Book Seasonality & A Plan For Productive Weeks
When I first started visiting and training agencies onsite I quickly realized a common theme. Every agency I walked into, within 5 minutes of my arrival, would talk about how busy they were. It became a repetitive theme for almost a decade before we stepped up to the plate to take on the challenge of eradicating the word “busy” in insurance agencies.
Busy is a terrible 4 letter word that isn’t a plan. Talking about being busy is like describing the water when someone is drowning — it’s not helping. In many agencies we work with we actually make “busy” a swear word. It’s overused and isn’t a measuring stick. Everyone’s version of busy is dramatically different. When everyone is busy, no one feels like they can ask for help. While we won’t find hours in the day, we will find minutes that add up to hours.
“Saving 5 minutes every work day equals over 21 hours saved per year. We have to embrace tiny hacks that make our days more efficient.”
ineffective email use
Email is one of multiple communications methods agents have, however, email can also become an addiction if we aren’t careful. With email communication on the rise, we often find that agents have never been given a plan on how to effectively use email. You either have email hoarders who have thousands of emails in their inbox, or you have the people who hop on every email in seconds but ignore their tasks in the management system.
The bottom line is that we should never leave for the day with more than 10 emails in our inbox. Email is a landing pad, not a destination. If you get an email, you can respond and communicate an expectation and then document it to do in the management system. This all works because of our 2 minute rule:
“If it takes 2 minutes, do it and document it. If it takes 2+ minutes, document it in the management system and then do it at the due date.”
Agents need to start unsubscribing, using folders and getting their email under control. In addition, we recommend and in our AppX Time Management Program enforce the following:
- Turnaround time standards on email
- Turning off the email alerts, both pop-ups and sounds
- Turning off email when quoting to stay focused on the task at hand
There are days where you can be in your email all day but never get anything done and leave feeling like a failure. We want to embrace effective use of email. Oftentimes email can lead to inefficiencies if we aren’t careful.
management system to-do list
One of the biggest time management challenges we have in insurance is that we have piles where we get our work. Imagine you are an air traffic controller with 5 places to track planes. It simply won’t work. Here are common places we see many agents working off of:
- Management System
- To-Do List
Part of the role of any agent is to gather information from multiple areas and prioritize them like an ER nurse. If you go to the ER, they have a strategy for taking the most in need first. We need to embrace the same mentality in insurance. You can do this when you start working off your management system rather than your to-do list.
When you take all the piles and add tasks to your system you can effectively put on them a priority, a due date and notes. Your management system should be telling you what to do next. Either way, with notes and documentation into the system, doing it upfront will help you clearly see where your attention is most needed. This also means you can win the lottery at lunch. Some people like the “get hit by a bus” scenario, but that just seems too terrible for me. The idea is that anyone can help your customer because we are all working off the same system. If you happen to get sick at lunch, your clients can still have their requests met because anyone can easily hop in and finalize the work. Without this system, if you have a sick day you come back to a mess.
In order to really use your management system, you need to clean up your activities and work to be current. This also means you can save trees and ditch the notepads. Keeping notepads means that there are little tidbits hiding. No one else can see or understand your notepad. Lastly, there is no way all of the information makes it into the management system.
Your notepad could be used for a to-do list or to jot some notes down, but really we should be leaning on more effective and efficient models:
- Whiteboard — when it’s full you have to erase it.
- One page of a notepad — you get one page and it must be shredded every night because you get it all into the system.
- Electronic notes — use a Word doc or electronic note so you can save time by copying and pasting.
- Direct entry into the management system — rather than taking a note, open an activity.
The reality is that when you write something down, you then have to type it into the system. It’s the same thing as tying your shoes twice.
Your desk is your work home. How do you feel when your home is messy? Every agent needs to embrace a clean and paperfree desk. There are several reasons why this is important, but here are a few top ones:
- Paper on your desk means that no one else can have access to it.
- When a client comes in, it’s unprofessional to have other clients’ documentation around.
