The Agent Insight Tour 2009

Agents and Carriers Must Collaborate on Download

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Quality customer service throughout the buying chain is key to customer retention and loyalty. Policyholders expect it from their agents, and if they don’t get it, they’ll find a different agency to work with. Worse yet, they’ll go with a direct online provider, (which is a whole other blog). The same goes for agents and their carriers. If a carrier does not offer the tools agents need to keep their agency management system (AMS) up to date with their policyholders’ information, agents will place business with an insurer that does.

Louisa RogersAgents and Carriers Must Collaborate on Download
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Novarica’s recent research findings is music to our ears

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We’ve been shouting it from the rooftops since we opened our doors for business:

Carriers that make it easy for agents to do business with them see more and better business from those agents.

Our technology is rooted in the belief. In 2009, we traveled over 1,500 miles in 30 days to visit 66 agencies to learn exactly what carriers (and the vendors that support them) can do to further the cause. And it didn’t stop there. Our in-house Agent Insight Team continues today to bring the latest agent findings to light on our dedicated website http://www.powertotheagents.com/.

Julie HoweNovarica’s recent research findings is music to our ears
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On Demand: 10 Things that Drive Agents Nuts Working with Carriers

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Stressful and frustrated Asian manager talking on telephone in oWhat better way to learn what drives Agents nuts than straight from the horse’s mouth? And that’s just what happened when Foy Insurance president, Mike Foy, and the head of our Agent Insight Team, Caleen Alexanderson, got together with ACORD  for the webcast “The Top 10 Things that Drive Agents Nuts Working with Carriers.” And it’s now available on demand!

Louisa RogersOn Demand: 10 Things that Drive Agents Nuts Working with Carriers
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The Lowdown on Download

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A long-term customer was in our Boston office today catching up on all things Agencyport.  We gave them an update on our overall company direction, the latest AgencyPortal 5.1 release, and our Agent Insight Initiative, including the fact that we’re publishing our findings on a dedicated site: PowertotheAgents.com.  As I was describing my recent week working as an insurance Agent in Rochester, NY, the customer asked what surprised me most during my time embedded in the agency…

While a lot of good insights came out of that week on the front lines—many of which are summarized in daily blog posts—the one that was the most surprising was the importance of Download.  I’ve heard a lot about Download over my years working with Agents and customers.  Before the Rochester visit, my overall impression was that Download was frustrating and not especially functional for Agents.  After a week at an agency that reaps the full benefit of Download, that view has changed dramatically.

Like most aspects of this industry, Download isn’t just about technology, it’s about giving Agents and their customers a differentiating level of customer service—a key element to carriers winning new business. My most recent paper in our Agent Aggravation Series, authored with help from Thad Bauer of IVANS, illustrates how carriers can do more to support their Agents and those Agents’ perception of ease of doing business with carriers.

What are your thoughts on Download? Let us know using #agentsknow

Jenn ParkerThe Lowdown on Download
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Why Agents Will Love 5.1

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This Friday, we’re releasing AgencyPortal® 5.1.  We’re excited about it; carriers will be excited about it; and here are a few reasons Agents will be excited about it:

Drag and Drop File Attachments

Previously available for import and upload through Turnstile®, Drag and Drop capability is now available for file attachments. Rather than having to use the browse button to select and attach files, Agents now have the option to drag documents from their computers directly into AgencyPortal within the Work Item Assistant.

Saved and “Sticky” Filters

Filtering has seen two advancements in 5.1. With Saved Filters, Agents can create and save filter sets that they use most often and choose from among them during common searches without having to reinvent the filter wheel each time.

With new Sticky Filters, if an Agent filters for something on the My Work or My Accounts pages and then moves to another page, the filter will remain—no need to re-sort for the work desired.

Smart Search for FilterList Fields

With 5.1’s new suggestive search capabilities, searching for entries such as Class Codes within massive lists is now faster, smarter and more intuitive.

Session Timeout Warning

Agents will now get a warning message “Your session is about to expire” 60 seconds prior to actual timeout. They can choose to stay active in the session if they’re still working. If an Agent takes no action, her session will time out, auto-save, and the login page will display.

 

 

Jenn ParkerWhy Agents Will Love 5.1
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Reports from the Agency Frontline Day #5: Final Day

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Day 5: Final Day

First off, a huge “thank you” to this office.  You’ve all been so friendly and helpful, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to imbed for the week and have taken away so many helpful insights for our customers; those carriers we’d like to have as customers; and for our project, product, sales and marketing teams.  Your honesty about what’s working and what can still be improved exceeded all my expectations.

