2017 Outstanding CSR of the Year®

2017 Outstanding CSR of the Year®

2017 Outstanding CSR of the Year®

We’re pleased to present excerpts from the top five essays submitted for the 2017 Outstanding CSR of the Year® award. Competitors from across the nation shared their insights related to customer service within the industry. From the pool of state winners, we selected four finalists and the national winner.

Brianne Head, CIC, CRIS, Director of Client Services with Independent Insurance Group, Inc., of Dallas, TX—this year’s national winner—and the four finalists have been presented with gold pins, cash awards, and more, for excelling in the national competition. See page 23 for a listing of all state winners. The National Alliance extends heartfelt congratulations to each of these deserving professionals.

The essay topic for the 2017 competition: “A friend who is a CSR has come to you for advice about a new customer service job opportunity in an agency in another city. What five factors about the employer and the position would you advise them to consider before accepting the job? Please discuss the most important factor first.”


Brianne Head, CIC, CRIS

Director of Client Services Independent Insurance Group, Inc.

Dallas, TX

How exciting to be in a position where you are desired, qualified, and the best candidate for the position! The process of considering a job offer is neither cut and dried, nor easy. Having people help navigate the unknown is comforting and a confidence booster when you reach your final decision. I would like to provide some food for thought and present five factors to consider when evaluating an offer of employment. These five factors are 1) culture, 2) benefits, 3) the interview process, 4) the reputation of the company in the industry, and 5) the position—and whether it lends itself to continued advancement.

Based upon my experience, the culture of the company is the most important of the five factors listed above. This is the “touchy-feely” portion of a job opportunity. This factor is critical to understand because we spend more time with coworkers than we do with family and friends. Therefore, ensuring the overall office culture and atmosphere align with your personal needs will equate to a happier you. Information lending itself to the culture can be gleaned through several avenues: social media, the interview process itself, and tenure of both past and present employees can all provide valuable insight. Hopefully, through the interview process, you received cues alluding to the overall culture, such as discovering how personal and professional successes are celebrated, whether management is transparent with the staff (sharing of goals, tracking toward goals, open doors, communication), and their stance regarding work--life balance. A company whose culture aligns with your personal values, beliefs, and needs is the most important aspect to weigh when considering making a change. An old adage alleges that people leave bosses, not jobs. I believe people leave cultures that do not align with personal beliefs, needs, and desires.

Another aspect to consider when determining if an opportunity is right for you are the benefits. Salary, relocation assistance, health insurance, disability offerings, time off, educational development, and retirement planning options should all be considered. Understanding the eligibility requirements surrounding each benefit and how the overall benefits package meets your needs is crucial. Many people will negotiate salary, but consider negotiating other benefits as part of employment offer. There is value in discovering if the benefits available are above and beyond what other companies are offering in the industry, as this provides another insight into their culture. An example of an extraordinary benefit offering would be a Safe Harbor contribution to a 401K plan, regardless of whether or not an employee participates.

Reflect on the interview process. Did you interview them, just as they were interviewing you? The interview process itself is very much a two-way street and will allow you to see if their culture, benefits, and position align with your needs, just as they interviewed you to determine if you align with what they desire in an employee. Items to reflect upon from the interview process may be: How did they handle the interview process? Were your questions about the position and organization welcomed? Did you like the interviewers? Did you get a good vibe? What was your initial gut feeling or reaction? Did the interviewers truly answer your questions or did they talk around the questions without providing answers?

The industry’s perception and the reputation of the future employer will likely precede them. Be sure to perform your due diligence and investigate the company to determine if what has been presented to you (both by outsiders and through the interview process) checks out, as perception is reality. Items that may be of importance are: What is their involvement in the industry? Are they members of any professional associations? Are they assisting in attracting the next generation to the industry? What is their social media presence? What is your opinion of their website appearance and usability? What is their stance on technology? What is their current office set-up? Are they team based? What is the layout and flow of the office? What philanthropic endeavors are they affiliated with?

The time, thoughts, conversations, and issues that surround a potential job change are never easily navigated. It is helpful to know people are in your corner to guarantee you do not forget to weigh the big items when evaluating the offer. Help will always be offered to those who ask. Knowing that a peer respects your thoughts, opinions, and guidance on such important personal matters is a foundation of a strong personal relationship. Thank you for trusting me to weigh in on the opportunity placed before you. Good luck with your decision!


