Episode 079 — The Digital Broker Podcast

Onboarding Agency Staff Made Easy: The Story of Total CSR


On this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds interviews Justin Goodman, founder of Total CSR. By listening to this episode, you will learn:

  • Which operational problems forced Justin to develop Total CSR
  • How the platform grew to help insurance agencies train CSR’s, producers, and employees in any position
  • How a good onboarding process helps insurance agencies at large attract more employees and keep them in jobs longer

At a glance, Justin Goodman didn’t look like he needed anything. Here was a man who ran a third-generation insurance brokerage. Behind the scenes, however, Justin was having trouble training his customer service representatives (CSR’s). Unlike the bigger brokerages, Justin couldn’t afford to hire the best available talent right out of college. He relied on training to develop his new hires into the employees he needed them to be. To this end, he was outsourcing CSR training to the usual academies. But these academies provided general CSR training that did not amount to much in an insurance agency environment. Justin needed his CSR’s to know how customer service principles intersected with the particular requirements of insurance.

Out of all the people he knew, Justin was the only one who could provide the kind of specialized yet comprehensive training that he was looking for. But he couldn’t train every new CSR himself. It would be better to develop an online training platform that would impart the necessary skills and knowledge. That platform became Total CSR—which, today, services over eight hundred agencies and counting. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. At the time of inception, Justin needed it to service only one organization: his own. Because his brokerage specialized in commercial lines, Justin uses workers’ compensation as an example of how the platform works:

“First, trainees watch an explainer video on the basics of workers’ compensation. Then, we’ll walk them through the whole cycle of placing an insurance policy for workers’ compensation—soliciting payroll information, completing supplemental applications like loss runs and court forms—and we will break each section down further, taking the trainee through key terminology. There are twenty-two key terms on a workers’ compensation loss run; if you don’t know what they are, you can’t negotiate with an underwriter. Then, we show the trainee how to interact with all the information: how to transfer data onto an ACORD form, how to work with forms in real-time, how to work with quotes. We create a giant sandbox environment where employees can practice before they are deployed within an agency.”

As it turned out, Justin hadn’t been the only one who struggled to train employees. When other principals got wind of what Total CSR could do, they started pleading with Justin to let them use it, too. However, not every agency was as concerned with commercial lines or with CSR’s in particular. Many agencies needed help onboarding producers—so Justin redesigned Total CSR to include producer-oriented training that would help producers “prospect within the insurance field and understand what the buyer’s journey would look like. We’ve created choose-your-own-adventure videos that walk producers through negotiations, how to get past gatekeepers. It’s an eight-hour course designed to get that producer up to speed before they go out and start making cold calls, before they spend the agency’s money quoting things they’re never going to close.”

But it couldn’t all be jargon and simulations. Since CSR’s and producers have to deal with people much of the time, Total CSR grew to encompass “soft skills” training as well. “There are only so many customers that you run into in insurance, and although every interaction looks different, there are a few key personality types and set ways of responding to them. Part of our training covers how to deal with different customers. We also teach business writing. Many Millennials who grew up with cell phones write an email or a letter like they write a text, and that won’t work with some clients. So we work with trainees on grammar, we work with them on building risk narratives. We address generational gaps. We address how different generations relate to technology differently, and what that means for the decision-making process and the operational side of the business.”

Judging by the aforementioned +800 strong user base, Total CSR is doing something right. But Justin is modest. The platform alone is no magic wand, he says—no single platform can be. Trainees and agencies have to do their part: trainees have to pace themselves and go through the program at the appropriate speed; and agencies have to monitor and be engaged with the trainee’s path. To ensure that trainees retain what they learn, Total CSR provides a six-week followup course that Justin urges all users to take. Some agencies can’t be bothered by it, and they are the ones who suffer. 

“If the agency owner isn’t actively engaging with the trainee, everyone is less successful. If you’re not checking in with your trainees, on a daily basis or close to it, no training program will be as effective as it would be if you were actively involved.”

That sounds a lot like our advice to pair any initiative with mentorship and engagement. Operational excellence is an ensemble of moving parts that work together in concert; no single part is more important than the others. That being said, as individual pieces go, Total CSR is pretty useful—and its effects multiply when the other pieces fall into place. What began as a way to help a single agency train CSR’s is now a vehicle to help all agencies train and onboard faster and better, Justin explains.

“A dream of mine is to create another path to insurance that is not a four-year, debt-ridden, college degree path. How do we get more people in this industry? How do we get younger people in this industry? How do we train them quickly and efficiently? Those are my main objectives.”

Total CSR’s origin story mirrors those of Indio and Chisel AI: all are solutions born out of the founder’s original struggle with a particular need or problem. We have interviewed Mike Furlong, founder of Indio, and Ron Glozman, of Chisel AI, on previous episodes, and we will continue to feature guests, stories, and topics that inspire our listeners in the insurance world. To keep up with every episode of The Digital Broker, make sure to join our Digital Broker LinkedIn group.

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