Caleen Alexanderson

Agent Insight pays a visit to NetVU16

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NetVu16What a great time I had in San Antonio the week before last at NetVU—catching up with old friends and meeting new agents and carriers.

As always, I was busy capturing as much Insight as possible from independent agents about their working relationships with carrier partners.  And, as always, they were free with their opinions, feedback and advice.  My findings from this trip will be added to our ever-growing volume of Agent Insight, the most recent example of which is our new eBook, A P&C Carrier Guide to Boosting Agent Loyalty.

Caleen AlexandersonAgent Insight pays a visit to NetVU16
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Evolving the ACORD Standard to include Cyber Liability

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Cyber Liability wasn’t a term you heard often 10 years ago. Today, however, with big data breaches making headlines more regularly than we’d like to admit, it’s a must-have coverage. In the past, Agencyport has had to extend the ACORD schema on the General Liability messages to accommodate cyber risk for our customers. Any extension of this kind can create inconsistent data collection and workflow for agents as well as longer development time for the carrier implementations. With this in mind, I set out to create an ACORD maintenance request (MR) for a new Cyber Liability Message as my project for Agencyport’s spring Hackathon. This evolution of the Standard would allow carriers and vendors to implement their cyber projects in the ever-growing Cyber Liability insurance market in a consistent, standard way.

With encouragement from several folks at Agencyport, I sent the idea into the ACORD Innovation Challenge and was selected to present at the semi-finals last week in New York. There was a lot of energy in the air, lots of folks sharing ideas, and several of us seeing long time industry friends. To learn more about the event, read Curt Stevenson’s blog post on his experience as a judge.

I’m not sure if my project will make it to the final round in Boca Raton at ACORD 2015 this November, but whether it does or doesn’t, I’m proud to say that the MR was approved last week, and is now part of the ACORD Standards. Check out ACORD’s announcement for all the details.

Caleen AlexandersonEvolving the ACORD Standard to include Cyber Liability
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Bring Your Idea to Life

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Many of us who’ve been in this industry for a while have had an idea or two along the way about a new product or process that we thought could make a difference. The reality is, though, that most of us haven’t had the luxury of having top-notch analysts or developers by our side to help bring those ideas to life.

Next month you will.

Each year, Agencyport’s Hackathon gives employees and customers an opportunity to work on pet projects, cool ideas or improvements to existing products. We work all day in a friendly, competitive environment, and then present the ideas to a panel of judges–think Shark Tank for P&C! On April 9th, Agencyport will host its 2015 Hackathon, unleashing our team to vet and build on ideas that could turn into viable industry-improving products or services.

This year’s idea categories include:

  • Integration–Integrating any Agencyport product with that from any outside solution provider
  • Innovation–The sky’s the limit on this one. Take P&C by storm!

If you have an idea you’d like to submit, enter a comment below and we’ll be in touch with you. We have five projects signed up already. Get your ideas to us by April 2nd and we’ll get hacking!

Caleen AlexandersonBring Your Idea to Life
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It’s Spring Cleaning Time!

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Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 9.50.05 AMHere in Boston, Old Man Winter has given us a huge reminder of who’s boss! After three major blizzards left eight feet of snow behind (give or take a foot), we’re now faced with a monstrous slurry of rock salt, ice melt, sand and mud. Longer, warmer days following rough winters remind me of my childhood. Starting at one end of the house, my mother would haul her arsenal of buckets, rags, mops and sponges and make her way fervently to the other end. No object was left unturned. That woman cleaned! This spring ritual transcended the four walls of our house; it seemed to give us a new perspective—a fresh outlook. We seemed to take a little better care of our things.

This is a great time for insurance carriers to do some spring cleaning—to reassess some agent-oriented aspects of your business that could lead to seriously increased efficiency, and more agents knocking at your door:

  • Evaluate the lines of business you offer through your agent portal. Are they sufficient? Are agents asking for new lines?
  • Analyze the high volume transactions you get via email, or even the USPS. Should you consider automating some or all of the processes?
  • Assess whether your agents are using your portal as efficiently as possible. Does your “hints” wording really help CSRs understand what to enter? Does your User Doc need updating?
  • Get a handle on what your agents expect in real time. Your Agent Councils are a great source for this sort of perspective.

And those are just for starters. There is an ever-evolving list of items that can be cleaned up and made better for your agents. So, go ahead, grab your buckets, rags, sponges and mops and get into those corners! Need help? Give us a call. We love to clean.

Caleen AlexandersonIt’s Spring Cleaning Time!
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Happy Wife Part 4: Create a Recipe for Success


agent-recipe-quicheHave you ever tried to recreate a meal you love without the ingredient list? Or maybe you have all of the ingredients, but the instructions don’t make sense? Inevitably, you’ll make a substitution or two, take a few liberties, and cross your fingers that the final product resembles the dish you remember.