Jennifer D. Fryar, CIC, CISR

Account Manager Sullivan Insurance Agency

Ardmore, OK

Thank you for calling Sullivan Insurance Agency, how may I help you?” Taking a position as a CSR (customer service representative) is much more than answering the phone and being in the office 40 hours a week. Depending on what the employer has in mind, the position could start simple (phone and mail), but as you show strong and positive qualities, you will find yourself creating and pursuing opportunities and advancing. It is important not to just let the agency interview you, but also to find out what opportunities and support they are going to provide to you to aid in the success of not only you, but your position. Leadership and support from the principal and/or producer is imperative. Without the support and guidance from top management, the opportunity for continued education, the ability to build relationships, provide good service, and grow as a competent CSR is limited. Agencies that invest in their employees and provide the needed resources, make it easier for you and your producer to meet and exceed set goals.

In addition to good leadership, an additional advantage is providing a CSR with up-to-date technology to aid in getting the job done. Not all agencies provide up-to-date copiers, printers, agency management systems, risk management systems, benefit administration systems, or additional resources needed to do your job. It is vital the agency you go to work for is always looking for the latest and greatest technology that is going to help you and the customers.

Upon being offered the position and accepting, you will need to get your insurance license—the first step of your continuing education. Depending on what your position will be at the agency, you will need a property and casualty and/or an accident and health license. Education should not stop here—it is important that you continue your education and pursue designations. Receiving your license and designations will assist in your knowledge and confidence when speaking with customers and carriers. Education will also help you and your customers when assisting with a question, filing a claim, working on a renewal, marketing accounts, or the unknown situations that will arise. Insurance is complex; thus, it is essential that you continue to improve on skills, education, and be aware of the available resources. There are several designations you can pursue from CISR, to CIC, CRM, CPRM, CSRM, and much more. In addition, extending on your Bachelor’s degree and pursing a Master’s will not only help you in your education, but will help you become a long-term employee for the agency.

Loyalty, trust, and honesty are hard to come by today. By simply trying—doing what you say you’re going to do—and applying an ethical quality to your work will provide rewarding service to both the customer and yourself. With service comes time management and organization. One thing you will learn early is that the life of a CSR is fast-paced, and that there will be days when the first thing on your list to accomplish will be changed with one phone call. Being organized and thinking beyond what is being asked (the next step, and then the step beyond that—the big picture) will help you retain a positive perseverance when the unexpected occurs. In the insurance business, the unexpected will occur.

While being a CSR can be complex at times, the relationships a CSR builds with customers are incredible. You will find yourself talking about more than “insurance”—discussing kids, grandkids, weekend plans, or just providing an ear to listen when needed. Relationships are powerful; customers become good friends and family; gratitude is given and received. Also, being proactive, prompt, motivated, and going above and beyond will earn you the respect of customers and carriers.

Eleven years ago, I was offered a CSR position in commercial lines. Having some personal lines experience provided a foot in the door. Being offered the opportunity to work for an agency who invests in me, puts money back into infrastructure, and leadership guiding to the next level of education has allowed me to become more than a data entry clerk. I am now the “go to” employee in the office for Employee Benefits, I train new employees (Property & Casualty and Employee Benefits), and have contributed in the growth our agency, which has led the expansion of our department, in which I directly oversee two employees. The ability to think outside the box, have open communication, and be transparent within and outside the office has lead me to have self-awareness and self-strength in my position.

The last bit of advice I would like to provide is to keep an open mind. Do not limit yourself in one field—be open to a wide-range of topics and resources. The CSR position is challenging at times and is a key role in the function and success of the agency. Being a CSR is very rewarding, both on a business and personal level.


Pamela A. Grimes, CIC, CISR, CPIW, DAE, AINS, CBIA

Academic Director

VFIS of North Carolina/Anders, Ireland & Marshall, Inc.

Raleigh, NC

The five most important factors of any job, in my opinion, are intertwined with each other. They are all an important part of any new job as they all affect the employee and the agency. To me, the five most important factors are: growth opportunity, reputation, stability, benefits offered by the agency, and turnover of the agency.

A likely new employee needs to do their homework on a potential new employer. They need to discuss growth opportunity and how they can meet their personal goals, as well as how they can help the agency to grow. This may mean moving from a customer service representative position to that of an account executive. An example would be how they helped to set up procedures on the use of their current agency’s management system. This will help to show the new employer that they know the job they have interviewed for, and showcase their skills in other areas. The candidate can help the agency to grow by helping to bring new clients to the organization. All these factors play into growth opportunity for both the individual and the agency.

