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AGENCY STAFF TITLES: WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The topic of this blog has been rolling around my mind for a few years, and I’ve finally screwed up the courage to put it into words.  The specific “name” that I’m referring to in the title is CSR, or as some say CSA.  These initials refer to the back-office people who manage the day-to-day facets of our clients’ business with us.

When I talk with agency owners and management, they describe their CSRs as the front line staff dealing with customer concerns and issues.  However, when I talk with CSRs, they describe their roles in the agency as primarily data processing and paper pushing.  This dichotomy between service and paperwork is further nurtured by the annual performance reviews at most agencies.  Unfortunately because it’s difficult to quantify quality of service, many agencies evaluate their service staff on the basis of processing efficiency, backlogs, computer proficiency, and etc.  This further alienates the staff from the role of service!  After all, if you’re going to be judged on how well you process paperwork, then a phone call from a customer becomes an annoyance, rather than an opportunity.

Let’s look at the moniker of CSR.  First, we generally allocate the “C” to “customer. “ Webster defines customer as “one who purchases a commodity or service”.  On the other hand, Webster defines “client” as “a person under the protection of another; person who engages the professional services of another”.  Given these definitions, do you want customers or clients?  If you want clients, why would you identify your service people as serving customers?  From my perspective, the first thing I’d want to do is switch “customer” for “client” in the descriptive title to “Client Service Representative”.

This brings us to the word “service”.  We all know what this used to mean, but what does it mean today?  If a client has a claim, particularly in Personal Lines, most agencies defer to the carrier’s call center –rather than handling them in-house as in years past.  Do you charge your CSRs with serving the needs of your clients?  Do they call clients proactively to review coverages, ask about changes, identify gaps, and discuss future needs or plans?  Probably not!  In fact, agency owners complain incessantly that they can’t get their CSRs to cross-sell and up-sell.  Here’s why: their desks are piled high and computers overloaded with data processing that needs to be done – and those pesky backlogs will hurt their performance review and future pay increases.  From my perspective, we need to evaluate what we want our CSRs to do, rather than use a title just because that’s what they’ve always been called.

As for the “R”, this takes us back to the last question:  what do we want service staff to represent? For instance, if data is the critical issue, perhaps we should call them CDPs (Client Data Processors).  If your agency has a serious backlog in policy checking, maybe you need a CPC (Client Policy Checker).  If you want your staff to focus on the relationship, fostering growth and retention to grow more profits, perhaps you want to define their role as CRDs (Client Relationship Developers).  Note: I really prefer Client Relationship Manager, but CRM is already in use on the risk management side.

For example, watch one of your people when they’re checking Commercial Line policies.  Seldom do they actually sit down and review an entire policy without any interruptions.  Usually they get started, and then someone comes by their cubicle and interrupts them. They lose their place, and start anew. Then the phone starts ringing, and again they lose their place and start anew.  Is it any wonder that mistakes slip through and backlogs increase?

Imagine the growth potential within your agency if your production team focused 100% on getting new business and your client-interfacing staff focused 100% on nurturing client relationships for loyalty, growth, and retention.  “Producers” could spend all their time “producing,” and your Client Relationship staff could spend all their time on protecting client relationships.  Then your CDPs and CPCs could handle all the processing work, 

Before you classify me as a utopian, I acknowledge that this world isn’t perfect; every position will have some crossover duties.  However, changing a title can be an initial step in the right direction.  Classify your employees based on what you really want them to do.  They might just surprise you with the results they bring forth.

A final note. For the past three years I’ve been working with ReSource Pro, a business process outsourcing company.  I’ve seen first-hand the remarkable growth that an agency or ane MGA can realize when they remove routine and mundane processing activities from the back office. By redeploying their staff into true relationship activities, fully supporting both producers and clients, these firms are achieving growth significantly beyond their expectations.  Because every agency has a plenty of talent within the ranks, we need to ask if we’re using this talent to the maximum potential – or are we disincenting staff with low-level tasks that usurp their productive time?

Step back and ask yourself if you’re getting the maximum value and performance from your staff.  If not, what can you do to change this?

Jack Burke
Other articles by: Jack Burke
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