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Agent to Agent: Hiring the Best Customer Service Representative (CSR)

By Brian Tarpey, President
Tarpey Group

I was out to dinner recently when the waitress approached and said, "Hi can I get you guys started with something to drink?"

She was friendly, had a nice smile and made the people I was with feel comfortable. However, she never mentioned her name—which led me to inquire further—and later reflect upon the rules of engagement in regards to Customer Service.

I am constantly baffled by waiters and waitresses that fail to properly introduce themselves. I am not sure what the financial ramification is nationally but I am sure that millions of tip dollars are lost because the waiter or waitress doesn’t bother to share their name.

The time I spent as a waiter in college was my first true experience in Customer Service—when the next tuition payment depends on the tip income, you can bet customers felt like they owned the restaurant when they sat in my station. I learned very quickly that how I treated my customers not only affected me, and my personal income, but the reputation of my employer as a whole.

Insurance Customer Service should be looked at no differently. However, it is oftentimes handed over to a new hire, without much training or experience—and we wonder why client persistency suffers.

Hiring the best Customer Service Representative (CSR) is not easy for carriers, let alone agencies with fewer resources, but it is equally critical to the respective stability and future growth of the company.

Being that we specialize in distinct insurance products such as customizable Business Insurance and Employee Benefits—as well as provide expert New York and New Jersey Financial Services—our clientele expect a particular level of professionalism and service from us.

I certainly have gone through my fair share of trial and error, to establish the strong team Tarpey Group has today. I am far from being the expert in hiring the best Customer Service Representatives; however, I can share with you some of the things I have learned along the way:

  1. Develop a clear job description outlining the job functions that are required and the experience level that is needed.
  2. The trust and care of our hard earned clients will be in the hands of a CSR so it is critical to do a background check on the potential candidate(s). Our vendor specifically does a criminal, social security, credit and drug test—combined this ends up being a roughly $150 investment. We only perform these checks when we plan to make an employment offer—but isn't it worth it to spend $150 to protect against the many thousands of dollars you may potentially waste on a bad hire?
  3. Call their references—the contacts are there for a reason, utilize them.
  4. Test the candidates. If you don’t already have a standard test, then create one. Use real-life scenarios that you and your agency have experienced, perform mock Customer Service calls and give the candidate the opportunity to show you how they would react and manage particular situations.
  5. Employ a probationary period to evaluate the new hire’s performance. After you hire the candidate, wait one month and review their entire employment file. Address any major conflicts that appear; for example their resume read "Expert in Excel", however they are actually performing below standard.
  6. Solicit client feedback. If a new Customer Service Representative is handling a new client – or renewal client for that matter – call the client and ask for their feedback. Anything less than a rave review is something to document in the employee file.
  7. Trust your gut. A warm body in a chair is not necessarily the right person in the chair. Your clients will tell you and a great CSR cannot hide but a bad CSR you will want to hide from you and your customers. If you find yourself feeling this way it is time to act.


If I have learned anything from my years in the insurance industry it is that a great Customer Service Representative is difficult to find. But when they are found it will be known by everyone in the agency. Most importantly, clients will tell you over and over how great they really are. When a client knows your CSR by name and they tell you, "Michelle is really fantastic to work with!” what they really are saying is I appreciate you and your staff for making me feel comfortable with your agency.

It is like the waiter who you know by name. It is their superior Customer Service and attention to detail that makes you reach out to the restaurant owner and commend them for their fantastic staff and service.

Find that CSR who’s energy and passion encourages clients to reach out to you—and I guarantee that your agency’s reputation and business will continue to prosper.

March 25, 2011