The reputation of any agency is an important factor. As a potential new employee, the candidate will be associated with this agency, and therefore, would want to work for the best agency around. If the agency has a reputation of paying their employees well and also taking care of their employees, they normally are happy and do not want to leave. However, if the pay is low or if management dictates the way things are done, employees have a tendency to leave as soon as they can find a better job. Employees want to feel like they have a role within the company and feel like they are contributing to their employment. The potential candidate needs to talk to people who have worked there, along with people who know the agency, and current personnel as to how they feel about the agency. The candidate needs to find out as many positive and negative things as they can about the agency and then decide if this is a place where they would like to work, or not.

The attributes of an agency’s reputation play into the stability of the company. If employees are happy and like where they work, they help the agency increase revenue and flourish. For example, management may not do a good job of assessing their finances. The potential employee should talk to people within the company to find out if there have ever been any financial problems and find out if they have been resolved. For example, if payroll has been delayed or paychecks have bounced because there were financial issues, this could cause problems for agency employees as they would not be able to meet their financial obligations. If the agency does not or cannot pay their bills, it could cause company contracts and business to be lost. These are flags to the candidate that this might not be the right place for them to work.

Benefits are an important part of any employment. The candidate should ask the agency what kind of benefits they offer such as hospitalization, dental, and/or vision insurance, retirement, and short and long-term disability, and who pays for these benefits. If the employer pays for these benefits, or pays for the majority of them, then the potential candidate may take a lower salary. If the potential employee has to pay for all the benefits themselves, in the long run, they would have less money due to having to pay for the benefits themselves. If the employer pays for the benefits, this will also help them as they could potentially find a better candidate without having to pay out a large salary.

Finally, if the agency has a high turnover of employees, this can cause problems as it signals employees are not happy and do not want to work there. The potential employee should talk to people they may know to see if they can find out the answer. It could be that the agency is hiring the wrong people for the job, or there could be an employee that likes to keep things stirred up, or a number of other reasons. They should try to find out what those reasons are and make the decision from there.

Most of all, I would tell my friend to go with their gut feeling. If, after all of the above, they felt this was the right decision, then I would tell them to go for it, and would support them 150%. If, however, they had any doubt, I would tell them to weigh the pros and cons, and if they still were not sure, to not take the job. Most of all, whatever decision they make, I would be happy for them and wish them well.


Demetra J. Ramey, CIC, CISR Account Manager

CRS Insurance Brokerage

Denver, CO

In 2005, I had the opportunity to move from one city to another for a CSR position with a different agency. There were many factors to consider to determine if it would be the right move for me and my family. Based upon my experience, I would advise my friend to consider these five most important factors when considering a new CSR position in another city.

The most important factor to consider is the environment—both outside and inside the agency. Environmental factors to consider outside the agency include: wages, cost of living, availability of jobs in the area, rent, home sales, and schools.

Wages and cost of living will tell you how far a dollar goes in the city you are considering. Check on-line to compare the cost of living between the current city and new city to determine what financial impact the relocation will have on your family.

Look at not only the availability of jobs within your career field, but your significant other’s career field, as well, to determine how stable the job market is within the city and surrounding areas.

In respect to housing—are you going to rent or buy? Do you need a house or an apartment? Do you have friends and family nearby? When moving with children, learning about the school districts in your new city is paramount. Friends, family, and local realtors are well-versed in neighborhood schools and can help match housing with children’s educational needs.

Now let’s look at the environmental factors to consider inside the agency, which include management style, work style, and culture. Does the agency’s management style fit your work style? Characteristics of management styles are their ways of making decisions and how management relates to subordinates. In your interview process, did you determine the management style of the company and if it’s a good fit for you? The managers you work with and the style in which they handle delegating tasks and rewarding their employees can have a significant impact on your happiness with the position, company, and city.

Does the agency fit with your work style? Consider the types of individuals you will be working with inside the company. Is the company’s culture the right fit for you? Utilize LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Twitter, or the company’s website to determine what type of coworkers you will have and the type of culture the company displays. Ask yourself if you think it provides the right environment for you to succeed and meet your long-term goals.

The next important factor to consider is growth opportunity within the agency. Again, you can utilize LinkedIn to view profiles of various employees within the company. Do they show a pattern of career growth within the company or do you see that people tend to work the same role for years and then leave for better opportunities? Promotion within a company can be a strong sign of growth. It means new employees are hired to replace promoted ones and the company is invested in retaining and rewarding their talent.