A carrier’s portal documentation is the “recipe” that its CSRs in the agent channel use to submit business. How much do you know about the ingredient list? Have you supplied it to your agents? Are you sure the steps make sense?

Think of the underwriting information used to rate a policy or meet eligibility requirements as the ingredients list. Each line of business requires different ingredients necessary to get a policy rated and submitted. If carriers list those ingredients at the beginning of the recipe, agents know what they need ahead of time. If the insured needs specific coverages, let the CSR know what kind of limit amounts are acceptable. Is it a half cup or a quarter cup? Is it a $100,000/300,000 or $500,000/$1,000,000 minimum limit on a coverage? If possible, outline ingredient amounts using drop down tables of acceptable options and provide hint text to help CSRs make the right choice. CSRs need to know how to make your special batch of BOP so that it comes out correctly and is quoted in the end.

Thinking like a cookbook author when writing your documentation is a helpful approach.   Test your recipe internally to make sure each ingredient and step is written correctly and clearly. Once you think you have a recipe for success, bring it to the Test Kitchen! Have actual CSRs test your recipes. What better way to assure the ingredients and procedures are correct than to have CSRs give them a try and suggest ways to clarify and improve the recipe. We have seen that carriers that involve CSRs in the process also gain better adoption from those testers and that the CSRs then tend to promote that carrier within their agency as well as user groups they’re involved with. In the end, recipe testing provides carriers with good documentation and assurance that it will be used often, and likely be shared.

If happiness is a delicious home cooked meal, satisfaction is not toiling over any guesswork in preparing it.

To learn more about keeping CSRs happy, read more of our Happy Wife series. Remember, Happy Wife, Happy Life!

Caleen AlexandersonHappy Wife Part 4: Create a Recipe for Success
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A Great Shout Out from Agent Advocate Jason Cass

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GrowPodcast_JasonCurtAnyone who knows me knows I’m a huge advocate for the independent agent, and for encouraging all kinds of industry players to make agents’ jobs easier. It shouldn’t surprise you then that I’m pretty excited about a podcast I just listened to. Jason Cass, an independent agent himself, and founder of the GROW Program, recently interviewed our CEO, Curt Stevenson, for his Big Wig Series podcast.

During the conversation, Jason and Curt talk about the technologies that carriers are using to connect with their agent base and about Agencyport’s unique approach to building solutions from the agents’ perspective, not the carriers’. Curt also talks about the ongoing research we are doing with agents to stay current on what they need from their company partners–especially as the landscape continues to shift and with new players like Google coming on the scene.

We can talk all day long about how great our software is, but when agents talk about it, now that’s valuable. You can listen to the podcast here.

Caleen AlexandersonA Great Shout Out from Agent Advocate Jason Cass
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Happy Wife – Part 3: What’s for Dinner?

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meatball-dinnerPicture this… You know your husband is having a rough day at the office. In show of support, you plow through your own inbox at work and get home early to make Mimi’s Spaghetti and Meatballs from scratch as a treat. Hours of kitchen time later, your mate walks through the door and asks predictably “Honey, what’s for dinner?” You’re ready. “Mimi’s Spaghetti and Meatballs!” After (far too short) a pause, he murmurs sheepishly “Oh. Well, I like the spaghetti part, but I’m not really feeling meatballs. What about sausage instead?” At best, you want to fling the lovingly crafted meatballs at him one after the other. At worst, you decide never to make the effort again.

This sentiment is not unlike that of a Customer Service Representative (CSR) after she has entered pages of prospective new business data, keyed in driver license numbers and answered all of the underwriting questions, only to learn that the insured doesn’t meet the eligibility requirements for the policy. Complete and total aggravation.

Depending on the policy and the number of data screens involved, a CSR can spend upwards of 30 minutes entering data for a new business quote. If, instead, that same CSR could know within minutes if a prospect was ineligible, her confidence in a carrier (and, by association, her use of its agent portal) would naturally increase. Carriers should place key eligibility fields and hard stops at the beginning of the data gathering process. Carriers who don’t and who expect CSRs to enter the data for consideration by an underwriter are losing business—or it’s costing them more to write it. If a CSR knows her new business application is always going to an underwriter just to get a quote, she’ll most likely email the ACORD form to the carrier and/or submit it to another carrier who uses automated eligibility processes. While, clearly, there are classes of risk that are tricky or require more information and need an underwriter’s expertise, many don’t, and should be automated—returning the quote to the CSR as quickly as possible.

Carriers should test their eligibility criteria with their CSRs before going into production with an agent portal. This will help determine if the questions are understood correctly. If the questions or criteria are confusing or have unclear answers, adoption rates will be poor. While Help Text functionality can reduce confusion, if the process is just plain difficult or too time consuming, CSRs will move on to another carrier.