During my last day in the office, I took some time to tie up loose ends.  I spoke with one of the agency managers and conducted a number of video interviews.  These interviews will get edited and cobbled together into a reel of highlight insights for release at our Annual Conference this fall.

In many of the agency interviews I conduct, there tends to be a divide between the folks doing the quoting and servicing and the managers.  I didn’t sense this split at this agency, but I was still curious to see how the agency managers perspective would vary from those of the new business sales folks and CSRs.  We talked about the agency’s commitment to working with the best AMBest-rated carriers.  From this solid foundation of nine carriers, the agency sees its value in being able to offer options to insureds.  Carriers offer different commission plans to agencies to incentivize them to write more business. Ultimately, though, the agents can only commit to giving these carriers a shot at the business.  If the price, coverages, service levels, etc. aren’t best for the insured, the carrier isn’t going to get the business.

I was curious to learn more about typical reports used at the agency—reports they run and reports that are requested by or accessed from the carriers.  To track the agency’s activity, carriers email the agency manager reports on their performance.  One carrier is able to provide the needed reports online, but, for the most part, the reports are custom to the agency, and are run and emailed to the agency.  Reports include information summarizing number of policies written, aggregated premium (for new business and renewal business) and loss ratios.  These details are typically checked on bi-weekly by the agency manager.  Another report shows the breakdown of business written across states.

When carriers ask this agency manager how they can get more business from the agency, the answer is simple: 1.) Say “yes” (meaning, don’t reject the submitted business) 2.) Download (which I thought was interesting) and 3.) Improve your response time.

A quick note on browsers.  Everyone I spoke with this week prefers to work in Chrome.  Epic requires IE, so they use it, but it’s not preferred.

We’ll be releasing a recap of the week at PowertotheAgents.com.  Please check back here or there for the latest from this eye-opening week away from our office.

 

Jenn ParkerReports from the Agency Frontline Day #5: Final Day
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Reports from the Agency Frontline: Day Four

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Day 4:

Today presented two “Ah-ha” moments: first, I found this agency’s weakness.  The Breakfast Blend K-cups ran out, triggering a very grumpy first cup of coffee for the folks who were suffering through the French Toast and other flavored coffees that were still well stocked.  After this unfortunate start to the day, it was back into the Customer Service world and listening in on calls, while also observing quoting and servicing transactions.

My second realization was that carrier quoting portals can be used in slightly different ways within a single agency.  In this office, and I know agencies vary, there is both a new business sales group and a customer service group.  Until today, I’d always thought of the agents’ and CSRs’ need for a new business “agent portal” as interchangeable. In the case of this office, the CSRs use the carrier portal with more of a focus on re-marketing policies that possibly were cancelled or non-renewed.  Both parties want to get through the quoting portals quickly and, in general, I’ve found the CSRs and sales reps agree on which portals they like, but their workflows are very different.  The sales reps are working from a lead management tool and generally have less information to go off of.  They’re taking notes in notebooks, making calls, etc.  The CSRs’ work is triggered by “Activities” within their agency management system where there is already a record of the policy.  Because of this, Upload could help to streamline the CSR’s quoting process with multiple carriers.  When we, Agencyport, talk about carriers setting themselves up to support “multiple distribution channels,”we tend to think of agents, consumers, headless transactions, etc.  My Ah-ha came when I realized that a single group, in this case the “agents and CSRs,” could have different workflow needs based on the different stages of the agency’s relationship with the insured.  The CSRs are quoting based on information within the agency management system.  They’re hesitant to call the insured because their agency has a relationship with that customer, and should, in theory, know what is going on with that account.  I observed the CSR using the prior carrier’s quoting portal to look up information to quote the business with a new carrier.  It got me thinking about what we lock down within the quoting portals, and what we could be doing to make this information more accessible for the CSRs.  If a carrier chooses to non-renew, should the process to view the business that was with that carrier be made challenging? I don’t think so.

When the CSRs and agents run into trouble, they call, email and/or set up “conversations” in the quoting portals.  I didn’t see anyone using the “chat” feature, when available.  For the most part, these messages are addressed to “their underwriter.”  Some of the carriers this agency works with route these questions to a general underwriter inbox.  The impression I get is that a personal relationship with an individual underwriter is much preferred to this catch-all inbox, and is extremely important to the overall business relationship.