Another factor to consider is the company’s benefits. Will the company offer any of the following benefits that may be important to you? Family-friendly benefits such as the opportunity to telecommute or create your own work schedule; health insurance; life and disability insurance; relocation reimbursement; retirement investment plans; sick, personal and parental leave; education reimbursement; vacation time; and child care benefits can all be important considerations. If your proposed salary is less than expected, evaluate the benefits, in addition to the paycheck. A top-notch benefits package may make a lower salary more palatable. Will the employer subsidize any of these benefits, and if so, what percentage? These benefits can help determine the level of difficulty of the transition for you and your family.

Company reputation is another factor to consider. Performing a Google and Better Business Bureau search on the company can help determine its reputation with clients and the public. Talking to underwriters and other insurance peers can help determine the reputation the agency has in the industry. Researching the agency’s reputation can validate the information you may have been given during the interview process. Finally, what do your instincts tell you about the opportunity? As in every other aspect of life, your instincts should be a tool in your decision making process, and it is important to heed them, even when you can not necessarily verbalize them. A negative feeling may be a sign that the new position you are considering sounds great, but doesn’t have something really important to your career. Therefore, if you have a bad feeling about a job offer, you shouldn’t ignore your instincts.

Knowing who you are and what is important to you are the first steps on the road to career success and determining whether moving to a new city is the right decision for you and your family. With that—along with the right research and a little luck—you will find yourself in a job you want and never look back!


Brenda A. Sells, CIC, CISR CSR

Theodore Tunick & Company

Saint Thomas, VI

Perhaps one of the biggest career decisions that you can make as an employee is to start a new position in a new city. You have to ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” Besides the non-work aspects of relocation, such as proximity to family and friends, getting around a new neighborhood, and how the move will affect those closest to you, an essential part of this transition should be to prepare yourself by obtaining pertinent information about the employer and the position, and by educating yourself, not only on the responsibilities of the job, but also on the company itself.

Do your homework and research as much as you can about the new company. Who are the leaders within the organization? What is its employment track record? What is the company’s ratio on employee turnover? A sense of employment security with the new company is necessary before taking that leap of faith. What is the company’s mission statement and basic facts? Is the company’s mission statement in line with your core work values? What is the company’s standing with its competitors? What is being said about the company on social media? Social media is a perfect way to meet current employees of the agency who can give you insight into the organization’s day-to-day operations.

Do the math! Is the salary being offered worth the research, time, and expenses to relocate? In a new city, the cost of living affects your bottom-line. Would you have to pay more for daily living expenses to live in a city as opposed to a small neighborhood? Will the company reimburse or pay for your expenses to relocate? Is the salary desirable and can you live comfortably on a budget in the new city? Don’t be afraid to ask questions about competitive salaries in that particular city. Based on your calculations, what are the pros and cons to consider?

Do I know everything I need to know about the job? Make sure that you know everything that you need to know about the job. The term, CSR, is used interchangeably within the industry and can encompass many roles of customer service, such as account management. Will you just be responsible for servicing accounts or will you be required to engage in sales as well? What volume of customers will you be asked to handle on a day-to-day basis? Will the accounts be larger or smaller? Compare your current job description to that of the description of the job that you are considering, along with the pros and cons of each.

Does the position offer career growth? Will this move help further your career? Will this move provide sufficient upward mobility now and in the future? Can you take on greater responsibility over time and grow and learn while climbing that corporate ladder? You wouldn’t want to uproot your whole life for a company that has a grim-looking future! Ideally, you want to contribute to a growing team and company when making this level of commitment. Make sure you let your potential employer know that you are not interested only in your own personal growth, but in helping the company to grow as well.

Do you “fit-in”? Do your work ethic and core values match those of your potential colleagues? Will you feel comfortable working in your new environment? How will you feel about your work surroundings? Do you feel like part of a team or an outsider? Is the work environment conducive to your creative and natural abilities to shine in your work place? You really won’t know the answers to these questions until you are already working there. Perhaps it would be best to visit the new agency to evaluate your new work surroundings.

Evaluate what made you want to consider the new job in the different city in the first place. Have you outgrown your life and job where you currently are? Do you feel that the change is necessary in the stage of life that you are, right now? Asking yourself the hard questions will enable you to make more informed decisions about your life and your future happiness.