What ingredients make up a good account manager? What do you look for in terms of skills, knowledge, education and experience? Which responsibilities should management give them? The answers to these questions – which will vary by agency – determine the profile of that agency’s perfect account manager.
The account manager role requires a responsible, knowledgeable person with excellent customer service skills. Is there a perfect blend of these abilities?
Yes, and it changes from agency to agency because each firm has a unique personality and approach to customer service. The type and style of an agency’s account managers will be directly related to the type and style of the agency’s producers.
When asked to list the major strengths of their agency, most owners usually include the agency’s quality of service to the client. In the typical agency, the customer service representative is the foundation of good service. Logically, one can say that the account manager is therefore a major part of the strength of an agency.
Because of their personal contact with clients, account managers are a critical component to the retention of accounts. They must provide consistent, quality support to keep the business on the books. If accounts are lost, revenue drops and the value of the agency diminishes.
Account managers account for roughly half of all employees in an agency. The ratio of account managers to producers in the industry is about two or three to one, depending on the size of producer and “house” books. Keeping in mind that payroll is the largest expense in any agency, usually 55 percent to 70 percent of all agency revenues, the productivity of account managers is directly related to the profitability of the agency. Hiring and retention of good account managers then becomes a key to increasing profitability and value.
Before hiring any account manager (or any employee, for that matter) management needs to sketch out a basic profile of what they are expecting. Should the agency hire an experienced account manager? Should they have skills in a particular niche such as construction or should the agency start from scratch?
Outline an objective minimum standard and compare candidates to this standard. Don’t hire anyone that fails to meet any minimum requirements.
The typical account manager is a woman or man who graduated from high school and took a few college classes but did not graduate. Some account managers get into the business because of family connections. Others were persuaded by their friends to join. However, most account managers (and producers) “fell into” the insurance industry. Working as an account manager in insurance was not their specific career goal.
Responsibilities and Testing
The responsibilities of an account manager vary based on the culture of the agency. Some agencies expect the producer to do a lot of the service work and the account manager to support the producer. Other agencies require the account managers to handle their own book of business with little input from the producer after the account is written. This role is often referred to as an account executive and can be a nice “next step” up for savvy account managers.
Some account managers may be expected to perform other duties as well, such as accounting.
It is important to match the temperament of the account manager to the agency’s culture. Don’t hire a “go-getter fireball” when the producers like to control the account service.
The basic job of the account manager boils down to the collection, processing and distribution of information. The collection of information tends to be the most significant skill. The account manager needs to know what information to gather and how to ask for it. Patience, determination and diplomacy are necessary whether probing the client for pertinent information to complete a claim form or quizzing a producer when filling out an application.
The account manager needs to be a people person. Good social skills and the ability to act as a go-between for the different parties – clients, producers, underwriters and agency owners – are a must.
An account manager needs to be able to handle complaints and negotiate a favorable outcome. A qualified account manaager has the ability to say no, can take criticism from others and provides constructive input to resolve problems.
The typical account manager spends about half of her/his time talking to clients or insurance company personnel gathering and distributing information, and problem solving. The balance of her time is spent on paperwork and computer input.
Because of this emphasis on listening and talking, communication is an account manager’s most important skill. Look for it when hiring – it is a natural skill that account managers must already possess. Technical knowledge can be easily taught later.
It is really important to test for these skills. We suggest the Caliper test or Omnia, in addition to a good interview and even a written coverage test to see if they have coverage skills and good writing ability.
How does management keep qualified account managers?
First, management must understand why account managers leave an agency. The most frustrating aspect of the job for most account managers is dealing with difficult people. The inability to effectively communicate with someone prevents the account manager from properly doing her/his job.
When an account manager can’t get along with a person, management needs to act quickly and decisively. If the problem is with a client, the reassignment of that account to another account manager could solve the problem. A stickier problem is when that difficult person is another employee, such as a producer.
The agency needs to make sure that specific ground rules are established and fairly enforced. Management should outline the role of the account manager versus the producer.
Another very common reason why people leave an agency is that management never clearly communicated what they expected from the employee. When responsibilities and authority are not specifically discussed, then miscommunication and hurt feelings can occur.
Write a job description spelling out the account manager’s tasks and responsibilities and make sure both parties agree to it. A key component that is often overlooked is setting performance standards.
An account manager needs to know what size book management expects her/him to handle. It is especially important to look at these standards compared to the average size of account on his/her desk. Management, on the other hand, needs to offer proper training and support to allow the account manager to get the productivity level expected.
Very often, account managers struggle with time management. With the exception of small agencies, account managers should have technical and clerical support. A good ratio to follow is one assistant for three account managers. Delegation is a great antidote for the time management disease.
Management can also assist employees in balancing their business and personal life. Flextime is a good start. Some agencies may even pay for daycare or provide the services of a financial planning expert for employees. Sometimes a health club membership is provided to reduce stress and help keep the employees fit. Be creative.
The role of the account manager must never be underestimated – just ask any owner or producer who just lost a great account manager. Take the time to find the person who possesses that “perfect” blend of diverse skills and knowledge.
Understanding your agency’s needs and expectations must precede any hiring. Hire only those who will fit the agency’s culture. Don’t allow a candidate’s technical skills or years of experience to cloud one’s judgment – hire only those who have good communication skills.
Good account managers will make the operation run smoothly and efficiently. Hiring the right account manager for the agency will enhance agency value, which benefits everyone.
If you would like account manager standards based on size of account, let us know.
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