- Things hide under piles on your desk.
I have personally had the pleasure of cleaning the desks of employees who have moved on and found everything from uncashed checks to social security numbers. All of it is a huge problem. At my company we actually have desks without drawers so nothing can go hiding. We also have a requirement that your desk is clean every day so I know that everything is in our system and we can all access it.
When you have a cleaner desk, you also have a clearer mind. Clutter can overwhelm you and your team. If you are out for a day, no one should have to shuffle through papers to help serve a client.
first call resolution
First call resolution is the idea that when a client calls in, we complete the entire transaction with them on the phone. If you ever call the cable company or credit card company, they do not call you back; they handle your request right then and there. You know your request has been handled and completed, and you have one thing checked off of your list. We too can do this most of the time in insurance.
We see some agents struggle with this for the following reasons:
- They need to embrace technology like headsets, multiple monitors and breaking up with notepads.
- There is an untrue but strong belief that our customers DO NOT want to be on the phone with us.
- We struggle with small talk and think the experience may be awkward. Here is a tip — just tell the client what you are doing.
- We need to focus, and that can be a challenge while someone is on the phone with us. If you need to focus, you can put the client on a brief hold.
- The phone rings off the hook and people can’t be on the phone that long. This is a rare event. You can stay on the phone most of the time.
The plan is that when you hang up the phone, the transaction has been documented in the system with any follow-ups that need to happen and the caller is 100% satisfied. It’s incredibly frustrating when you have to play phone tag with a client because you forgot to ask a question or two. First call resolutions mean a better customer experience and less stress for you.
overservicing the least desirable accounts
This is a section you may have to bear with me and hear me out on. All too often our smallest premium accounts take up too much of our time. Let me break down a scenario for you. You have a $700 auto policy client who comes in to pay every month.
- $700 Policy @ 13% commission = $91 in revenue
- Payment time 15 minutes (this is conservative)
- 15 Minutes x 12 Months = 180 minutes or 3 Hours per year
- You can do the math….
For the least desirable customers we are often chasing payments, dealing with claims and having to drop everything to hop on their request. However, our best customers don’t bother us, pay on time and only call with a vehicle change every 3 years. Which customer should we pay more attention to?
We believe you should tier your clients and make sure you are being proactive on your best clients. You can also decelerate service on the least desirable clients. For example, when a low tier customer comes in to pay, you can make them wait 5 minutes (not 50 minutes, 5). If you reshop them, let them know they need to go on EFT, or you can choose not to re-market them and see if they leave. The bottom line is we can’t over service the worst clients and underservice the best ones!
eat the frog
How you start your day plays a big role in how well your day goes. If you come racing in late in the morning, does that set the tone for the rest of your day? Absolutely. Similarly, if you start every day by being buried in your email and don’t get to your tasks until 10am, you are missing out on getting the biggest priorities done and off your plate.
The concept of eat the frog is to do your most pressing task first thing when you get in. This is even before checking email. If you are an email addict, you may struggle with this. You can try to glance at your email, but stay focused on the task at hand. When you get your most difficult task out of the way first, you can focus on the rest of the items that come in. Imagine that you get a quote off your desk first thing then focus on everything else. How much better would you feel? We generally put aside tasks that are complicated and keep focusing on the easy items. The challenge with this is that the complicated tasks grow old and make us anxious about when we will get to them!
quoting over the phone
When we first bring this topic up to agents, their immediate reaction is thinking that it’s impossible. We hear almost the same exact pushback on first call resolution as we do on quoting over the phone. While we may not be able to do it 100% of the time, we can do it most of the time — with a plan and some practice. If you are uncomfortable with this, it’s ok. You need a plan.