I finished the day keying in some WC ACORD forms (manually), since the carrier who was writing the business does not have the ability to pre-fill this form.  It wasn’t especially time-consuming, but it was a frustrating task given the fact that it was only required for this one carrier—all the other ones generate the ACORD form for the agents. As I mentioned in my first post from Rochester, this agency works with a number of high profile carriers. I’ll be sharing this specific feedback and all other carrier specific feedback with the relevant carriers at the end of the week.  If you’re curious to hear observations specific to your business, please leave a comment here.

On a lighter note I’ve been enjoying all the carrier swag around the office, hence the blog photo!

 

 

 

Jenn ParkerReports from the Agency Frontline: Day Four
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Reports from the Agency Frontline: Day Three

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Day 3:

When I put on the second headset to listen in on calls with an agency Customer Service Representative, I had a flash of NPR’s Car Talk show—with Click and Clack helping phone-in callers with their latest car repair issue.  In my case, back in Rochester, I’d been paired up with a CSR to listen to the myriad calls he’d receive over the course of the afternoon.  It was a good way to end a day that had begun with quoting, transitioned into issuing, and was now ending with service.

Some of the business that had been issued earlier in my day was now getting pushed into the service queue for entry into Epic (the agency’s Agency Management System).  The CSR received calls with billing questions, requests for proof of insurance, questions about whether coverage was required in a particular state or if a policyholder should/could cancel coverage, and many general questions about policies. I can still find insurance confusing and listening to these callers I couldn’t help but sympathize. These insureds were stressed about adhering to their state laws, having the insurance records necessary for partners and financial planners, and just gaining a comfort level, as small business owners, that they had their insurance act together.

As Agencyport gets more and more involved with self service on behalf of our customers, I’m particularly interested in which systems Agents have to use in order to support their customers.  All calls began with a quick search of Epic and the agency’s billing system.  We visited carriers sites to pull a policy holder’s declarations page, quote non-renews, and confirm bill plans. The CSR was constantly being interrupted by calls and other tasks.  Even the Agent quoting this morning was facing these interruptions.  He took a call while quoting a new piece of business and the quoting portal (one of our customers) timed-out.  He said this “always happens.”  I asked if his work would be saved. He wasn’t sure, but was pleasantly surprised when he logged back in to find that he hadn’t lost any of his work.

I’m going to continue to work with the CSRs tomorrow and to document how and when they’re using carriers sites.  This agency receives roughly 1800 customer service-related emails a month.  Of those, about 50% have details that need to be rekeyed into Epic.  I look forward to picking up this shadowing; clearly the process is ripe with efficiency opportunities.

On the food front, it’s clear to me that no one scavenges for food quite like the Agencyport crew.  I bought cookies for the office here on Monday. They’re still in the kitchen.  Those goodies would not have hit the counter at Sleeper St. before being devoured.

Jenn ParkerReports from the Agency Frontline: Day Three
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Reports from the Agency Frontline: Day Two

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2015-04-07 13.27.10DAY 2:

This morning I came into the office and asked a friendly woman who’d introduced herself to me yesterday if she could point me to the folks that do the BOP quoting.  She was quick to smile and say “That’s me!”  I pulled my chair around and started to shadow her as she completed some BOP quote requests.  As expected, the BOP business was a little more involved than the WC quotes from yesterday.  She needed to Google building addresses and visit the companies’ websites so she could get a better handle on the potential risk. Similar to yesterday, there was a real focus to dig in and understand the account.  Everyone I’ve sat with has shared the importance of researching the account so the carrier underwriter doesn’t have any surprises.  What I couldn’t appreciate until I pulled up my chair was the level of multi-tasking involved in her day—while she was working on multiple carrier sites, Epic, and her lead generation system, she was also getting calls from customers looking for help setting up their payment plans, increasing limits and requesting proof of insurance documentation.  My initial plan was to spend half the day doing the BOP quoting and then transition to something else, but staying right where I was ended up being the most complete way to experience her day-to-day.  The insured that we’d worked on in the morning to add E&O coverage ended up calling back in the afternoon to say that the coverage he’d approved earlier now needed to be increased.  I started to let out a sigh, thinking “really, we’re back to this?” but she was quick to explain that a lot of the companies they work with are new businesses.  They don’t always know what coverages they need and/or are asked to get specific amounts of coverage by the larger companies they might be doing business with.  This limit increase triggered a rapid workflow of requesting the added coverage from the carrier (phone), getting back to the insured with an update (email), obtaining the added coverage (email), generating a new certificate (Epic), and eventually logging the activity (lead system, Epic, and paper record).

