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Top Ten Obstacles to a Successful Outbound Annual Review Program (Part I)

Most agencies have some type of renewal program in place.  Many agencies have tried to include a proactive call associated with either this renewal program or an annual review program.  Our AppX Retention training program focuses on making these programs successful by improving relationships to drive retention and education to drive new sales.

Many agents struggle to implement an annual review call.  I’ve identified ten obstacles faced by agents attempting to implement a review call program.  This is going to be a two-part blog. So, here are the first five top obstacles I have seen insurance agencies overcome to run a successful outbound annual review program.

Lack of Planning and Preparation

Many agents do not have a plan for the calls to be made.  They just generate an expiration list, hand it out, and expect the calls to be made.  There is no discussion around how to create time to make the calls, when to make them, or what talking points to cover.  On a more micro level, there is no preparation done before making the call. The client is pulled up in the Agency Management System and called.

Solution: Take time to discuss the process with the team.  Who is going to generate the lists? How are they going to be distributed?  How can the agents fit the calls into their day? What is the best time to call?  We also recommend a checklist or some type of cheatsheet to be reviewed and filled out before making the call.  Along with some talking points, this allows the calls to be consistent, less awkward, and drive results.

Getting Outside of Our Comfort Zone and Lack of Confidence

In my opinion, making an outbound call to someone who does not know you are calling is a unique skill (think back to calling the boy or girl you had a crush on back in middle school…).  You are either born with this skill or you need to develop it over time. In the manager’s head, handing someone a list and telling them to make calls is different than making them cold call, but for many Account Managers it is just as scary.  This results in them focusing all of their effort on every other task they have been assigned. When we have a full day, we tend to first do the items with which we are more comfortable. This isn’t to say we do the ones that are easier. Often some of the tasks we take on are more complex and difficult, but since we are comfortable with them, we use them as an excuse to not find time to do things that are less comfortable.  Most of the time when people struggle to get out of their comfort zone, it is due to a lack of confidence. As with most things, the more calls we make the more comfortable we will get, and the increase in confidence comes along with that.

Solution: These calls have to become one of the highest priority items in the agency.  Time and experience are what grows our comfort zone. The first call probably won’t go well.  The second may not either. As time goes on, the comfort zone will expand to include making these calls.  To ensure the calls are made, a focus needs to be put on the calls. This could be holding a five minute stand-up meeting every morning to review the value and make sure people have a plan in place.  This could be holding a weekly meeting where we review the number of calls that should have been made versus the number that were made.

Lack of Training and Development

This obstacle goes hand in hand with lack of planning.  We cannot expect people to be able to shift easily from a reactive-only process to including proactive calls.  The skill set is completely different. Sitting everyone down for thirty minutes to explain what they are going to do is not training.  Even taking a half-day or full day to walk them through it isn’t enough. We need to help them develop the skills needed to make these calls a success.

Solution: In addition to a strong day of skill training, a focus on the skills should be ongoing —  fairly intense at first (weekly or bi-weekly) and then gradually reducing to where you may discuss different aspects of the call once a month.  Typically, bringing in a third party who specializes in this type of program (such as APP) is the best way to ensure the skills are not only taught, but also developed.  It is vital to review items multiple times over a few months to allow a good idea to become an implemented process.

Lack of Time Management

When this is an issue, it typically permeates through an employee’s entire day, the whole department, or even the entire agency.  These calls will make life easier for the account manager, but finding the time to get started can be difficult. Not only is it a major change, but it takes longer when you first start something out. There is typically a lag in reaping the benefits.  The first 45-60 days will be the most painful. A lot of time management also has to do with being overwhelmed or behind. When we are current, we get more done in a day. If I have twenty things to do in a day, I get all twenty done. When I have 100 things on my plate, I may only do fifteen.  People think being caught up isn’t possible, but with a good plan and focus, you can get current and use your time management to not only stay current, but build in flexibility to your day which is obviously needed, as we aren’t sure what is going to come across our plate on any given day.

Solution: Identify a specific time when the calls are going to be made, and do not allow anything to disrupt that time.  Some agencies will allow for different quiet time, even going as far as allowing agents to temporarily move into a back office, so walk-in clients aren’t a disruption.  Getting the calls done first thing in the morning is ideal. As the day goes on, more pressing items tend to come across our desks. As the day comes to a close, it is hard to make an argument for prioritizing calling someone who isn’t even expecting to be called over someone to whom you have promised a return call at the end of the day.  This does often mean leaving a few items that came in overnight (emails/voicemails) or were left over from yesterday until a little later in the morning. If we didn’t get to it yesterday or it came in overnight, most of the time it can wait until 10:00 am instead of having to be done at 9:00 am. Get the calls done first, and then you can handle the rest of your day as you usually would.

Lack of Task Prioritization

Often prioritizing tasks and time management are confused as being the same topic.  In fact, they are two separate items. Time Management is figuring out how to structure your day to fit all tasks into the day.  Prioritization is determining which items take precedence to ensure the higher value and more urgent tasks are completed first. I often say getting these calls done is right at the intersection of Time Management and Task Prioritization.  Both are necessary for the calls to get completed. The key with prioritizing tasks is not to order them simply to get the more important ones done, but to order them in a way where all the tasks get done. If you have two tasks in front of you, you can typically do one.  But what is the right order if you want to get them both done? For those of you who don’t know the story, you can read more about The Big Rocks in this blog.

Solution: First, we need to make sure management and ownership are clear on their direction.  No excuses can be made for not making the calls. The process should be built around what we believe can be handled by the staff.  We then need to stick to it and not give them easy outs (obviously there are going to be exceptions, but we can’t have every week be an exception).  Second, we need to work with the staff so everyone understands the value of the calls. It can be very easy to get caught up in our daily tasks and de-prioritize these items.  The excuse “I didn’t have time to get to my calls” should not be allowed. In the short-term, we may need to accept that someone could fall behind a little on open suspense items in the system, or that a certificate may go out thirty minutes late.

There are the first five obstacles to be overcome, and I’ve seen agencies overcome them to implement a Ridiculously Amazing Annual Review program.  Stay tuned next month for Part II of this blog where I will review another five obstacles to overcome. Or you can Contact Me today to learn more about how we drive results through our AppX Retention program.

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