Insurance News

Agents Need To Become Efficiency Experts

Posted on: August 9, 2009

As the insurance industry navigates through increased and never-ending change, some common challenges are surfacing among independent agents. Among them:

? How do we continue to grow in the soft market?

? How do we compete in the current environment?

? How do we become more of a sales organization?

? How can we become more efficient?

Each of these questions requires in-depth analysis, followed by proactive solutions. However, without first addressing the efficiency question, the other three initiatives will be much more difficult to tackle.

As I work with agencies across the country, some are extremely efficient when it comes to transacting business. But in shops where efficiencies are lacking, it can have a very negative impact on new business production and retention.

That?s exactly why the topic of efficiency always comes up. And when it does, I can offer a multitude of recommendations. There are also many combinations of ways to elevate an agency?s efficiency level. But in the end, my best advice is to keep it simple.

Efficiency does not happen by accident. It takes the implementation of something new, while measuring and monitoring the results. Very much like a documented plan can be the road map for growth, an agency needs a plan to increase its efficiency.

And while agencies differ in size and location, there are five tactics I see time and again that generate the greatest benefit and lift. I call them ?efficiency generators.? The top five include:

? Dual computer monitors.

? Scanning.

? Multiple products sold at initial point of sale.

? Limit installment payment options?increased use of lump-sum payments, electronic fund transfers and credit cards.

? Carrier service centers.

There is no one-size-fits-all for every agency. However, these five efficiencies have shown the most widespread application.

Though they are not listed in any particular order, I must admit, I do have my personal favorite that I believe should be considered first by every agency.

In my 30 years working with agencies, I have found that the installation of dual monitors at customer service representative and account manager workstations is a top efficiency generator.

Using dual monitors is probably the easiest and most inexpensive means of picking up some real efficiency. During agency development workshops that I facilitate, 30-to-40 percent of the attendees use dual monitors. Another 30-to-40 percent have heard about the installation but have not really explored or do not understand the upside. Then there are about 20 percent who are not at all familiar with the concept.

So much of the day-to-day work in an agency requires the input person to work with multiple applications. It is not unusual for a staff person to have their agency management system up along with their quoting system or a carrier?s Web site.

Multiple minimizations of applications and notebooks or Post-it notes are a time-consuming part of getting a risk quoted and placed.

The addition of a second monitor cuts minimizing applications in half and allows the user to view two applications simultaneously. The best part comes when the user has to copy from one application and paste to the other. The cursor jumps across the screens. No need to minimize and restore; one mouse controls both monitors.

A number of studies show productivity increases between 20- and 50 percent when using dual monitors. In my experience, agencies I work with see an increased productivity of approximately 35 percent. Another benefit of dual monitors is ease of doing business, which is always well received by agency staff.

Another efficiency driver is scanning. While your agency might not be able to go entirely paperless, there are some efficiencies that save time and trees. Scanning is a good example.

Though different at each agency, the scanning process is a method of making all pertinent documents part of the automated client file. Some scan at individual desks and some at a central area in the office. Others choose a combination of both. There is no one recommended method.

However, scanning in itself increases efficiency. It cuts down on staff having to get up and access paper files. Some of the scanning software employed also allows the user to fax documents from their desk.

Also, if documents are scanned, multiple users can view pertinent documents simultaneously. This is very useful for agencies with multiple locations or staff working from home.

Producers can also gain efficiency from selling multiple products at the initial point of sale. More and more agencies are beginning to recognize that increasing retention and the average number of policies per customer is a two-part process.

The first is to increase account rounding on existing business, while the second is to become more proactive about selling multiple products at the initial point of sale.

I have worked with agencies that sell auto and home at initial point of sale to 50-to-85 percent of their prospects. It takes a concerted effort by all agency sales staff to explain the benefit of coordinating their multiple coverages while avoiding any possible coverage gaps.

Multiple sales up front also help reduce the amount of account rounding activity later while increasing overall retention.

Examining payment options is another driver of efficiency. Many agency CSRs and account managers say that as much as 30-to-40 percent of their day can be taken up addressing client billing questions. We usually ask what percentage of the questions is from electronic funds transfer or full-pay clients? The response is always the same?none.

That?s precisely why many agencies are offering electronic fund transfers, lump sum and credit card payments as their primary payment options.

Utilization of carrier service centers can be a significant efficiency boost to an independent agency. These centers have been in existence for a number of years. However, as many agencies begin to direct their focus toward becoming more of a sales organization, this concept has taken on increased significance.

Like other efficiency options, this may not be for everyone, but when an agency transfers activities like billing questions, changes and ID card issuance to a service center, it frees up a lot of valuable time.

Many agencies are filling this time with annual client reviews, account rounding and cross selling programs, retention programs, and re-soliciting lost clients.

If that is not convincing enough, studies indicate that retention is greater on lump sum, electronic fund transfer and credit card payment options compared to installments.

Most agencies do an outstanding job of servicing their clients. However, they will readily admit that many of the other significant revenue-generating activities aren?t realized due to lack of time.

Deciding which efficiency tactic to choose is the easy part. Making the commitment to include efficiency as part of your agency?s philosophy may be the hard part.

It takes a concerted effort on behalf of the entire agency, but once realized, these efficiencies are proven methods of enhancing the growth potential of an agency. And with growth and perpetuation being significant elements to most independent agents, why not make the journey as efficient as possible?

© Copyright 2009 National Underwriter Property & Casualty. A Summit Business Media publication. All Rights Reserved.

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