Aside from the excitement (more mine than hers) around this account and the other quoting activities, there was a good amount of afternoon work setting up new accounts in Epic.  This set-up is much more lengthy when a carrier doesn’t support download.  As my BOP-quoting friend went through the new accounts, she marked them in Epic either with a *DL* because they’d be downloaded from the carrier tonight, or, alternatively, she’d have to key in all of the data if the carrier didn’t  support download.  Her monitor had a Post-it®tacked to it very clearly listing the carriers that do and do not download. In my past insight interviews, download has always been presented as a bit of a mixed bag—some Agents love it, others find it very frustrating.  Sitting with this Agent today, download seemed extremely valuable–so much time savings.  Every time we got to an account with a carrier that didn’t download, she’d give me the update: “this one doesn’t download”.  Not fun.

Past Agent Insight posts have been jokingly “sponsored” by Panera, a favorite watering hole for Agents everywhere.  This week, however, should definitely be sponsored by Wegmans.  I did my first lunch run to Wegmans today and was blown away!  After getting back with a soup and sandwich, I was told I should go to a different Wegmans with a Burger-Bar-something-or-other tomorrow.  I’ll plan to check that out.  #wegmansinsight

Wegmans, founded in Rochester in 1916.

Jenn ParkerReports from the Agency Frontline: Day Two
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Reports from the Agency Frontline: Day One

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This morning I woke up, headed to Logan and flew to Rochester, New York.  Traveling for work is not out of the ordinary for me, but this week is a first.  I’ll be working in an independent Agency for the entire week, and will be sharing my observations on this blog and on Twitter with the hashtag #agentsknow.  I’ve been with Agencyport for almost eight years (gasp!), and have been involved in our month–long Agent Insight Road Tour back in 2009 and, more recently, our Agent Insight initiative summarized at powertotheagents.com.  I’ve enjoyed speaking with Agents over the years and will continue to do so, but I’ve started to feel like there are some things you’ll never quite appreciate unless you sit down and do the job.  I reached out to see if an Agency would take me in and was lucky enough to find one.

DAY 1:

Today I headed into the office, got a quick tour, and got to shadowing some of the top workers compensation Agents.  The Agents’ approaches vary, but, in general, it was a flash of copying and pasting from their lead system into carrier quoting systems.  Once they found the best price, it was onto the document creation and e-signature workflow.  Documents were printed, scanned, bundled up and then emailed back to the prospect – usually with a follow-up phone call to let them know it was in their inbox.  I was struck by the dedication to do right by the insured and the overall attention to detail.  I think we all appreciate how tedious the quoting process can seem.  It would be so easy to say “oh, I leave that blank” or “I just have them [the insured] reference that other document,” but that’s not the reality.  These Agents are meticulous.  They cover all the details, making sure the ACORD form reflects the proposal and vice versa (even when the carrier pre–populates these documents differently).  They take the time to print and scan so they can draw attention to specific areas of a proposal.  Doing this process 15 times a day could dull you to these details, but these are seasoned reps that make sure they maintain this level of quality every time.

In the afternoon,  I wanted to start doing and get into the quoting portals.  This Agency is quoting with Hartford, Travelers, AMTrust, Eastern, Guard, FirstComp and more.  They recently changed their WC quoting workflow to have a dedicated quoter available to quote business for the other reps.  I watched as she quoted a new piece of business; then passed the next one off to me.  I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated – what if I picked the wrong class code? Does the insured deliver furniture? Install it? Use subcontractors?  She got me through these open questions, but I was on my own to try and move as quickly as she had – cutting, pasting, looking up codes in Excel and so on.  Little things slow you down.  You want to paste an entire phone number into the empty field, but this app splits the data entry into three sections for the area code, first three digits and last four digits.  It’s such a minor user interface decision, but it slows the process down. With an “ABQ” (Always Be Quoting) sign pinned on the cube wall, you appreciate how important time is.  In the short time I was working a piece of business, we got a notice that another rep in our office had already worked and quoted the same piece of business.

After work, I was lucky to tag along to a celebratory dinner.  The top four Agents from March were being acknowledged over dinner at a local restaurant.  Conversation went between avoiding distraction from bad leads and where to source good leads to the importance of fast turn around times from carriers and, of course, a fun competitive banter between then.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow.  I’m hoping to get exposure to the the process for placing business with State Funds and some servicing work.

Should be a full week.  Please post any questions with the hashtag #agentsknow to Twitter and I’ll work to answer them here.

Jenn ParkerReports from the Agency Frontline: Day One
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