Running a successful independent agency is a multi-faceted job. It’s a difficult balancing act that demands creating a constant flow of new business, while keeping insureds, employees and carriers reasonably happy. To accomplish this, principals can’t focus solely on production while letting their employees run on autopilot. Staff actions (and inactions), particularly those performed by front line employees, directly impact insured and insurer relations. In other words, managers must keep a watchful eye on everyone, but especially on customer service representatives (CSRs).
Reps are the heart and soul of every office. Without them, principals and producers would have to cope with the endless requests, quotes and problems that develop during the business day, which would stymie growth.
But CSRs should never be so valued that they’re given full autonomy. Like every employee, a CSR must be managed, like it or not. Without direction, unsupervised reps can adversely impact renewal ratios and new production. Commercial lines CSRs typically work closely with producers, minimizing these issues, while personal lines reps tend to work independently. Therefore, it’s these front office staffers that agencies must primarily monitor.
One of the most practical ways to keep an eye on personal lines CSRs is by establishing a selection of production-driven goals for each. These might deal with retention ratios, finding new prospects, closing sales, cross-selling, upselling, obtaining referrals, and other desirable, measurable actions. Establish a selection of numerical goals for specific activities for each CSR or for all reps as a group. Either way, it’s you who decides what’s important to the agency, not your staff. Examples: If you recognize that second-year personal lines retention is a problem, as it is for some offices, set retention targets for this specific renewal period instead of the rep’s entire personal lines book. And if your office thrives on referrals, set goals for attaining those as well.
Goals are important, but establishing an environment where CSRs can actually achieve them is even more so. Do everything you reasonably can to make it easier for personal lines staffers to do their jobs the way you want them done. One such consideration is allocating a defined book of business to each CSR. In most offices, this apportionment is handled by dividing clients via an alphabetical split. This traditional approach is preferential to the first-available approach used by call centers, as it allows one-on-one relationships to develop, making insureds and reps feel more comfortable when dealing with service and sales. Enhance this by encouraging CSRs to become professionally proficient with today’s social media, within agency-established parameters. This online action permits reps to enjoy a more contemporary level of communication with their insureds.
Don’t let your reps think that they are in this “goal thing” entirely on their own. Give them what they need to be successful. No CSR can achieve assigned objectives, especially the sales-oriented ones, without adequate time to sell and the training to do it. There is plenty of industry material and expertise on developing CSR time efficiencies, including such automation time-savers as Real Time (getrealtime.org). Also provide your reps with creative marketing and sales training materials to give them the confidence to meet their numbers. Carrier-provided classes and those offered via the various designation programs are vital as well.
Setting and tracking goals has value beyond the individual rep. Their singular achievements and failures serve as a window into your entire personal lines operation as they can help you to identify sales and operational successes and dysfunctions that you may otherwise miss. Accordingly, don’t use them as a disciplinary weapon. Instead, employ production-driven objectives to guide your reps and your agency in the right direction.