I want to share with you the success of one of our clients that started quoting new business over the phone one year ago. They now quote almost everything over the phone. They have a 92% closing ratio and a 73% ratio of closing the new business deal the same day. This is a personal lines agency. Think about how much time you save by quoting over the phone and doing direct entry into a personal lines rater:
- No quote sheet direct entry
- No back and forth on additional underwriting questions
- No opportunity for the client to get additional quotes
- Better customer experience as the client can check it off their list
- Limited back and forth on follow-up
- No opportunity to get ghosted
- Ability to control the reaction to the quote
Now, this takes practice for the agents to get comfortable with the process and the technology required to make it an efficient and smooth process. Agencies need to commit to seeing out the process and making it work.
book seasonality & a plan for productive weeks
Most agencies have some book seasonality, and many times the seasonality coincides with high levels of vacation time. When you know the times your agency will be the most productive, you can then focus on reducing distractions. Just a few ideas include:
- Limiting vacation time
- Working on non-essential holidays and taking the holidays that are during less productive times
- Launching new initiatives during slower times
- Providing additional resources during more productive times
Similar to the way that accountants deal with tax season, agencies can shift the workforce in their favor by having a plan.
In addition, agencies should monitor activities and phone calls every day to get a baseline average. When the activity per person spikes, leadership needs to recognize this and applaud the team. The front line staff is focused on serving the customers, but leadership needs, in case of emergency, plans when activity spikes. This includes managing expectations, sharing workloads and keeping team morale high!
People get sick and have vacation time. This is something that is going to happen! Agencies need to have a plan to continue providing an exceptional customer experience even if someone is off sick. However, many agencies field inbound calls but don’t dive into emails or open activities to help manage client expectations.
Every agency needs a plan for managing the promises the team member made to their clients in case of an unexpected absence. It’s not the clients’ fault that the team member is out.
Imagine you are the team member who is sick. You come back not feeling 100% and to burning piles and a backlog of tasks and emails. That is no way to work! Now imagine you are the client waiting for something and you have to call the agency to follow up. That’s not the best customer experience. By having a plan for time off, you can certainly improve the situation for both parties!
work like a team
We hear that agents like their team, but we don’t always see them working like a team. When everyone is running around stating how busy they are, they aren’t always opening themselves up to ask for help or be asked to give help. What I know is that no one likes to ask for help, but everyone when asked will give help.
We all think that we are superheroes, and we will just suck it up and get it done. We need to embrace the idea that:
Asking for help is a sign of courage, not weakness.
Every month we will need to ask for help and there should be no shame in it. You could be buried and another team member could have a lighter day. We have to not let it get to the point of no return. In some instances I have spent hours just getting someone organized so we all could help them. You need to ask for help when it starts to get bad, not when you’re in tears or on the brink of walking out.
Insurance is filling up with new technology to help make our days more efficient. Things like client portals, mobile phone apps and automation are here to stay. But many agents never slow down to embrace and understand the technology, or they are quick to judge and think that their clients won’t want it. Remember, even saving 5 minutes per day equals 21+ hours per year.
What is required is that we take time to understand the new technology and find the features. Whenever something new is introduced, you have to slow down to speed up. It’s also not appropriate for us to pre-judge if a client will embrace it or not. That is up to the client. Remember, they can’t take advantage of time saving strategies that are never brought to their attention. Don’t allow any personal bias to take the opportunity away from the client.
If every agency could reduce inbound payments and questions, how much time would that free up so you could focus on serving your clients? We need to work on skills and strategies to influence clients to get on time and money saving payment options that are in both parties’ best interest.
When you find a mistake, it generally consumes your whole day. You have to work to fix it, beg underwriters for favors, tell management, stress out over what to say to the client and then of course talk negatively about the coworker who’s responsible for the mistake.
Mistakes drain our energy and take over our day with a whole lot of drama! Honestly, most mistakes occur when we are multi-tasking or distracted. If we can practice good time management habits and first call resolution, we can stay on point handling one thing at a time and minimize the mistakes that send us into frazzle mode.
Time management is all about good repeatable habits. When you were getting your licenses you were never taught a good time management plan. It’s not your fault! But as time becomes the most valuable commodity to us, it’s important we step up to the plate and learn about how to manage our time as efficiently and effectively as possible.