grows and gains more experience, they will find that additional opportunities within the agency are available to them. A senior level CSR or account manager might manage an entire team of CSRs.

Many agencies can compete financially for an experienced and professional CSR. Others have the time to grow and develop their customer service team’s strength. On-the-job training and mentoring are key to development of personnel. Expenditures for continuing education, designations and certifications, as well as memberships in professional associations, can aid in retention and show a dual investment in professionalism by both employer and employee.

Whatever course an agency owner chooses, the goal is the same—to hire and retain a staff of experienced customer service personnel to ensure consistent delivery of excellent customer service.

The author

Sarah Warhaftig, JD, CRM, is the academic director of risk management programs for The National Alliance, where she is responsible for the Certified Risk Manager, Certified Personal Risk Manager and Certified School Risk Manager designation programs. Sarah held the position of director of operations for Aparicio, Walker & Seeling, and is immediate past president of AWS Risk Management, LLC in Metairie, Louisiana. Clients included public entities, third-party administrators, boards, and private corporations. She consulted with large municipal and not-for-profit clients regarding their insurance and risk management programs. Sarah was responsible for assisting clients in managing through insurance program transitions. Post Hurricane Katrina, she worked with municipal clients in Stafford Act compliance, quantifying losses and perfecting claims, as well as analyzing continued risk retention abilities. As vice president/state director of Cannon Cochran Management Services, Inc., a third-party claims administrator licensed in 38 states, Sarah was responsible for day-to-day operations, as well as profit and loss accountability for branches throughout Louisiana. During the course of her career, Sarah has held positions as risk management director, assistant vice-president of claims, and regional claims manager. She is a graduate of Tulane University and of Rutgers Law School.



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