Data Concerns – Small Agencies in Small Towns

By | August 25, 2010

For the past two weeks I have been discussing challenges faced by small agencies in small towns. This week I want to begin the discussion about various solutions I have seen these agencies us that have aided them in achieving success. Today I am going to discuss the value of agency management systems. An agency management system is the core of information management in an agency. In today’s world an agency management system might be one of the traditional systems that have been available for many years in the industry. It might mean one of the recently developed systems now available to the industry. It might mean something used by many industries such as Salesforce. I am a strong believer in an agency using the system(s) that are best for them. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses. No matter what system(s) you use, the keys to being successful with them are:

  • Proper training for all employees on the parts of the system that they use.
  • Written standards, procedures and workflows.
  • Complete definition and use of the system, i.e. Use all of the modules. I call this maximization of the system.

I find many agencies (not just small agencies) that scrimp on the training. Often there is no plan or resource for training of new staff. Another big issue is lack of training for current staff when there are changes to the existing agency management system. Lack of proper training costs an agency far more than the training does. Notice I said “proper training”. It is usually not valuable to have accounting staff learning how to bind policies, issue certificates, request endorsements, etc. Plan training that is appropriate for the position.

I realize in small agencies staff may do multiple tasks. If this is the case, training should be planned in modules. People can absorb only so much at a time. I have learned much over the years about peoples’ abilities in learning systems. I think the most important of these are:

  • People learn in different ways.
  • Learning is done in stages.
  • Learning is not retained unless the new information is used.
  • Hands-on learning is usually the best.
  • The trainer must be engaging.
  • The student must understand why not just how.

No one can retain 100% of everything they learn. This is especially true when there is a period of time between the training and the using. It is always a challenge when training staff for a new system. Training is usually a few weeks before the new system is live. So much of the learned knowledge is lost in that time. I also believe that cross training fails most of the time because of the same issue. You cross train today, but you might not do that job for six months. In that amount of time, the majority of what you learned has gone away.

I am, however, perplexed by people that will not refer to the help menu of the system or the agency’s written documentation on a procedure. They waste a lot of time trying to figure it out without help or they just do a work around of some sort. This is so damaging to the established processes.

No matter what size the agency, the culture must be that there are established processes. These are documented and the documentation is readily available to everyone. Everyone is fully trained in the processes relating to their duties. Rules and expectations must be set. Without this staff does not know what is expected of them.

A culture that rewards good performance, tracks and measures results, and coaches the team members is a win-win-win. The employer wins because their employees work harder. The employees win because they know where they stand and they know what they need to do to be rewarded. Also, they know right away if they may be in the wrong position or even at the wrong company.

It is so very important that the use of the system is define and everyone uses in the same way. I find in agencies this size that they depend heavily on download from their insurance carriers. If staff is messing with this data, or not using fields properly, then data transfer is compromised. It is no longer really important how the ACORD application looks or how it is laid out. It is only important that the data is correct and that each data field is used properly.

Embrace the system. Maximize the system. Let the system work for you. I have always said that a little extra time at the front end will save you hours through the rest of the policy and client’s life.

In my next post I will continue to discuss solutions for small agencies. I am receiving great questions in the comments to this blog, via email and twitter. I will be addressing each of these as I work through the solutions. Please keep them coming.

About Pat Alexander

Pat Alexander coaches insurance agencies in maximizing the use of their systems. Additionally, she works with them on how to integrate today’s social media into their firm’s plan. Pat may be contacted at pat@patalexander.com More from Pat Alexander

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