Article

How top independent insurance agents can maximize their time

By Kim Kennedy, Chief Operating Officer, Hanover Personal Lines, September 23, 2022. This article was originally published in PropertyCasualty360.

“Now Hiring” signs remain on many storefronts, including insurance agencies, in most towns across the country. Where have all the workers gone, and when are they coming back?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 50,000 openings for insurance agency sales producers every year moving forward. Despite that gloomy forecast, there’s some optimism the tide will turn and we’ll start to see an increase in professionals interested in careers in our industry, especially with companies that have creative talent sourcing and development strategies. Yet even if that happens, most independent agencies will still face challenges retaining high performers, not to mention the expense that will go along with it.

 

According to HubSpot, over 90% of customer service teams report their customers’ expectations for agile and relevant service experiences continue to rise. With these pressures and more, independent agents must evolve their operating models if they want to stay competitive among their peers and the direct writers in the years ahead.

Consistent with our internal data, top-performing agencies have the highest premium and policies-in-force managed per employee, with the best-of-the-best eclipsing their counterparts by as much as 57%. Agencies that want to achieve this level of operational efficiency need to be thoughtful in their approach. Overworking current staff is an unsustainable solution that inevitably leads to employee attrition, which ultimately impacts the ability of an agency to grow its book of business. The top quartile agent’s much more sustainable and successful approach is to continuously optimize business operations in a way that creates capacity within the organization for employees to focus on rewarding, growth-generating activities.

Here’s what we see the most resilient agents doing to maximize how their people spend their valuable time:
 

No. 1: They are enrolling in carrier service centers.

One of the biggest misconceptions agents have about carrier service centers is that by enrolling, they will relinquish their relationships with their customers. The opposite is true. While insureds certainly appreciate personalized relationships with their agents, when they have a need, most want it to be handled quickly and easily by a knowledgeable insurance professional. Having a larger team of insurance experts available at a carrier makes for better customer experiences and improved days in an agency office. Carrier service centers free up an agency staff’s time to focus on true relationship building. Less time answering inbound calls regarding billing and payment questions means more time to conduct thoughtful, proactive customer outreach that demonstrates an agency’s true purpose and commitment to its clients, such as account renewal consultations and education on new coverage offerings. Our internal data shows that agents enrolled in our service center have a 42% higher premium handled per CSR than unenrolled agents. They simply need less staff to service their book of business, so they repurpose that capacity on activities that retain customers, prospect for new customers, and build their agency’s community networks. Some of our enrolled agents report their staff has more time to serve as agency brand ambassadors at local charity events. These agents are differentiating themselves in the marketplace.
 

No. 2: They are investing in technology and tapping into carrier capabilities.

This could be an article all on its own, but in short, high-preforming agencies invest in sophisticated technologies for their staff and customers. With more and more businesses running hybrid models between in-office and remote work, phone systems that facilitate proficient call routing to the right person the first time are essential. Most carrier call centers record 100% of calls, and independent agencies should too. Call recording allows for a clear understanding of the service experiences an agency is delivering, the identification of improvement opportunities, and impactful employee coaching for ongoing development. What better way to get a new employee up-to-speed than to have them listen to the “rock star” calls of their tenured teammates? And let’s not forget that customers don’t want to have to call their agent or carrier for everything. Top performing agencies integrate carrier online portals and mobile apps into their total customer service offerings. They meet their clients where they’re at with capabilities that match when and how they want to do business.
 

No. 3: They are staying true to origin stories while unapologetically pursuing economies of scale.

While it’s important for many agents involved in mergers and acquisitions to maintain their local agency brands, there is much to be gained by centralizing core functions, processes, and technologies sooner than later. With every organizational change comes an opportunity to identify meaningful efficiencies that drive enhanced employee and customer experiences. Top quartile agents implement first-available phone and digital servicing across all locations rather than continue to segment servicing based on customers’ originally assigned offices. They consolidate mail handling and other support activities, expeditiously enroll newly acquired books of business into their established carrier service center relationships and expand technology platforms and professional development programs across their enterprise. These pursuits unlock a growing agency’s ability to not have to replace employees when they move on or hire additional staff. Most importantly, it enables the agency to invest more time and energy in the people, positions, and activities that will support its profitable growth.
 

No. 4: They are continually strengthening the partnership and connectivity between their sales and service teams, and they view their preferred partners as meaningful extensions of both.

High-performing agencies find ways to ensure their sales professionals spend their time selling, their service professionals spend their time servicing, and their carriers service centers are contributing to both selling and servicing. Introducing new customers to the greater team and all the ways they’ll be supported from the start reinforces the excellent decision they made in establishing a relationship with the agency.

The most successful independent agents continuously look for ways to evolve their business operations. This means pursuing strategies and capabilities that expand, strengthen and lengthen client relationships. By leveraging their best carrier partners’ resources, agents stay resilient and open to challenging status quo thinking to thrive — even in the most difficult times.
 

 

About the author

Kim Kennedy is chief operating officer of personal lines at The Hanover Insurance Group Inc.