Customer Service Focus
By Erin Woodard, CIC, CRM, CISR, ACSR
THE ACCOUNT MANAGER AS TEAM GATEKEEPER
On any given day, the account manager can wear hats of multiple positions
The old saying that insurance is a relationship business is never truer than when it’s applied to the role of account manager. But the relationships don’t stop with the main one—the client.
I began working for Higginbotham Insurance in January of 2004 as an account manager, previously working as a commercial lines producer. Gone were my days of cold-calling; now I could focus on what I enjoyed most—building and maintaining relationships with my clients. Little did I know, the role didn’t involve just the client; instead I was maintaining and growing relationships with clients, carriers and coworkers alike. Account managers manage many relationships. As such, they act as gatekeepers in the process of working with a client.
Account managers are part psychologist, mentor, educator, advocate, broker, and sometimes part nag, depending on how the day goes. They may have to prod busy producers to get more information on a lead, do research and documentation, and act as a liaison with carriers and teams within the agency or company.
I believe the easiest and simplest way an account manager can make an impact is to embrace the idea that the important work we do is a team effort.
I prefer to work every day without the restriction of a “that’s not my job” mentality, since roles can overlap and become interchangeable. Within our office, the account team consists of a producer, account manager (myself), and a service executive/CSR (handling daily servicing tasks and endorsements). However, on any given day, I wear the hat of each of the positions within the team. I visit with insureds for new and renewal meetings, I market the account to multiple carriers, and I also help with endorsements. I do this not because my job title requires it, but rather to maintain what I feel is the most important aspect of my job: serving my clients and their insurance needs. I like to think of my role as a teammate supporting the larger team.
When a producer brings in a new client, the account is assigned to an account manager for handling. The two then work together to secure the following information, if applicable:
- Schedule of locations
- Gross sales information by location
- Premises protection information, such as alarm, fire sprinklers, security, etc.
- Payroll information by state, including numbers of employees by class code
- List of owned autos and driver information
- Underwriting information on management liability
- Five-year loss/claim/premium history
- Information on outstanding claims or loss control issues
Next, the team performs an exposure/coverage assessment of the client’s current program. This is followed by an exploration of the carrier relationship. Carriers often come into our office to discuss market trends and types of accounts they are currently targeting successfully. Producers look to the account managers for recommendations on which market to approach for a client because every client is unique. Certainly, producers have input on markets as well, but as account managers, we work to build and nurture relationships with the carriers to stay on top of what is a continually evolving underwriting market.
Because of our cultivated knowledge of the carriers, we can then determine the best ones to approach in the marketing of the account. I enjoy this part of the process as well. Essentially, we are now “selling” the account, continuing the work that the producer began. This is where the relationships we nurture with the carriers come into play. We work to present the client to the carriers to secure terms. This often means we will review multiple proposals and analyze the terms to find the best match for our client’s needs.
Finally, it’s decision day. We are ready to present the efforts of our work to the potential client and ideally earn their business. And we usually do!
Once we have the new client’s business, the account manager’s role doesn’t end. Sure, the marketing of the account does, and the CSR takes over the day-to-day processing. However, I like to stay involved and maintain an ongoing relationship with the client and the carriers too. Before long, it is time to consider renewal marketing of the account.
We start marketing the account and updating information well ahead of the renewal date. With renewals, each step of the process is reviewed again by the account manager. We must put in the time to understand the ins and outs of an ever-changing industry. It takes work to become a reliable resource for the company and for our clients.
A title doesn’t define me. Nor does it define how or why I work diligently for my clients and carriers. I hope my clients realize that no matter what my title, I will always put forth my absolute best to make sure their needs are met. If you ask some of my long-time clients, I am quite sure that none of them would even know what my title is. I hope they would say that I got the job done for them, and that maybe we even had some fun along the way!
The same would hold true with my coworkers and carriers. I often have industry colleagues call me and ask for assistance on issues. I hope this is because they know I will always help, no matter which account is involved or whether it falls under my current role. For this very reason, I believe the core success or failure of my position rests with me.
I believe the easiest and simplest way an account manager can make an impact is to embrace the idea that the important work we do is a team effort. Join the team and show up! I believe that we should come ready to work each day and ready to be a part of the team.
It is important to remember, and it is often forgotten, that account managers are a pivotal part of the overall success of an agency on both an account- and agency-level basis. Yes, we are a part of the team with the underwriter, producer, CSR, claims personnel, and so on, but we need to always remember that our individual role within the organization is integral to the entire team’s success.
My favorite part of my job is the relationships I have developed with customers and carriers. I take the time to get to know many of my customers on an individual basis, beyond their positions within their organizations as displayed on their business cards. I take the time to listen to their needs and understand them first as people and then as clients. This ongoing engagement with customers helps me understand their needs and gives me the freedom to readily seek feedback from them on how to further maintain the working relationship. They trust that I have their best interests in mind, professionally and personally.
Ultimately, I believe insurance thrives on relationships and human interaction. Working each day with this mindset opens the path to success!
Erin Woodard, CIC, CRM, CISR, ACSR, is a senior account manager at Higginbotham Insurance in Austin, Texas. In 2015, Erin was the national winner of the prestigious Outstanding CSR of the Year® Award given by The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. Contact Erin at email@example.com.