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BUSINESS HABITS

BUSINESS HABITS

BUSINESS HABITS
January 28
10:14 2019

Agency Operations Focus

By Dr. Billy R. Williams

BUSINESS HABITS

At the heart of solid agency operations is a commitment to building good habits

When I walk into an agency as a coach, mentor, or possible investor, my first action is to observe the current business habits of the agency. Now I know that the term most often used to describe this is agency operations, but I also know that agency operations is just a fancy way of saying business habits.

Without a vision for the desired result when a trigger is identified in the agency, staff will do what they think should be done, or they will do what is easiest for them to accomplish.

To understand the current business habits of an agency, I take a close look at the current use of technology, workflows, and conversations that operate within the agency in nine vital areas:

Marketing and Prospecting: email, postal mail, texting, online marketing, etc.

Lead Management: lead tracking, follow-up methods, and timing, technology, etc.

New Policy Administration: quoting, rating, binding, delivery, etc.

Endorsements: conversations. workflows, e-signatures, technology, etc.

Claims Handling: workflow, follow-up, policy weakness conversations, carrier follow-up, etc.

Communication Technology and Practices: email, phone, text messaging, etc.

Agency Management: agency management system, reports, audits, payments, billing, and accounting

Customer Retention: automation, policy reviews, rate increase process, remarketing, etc.

Staff Management: training, designated activities, accountability, production requirements, pay, commissions, counseling, etc.

By observing these important operational areas, I can quickly assess not only the habits that have been allowed to form in the agency, but the overall agency culture, as well.

My next step is to have a conversation with the staff. The purpose of this step is to understand better what their vision of the desired outcome should be for selected tasks, conversations, and processes within the agency.  I specifically speak to the staff without the principal agent in the room, so that they will give me honest, genuine answers.

In the study of animals, there is this saying, “An animal in the wild that knows it is being observed never truly acts wild.” I have found that insurance agency staff is the same way when the principal is listening to their answers. I don’t get the same answers as when the principal is not around.

All operations in an agency should be a product of a desired business habit. I specifically say “a desired business habit” because habits automatically form around every task, situation, conversation, and process that happens in the agency.

The real questions you have to ask yourself—and answer—are:

  • Were the current business habits allowed to form based on a lack of training, a lack of accountability, and what was easy as opposed to what was most useful for the business? Here is a “Billyism,” as my team likes to call it: “Easy will always take priority over effective in the absence of accountability!”
  • Every agency operation is already the product of a formed habit, but is it the habit that is best for the agency and the customer?
  • Are the current habits in your agency the kind that will propel your business to the highest levels possible in the areas of marketing, prospecting, sales, service, referrals, and retention?

Let’s look at the five variables that lead to the formation of a business habit or agency operation:

  1. A trigger
  2. The desired result
  3. Specific actions
  4. A yearning for success or a fear of failure or repercussion
  5. Repetition

All habits have these five variables, and each of the variables must be present, understood and trained for a process to become a desired business habit.

Trigger

A trigger is the specific situation orevent that identifies when a set of specific actions or activities should happen.

The insurance industry has a ton of built-in triggers such as upcoming policy renewals, birthdays, reported claims, weather events, relocations, etc. The training question for the agency is, “Does each staff and team member understand what specific actions or activities should happen when a trigger is recognized?”

Examples of triggers and actions would be:

When a claim is reported to the agency, does a conversation regarding policy flaws instantly occur?

Is text messaging verified as a communication option?

Desired result

Without a vision for the desired result when a trigger is identified in the agency, staff will do what they think should be done, or they will do what is easiest for them to accomplish.

Each process, task, and conversation that happens in an agency should have a desired result that is understood by each person who touches the event or activity. In the absence of a shared vision, the agency will have a huge disconnect when it comes to communication, activities, and technology usage.

Examples of desired results would be:

  • The agency needs to have every new customer identify an emergency contact on the initial call
  • The agency needs to get permission to text message each new customer

Specific actions

Specific actions are the cornerstone of creating good business habits. Each team member should be trained and held accountable for specific actions for each major process in the agency.

It’s important that specific actions foreach major task or process in the agency:

  • Have a written checklist of steps
  • Be trained, and role played on a consistent schedule
  • Be spot-checked without warning on a random schedule
  • Have specific pass/fail accountability standards

Let’s look at the endorsement process to see what this might entail. Specific check-listed actions would be:

  1. Verify that the current phone number and address are correct
  2. Get permission to text message
  3. Point out a policy weakness while processing the endorsement
  4. Send a confirmation email oncethe endorsement has been processed
  5. Send a declined coverage e-signature form if the declined coverage was identified as a major coverage on the agency’s major coverage list

A yearning for success or a fear of failure or repercussion

Of all the variables of forming a habit, I believe this is the one that agency principals screw up the most.

While I believe principals and other leaders expect staff members to have a natural yearning for success, my experience has shown that more often than not employees respond better to the “fear of failure or repercussion” part of this variable. This is based on my opinion and my experiences, and I have been inside hundreds of agencies over my 15-year career as an agent, coach, and mentor.

Agencies with good training and accountability practices tend to be above average, but agencies that have good training, proper accountability methods, and repercussions for not following the agency guidelines, such as loss of all or a portion of bonus when a production goal is not met, or the loss of enhanced pay when a process does not pass a spot-check, tend to be far above their peers and competitors.

Repetition

Doing something once or twice is an event. Doing it on a consistent basis is when it becomes a habit.

What are the repetitive actions agency principals must take to guarantee that specific actions end up as business habits (agency processes)?

  • Schedule time for training and role play with the staff
  • Checklist the specific steps and actions of a process
  • Develop specific pass/fail accountability standards for a task, process, or conversation
  • Randomly spot-check the process
  • Have built-in rewards and repercussions when staff does not meet the accountability standards

The author

Dr. Billy R. Williams is president of Inspire a Nation Business Mentoring Services, a Williams Investment Group company. Keep up with him and his firm’s offerings by visiting the Inspire a Nation Business Mentoring website at www.inspireanation.org or by connecting with him on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/billyrwilliams.

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