In 2001, PMA Insurance Group relocated its call center from Blue Bell, a suburb of Philadelphia, to a new facility in Allentown. But the move was more than geographic. It was a call to arms for PMA to reassess some of its long-time practices governing customer interaction.In fact, at PMA an d other insurance companies, a new methodology for customer engagement is rising to the fore-part of a mandate by senior insurance executives to shift customer service from what had been regarded as a necessary cost of doing business to a value-added service. Employing better recruiting strategies, which market customer service representative (CSR) positions as "destination" jobs with opportunities for advancement, insurers are hiring individuals who have an affinity for call center duties, training them and ultimately converting them into specialists equipped to handle specific areas of inquiries.

It's doubtful that a "call-taker" could talk a distressed customer through a life crisis unless they are trained to think outside the box. But it's more than that: For a long time, the number of phone calls that a CSR at PMA was required to field per hour had been regarded as a core performance evaluation method. But this expectation, along with some others, is being scrapped in favor of new performance benchmarks.

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