MAKING THE MOST OF A HYBRID AGENCY ENVIROMENT
Learn how to optimize your software to profitably run your agency
Rocking the boat now may slow
some people down, but what if changes
could make them more effective in the weeks and months ahead?
By Jennifer Raymond
Today’s agencies and brokerages are a far cry from the paper-based firms of the past, and many of them now rely on software and technology to help agents and brokers bind policies, file claims, and communicate with clients. As systems administrator at Fischer, Rounds & Associates, I was in charge of not only setting up new software users but also managing relationships with vendors for networking and servers, as well as learning and managing those systems.
Think outside the box
In insurance, we often forget to think outside the box, but when I look at other industries and how they use technology to improve operations, I try to find ways that those tools can work for our agents and staff. For instance, many of our clients already communicate with our sales team via text messaging, but how well are those text-based conversations being documented in the management system? I wanted to find a tool we could use that would enable the sales team to send text messages directly from the management system to ensure these conversations are properly recorded.
Cloud-based customer service portals, like Applied CSR24, help our staff meet the needs of clients. If customers can log into a retailer’s website and see all their past purchases, why can’t insurance clients do the same? These kinds of portals allow customers access to all their insurance documents in one place, even if, as an agency, we need to split up packages of coverage—such as workers compensation and commercial general liability—between multiple carriers.
A few tips for making these changes include:
- Don’t be afraid of change
- Assess your processes and look for ways to improve workflow
- Implement change gradually and train staff well
- Reassess those changes to determine if modifications are needed
I think, so many times, we are stuck in the status quo, meaning “this is how we’ve always done it” and “it’s still working, why change it?” But how well is that process really working? Can you make it better? Rocking the boat now may slow some people down, but what if changes could make them more effective in the weeks and months ahead?
Facilitate hybrid work environments
The pandemic pushed some agencies and brokerages into a hybrid—or remote-work—environment, but the insurance business is still very reliant on human-to-human communication. However, adopting a hybrid work environment can free up agents’ or brokers’ time for more meaningful tasks. I’m passionate about finding ways to make technology work for users and helping them be more productive.
With its portal, Fischer, Rounds & Associates can deliver policies directly to the customer; and through text messaging from the management system, customers receive alerts that their policies or policy changes are ready for download through the client portal. If a carrier offers downloads (DL), we have that turned on in the system. With instant DL accepting policy documents and work groups, agencies can virtually have customer documents delivered to clients within minutes of the documents hitting the management system. Even for those clients who do not use the portal, the agency can still make every document viewable.
Benefits of work groups and unrouted email
When I learned about work groups and unrouted email, I was excited. Unrouted email can pull email directly into the unrouted area of an agency management system like Applied Epic and work it within the system. These allow an agency to essentially streamline processes performed by multiple people—even across more than one location. For instance, instead of having five people working on the cancellation process, perhaps in different offices, the agency could potentially have two experts who know the process inside and out and can back each other up.
I thought hard about the processes in the management system that many users hate doing and looked at how work groups and unrouted email could make those processes easier for everyone.
Issuing certificates of insurance is one pain point for staff because they are often called away from other projects or tasks in order to issue them. So why should all 30-plus of our customer service representatives (CSRs) be interrupted multiple times a day to issue certificates of insurance? What if the process could be streamlined, and what would that look like? I considered a couple of options.
The first option would be assigning one person to issue certificates during a certain window. They would be responsible for all the certificate of insurance requests that came in from customers or holders. They would not issue the batch renewal certificates of insurance. The benefit for CSRs is that they would only have to worry about issuing certificates during one or two blocks of time per week, and they could better plan their day and be more productive in other tasks. It would mean that the assigned CSR would issue more certificates because they would be issuing them for their co-workers, but for the remainder of the week, CSRs wouldn’t be interrupted by those requests.
The second option would entail assigning the issuance of certificates of insurance to office assistants, though some of Fisher, Rounds & Associates’ offices have assistants and some don’t. However, placing those assistants all in a work group and letting them issue certificates for all locations in a first-in, first-out method would enable the process to run more smoothly. This option also would require the adoption of unrouted email, in which the agency would create a new email address (e.g., Certs at agencyname dot com).
In the end, my agency adopted the second option, and it has been very successful. The email address is popular with our customers because it’s easy for them to remember and give out to the certificate of insurance holder. Like in other agencies, turnover is a real challenge, but customers no longer have to remember certificate CSRs names and email addresses. If we can make business decisions like this to help our customers communicate with us more easily, then the overall customer experience improves. We’ve been using this process since the spring and, so far, feedback has been very good from both our staff and customers.
Some agencies are using work groups with shared inboxes for photos, signed applications, ID cards, changes, and new quote submissions from websites. Shared inboxes are email addresses that multiple users can access. To set them up in Microsoft Outlook, look on the left-hand side under their primary inbox. The options are endless. Work groups also can be used with downloads. Agencies can choose to leave download activities open to a user or a work group. In this way, agencies can pick and choose different activities for each DL type and where they are assigned per type. Changes, for instance, can be left open to the changes team, cancellations to yet another team and new business to the marketing team. With instant DL and work groups, CSRs can have information back from carriers within moments of it hitting the system.
Technology is vital to running a profitable agency or brokerage, and part of that is learning how to optimize your software for a hybrid work environment. You need to update systems to ensure that workflow continues to be effective, and, if you’re a systems administrator like me, you need to constantly reassess systems and procedures and stay up to date on the latest software releases. Those releases can have software changes that improve productivity, but as an administrator, you need to dig deep, present the case for change to management and back up your ideas with data.
Once changes are adopted, employees will need training, either online or through one-on-one sessions, in order to ensure that, as a whole, the agency is running as smoothly as it can be to meet client needs. n
Jennifer Raymond, former systems administrator for Fischer, Rounds & Associates, is currently the corporate trainer for Hotaling Insurance Services and a member of Applied Client Network.