Agencyport regularly works with carriers to help determine underwriting qualifiers and to decide where to place them in the data collection process for optimum agent ease of doing business. We can also help carriers elicit CSR feedback and test your implementation to encourage strong adoption rates and satisfied CSRs. And happy CSRs tell happy tales to other CSRs. Remember, Happy Wife, Happy Life!  For more insight, check out part one and part two of this series.

Caleen AlexandersonHappy Wife – Part 3: What’s for Dinner?
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More Revealing Agent Insight

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AgentPanelOne of the most highly attended and spirited sessions at our recent Annual Conference in Stowe recently was titled simply “Ask an Agent.” Carriers were encouraged to bring whatever burning questions they had about ease of doing business to a panel of young independent agents and to fire away! Not surprisingly, these up-and-coming Agency leaders had plenty to say about how carriers can make life easier for them:

Passwords – Most agency admins keep spreadsheets of employee passwords somewhere in the system. Meanwhile, their staff keeps separate mosaics of sticky notes for the data at their workstations. While some management system vendors are working to reduce the struggle with single sign on implementations, it doesn’t solve the real problem of carrier website passwords. The solution could be ID Federation which is a method that confirms a user’s credentials when logging in. Unfortunately, not enough carriers and vendors are part of the effort. For more information on passwords, check out Norm’s blog here.

Browsers – When agents were asked which browser they prefer, Internet Explorer didn’t make the list. In fact, it wasn’t even mentioned. Most of these agents prefer Chrome or Firefox. Yet, the vast majority of carriers offer IE to their agents. While it’s highly doubtful that we could manage to get on the same browser as an industry, a carrier’s ability to support multiple browsers would go a long way toward allowing agents to conduct business easily and comfortably. And if IE remains the only option, version management needs to be addressed. Carrier IE versions often collide with those of agents’ management systems. Carriers and vendors alike need to put effort toward ensuring that their agent users are getting the most streamline online experience possible.

Comparative Rating – The agents agreed, if you aren’t in a comparative rater, you’re getting overlooked. So often, CSRs have to get a quote quickly to a client and a comparative rater is their first tool. It works well for Personal lines but Commercial lines are still an issue. Want to learn more about comparative rating? Join the Real Time Rating session at ACORD AIF on Oct. 28 at 2:45. Or, check out Ken’s blogs here and here.

Marketing Reps – Agents agreed that carriers’ marketing teams need to spend more time with agency CSRs, not just agency principals. CSRs are the ones using carrier portals, rating bridges, etc. And for the moment, they’re teaching each other how to use carrier websites. Really! If a CSR isn’t using your portal correctly and gets frustrated, she’s not going to teach others to use it… or equally damaging, she’s going to teach incorrectly. Carrier marketing reps not only need to be more proficient on their agent offerings, they also need to spend more time with the real users. Period.

eSignatures – If the banking industry can do it, so can insurance! Endless conversations on LinkedIn, ACORD, ACT, AUGIE, etc., indicate agents wanting carriers to support eSignatures. Make your agents’ lives easier and get on board. Want to learn more? See what one of our strategic partners has to say…

Want to see more of what we presented at our Annual Conference?  Download the presentations for free.

Caleen AlexandersonMore Revealing Agent Insight
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Happy Wife – Part 2: All it takes is a little listening…

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In a recent blog post, I introduced our Happy Wife, Happy Life principle.  The “wife” in our hypothesis is the independent agency CSR—the unsung industry hero and driving force behind business getting placed every day. Given CSRs’ huge influence, are carriers working hard enough to make their experiences with carrier portals and upload products are as easy and intuitive as possible?  How can we start improving?

kid-listeningIt starts by listening—arguably the most important aspect of any relationship.  And not just listening, listening to the right people. Obviously, Agency management personnel play a huge role in carrier relationships, but it is the CSRs who handle the nitty-gritty, day-to-day data entry and specifics of a policy.  They are the ones with the most direct, hands on portal and upload products experience and should be every carrier’s touch point for usability feedback.  Wouldn’t you like to know  the specific screen or field in your portal that is the biggest pain point for them, the one that makes them stop all together and submit with another carrier? Compelling stuff.

Over the years, Agencyport’s CSR outreach has revealed a lot of their pain points.  We listen to their needs, their frustrations, and their thoughts on how to make doing business with their carriers better.  You can access many of our findings on our new Agency Insight website The site is also home to some fun Agent Insight videos. Check them out!

When people feel like they are being heard, they respond better, and they’re happier.  Whether you are beginning a portal or upload implementation project or enhancing your current one, work with your Agent’s Council and invite their CSRs.  Work with local or national management system user groups, or create a focus group of CSRs and gather your own data.  Or, let Agencyport help you understand what CSRs are saying.  You can even attend our Annual Conference in a couple weeks and hear a few agents firsthand.  The more you listen, the more you’ll hear things like, “I’d like to know the insured’s eligibility from the first screen.”  More on that next time…  Remember: Happy Wife, Happy Life!

Caleen AlexandersonHappy Wife – Part 2: All it takes is a little listening…
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