Category: Articles

How to Become a Best Place to Work

You’ve probably seen businesses in your community that have earned the coveted “Best Place to Work” award. Even better, perhaps your company has earned this highly regarded distinction! What makes this award notably prestigious is that it’s based on employee surveys of their own workplace.

Over the years, I’ve had numerous clients that have received this award. Using five categories, here’s a list of initiatives, programs, and ideas that contribute to becoming a Best Place to Work.

1. Support of good health and well-being. Studies have shown that employees who are both physically and emotionally fit are happier. These employees have fewer absences, produce higher quality work, and contribute to positive morale.

Some examples of employer funded (or partially funded) initiatives that can generate improved health and well being: complimentary healthy food in the break room, on site fitness programs or access to a local health club, work breaks to use fitness facilities, quiet room for meditation and recharging, and flexible work schedules to accommodate family and personal needs.

Top employers recognize the employee family’s influence in creating a positive work environment. Special attention is given to including and thanking the family. Activities can include family picnics and holiday parties, office trick or treating, bring your little tyke to work day, company newsletters that are mailed to the home, celebration of life’s happy occasions at the office, and sending restaurant gift cards home as a family thank you. One company owner assists with financial well being. He offers his staff a complimentary meeting with a financial advisor to learn about retirement plans, college saving plans, budgeting, and eliminating debt. In addition, he gives his employees a personal subscription to the Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine.

2. Continuous learning and career development. What employees learn on the job is theirs to keep forever. That’s why top performers are passionate about furthering their knowledge to advance their earning potential and careers. Establish a company university. Each employee should be asked to create a personalized education curriculum. Employers have many options of what to offer employees. Self-study, in-house training, classes offered by industry associations, complimentary vendor programs, co-worker instruction, and formal mentor programs should be part of your in-house university offerings. Best place to work businesses encourage employee participation outside the office in Toastmasters, Dale Carnegie programs, and Fred Pryor and Skillpath seminars. Spend time working with each employee to create a development plan that benefits the individual, your company, and your clients.

3. Personalized workstations. While standards and procedures need to be consistent to ensure quality work and outstanding service, individuals have unique preferences that suit their best thinking, creativity, physical comfort, and productivity. Ergonomic experts can help by recommending an appropriate office set up. Stand up workstations are becoming very popular. Choice of chair, desk height, position of keyboard and monitors, and foot stools are just a few things that can make a huge difference in avoiding discomfort and injury. Personalization can go one step further. Award-winning workplaces give office-based employees the option to work from home one or more times a week. Working from home also supports good health and well-being.

4. Commitment to a cause. Participating in something for the greater good improves morale and encourages teamwork. Some popular volunteer activities include tutoring children, meals on wheels, senior care centers, Habitat for Humanity, and fund-raising walkathons. Please consider offering each employee four hours a month to volunteer as they choose.

5. Do fun and silly things. I have several clients who excel in this. Pool and ping-pong tables that double as meeting tables make for spirited Friday afternoon competitions. A well-equipped kitchen can be used by employees to make meals together or have cooking classes. Put an oversized crossword puzzle on the wall for all to work on. Have a table designated for jigsaw puzzles. Host a talent contest. Start seasonal traditions such as an Easter egg hunt, a Halloween costume contest, or a chili competition. Ask employees for their ideas for fun and amusing activities and you’ll get dozens of suggestions.

If you’d like your office to become a best place to work, start by implementing one idea from each of the categories. Once you hear an employee exclaim, “This is a great place to work!” you’ll know that you’re making a positive difference in the personal and professional lives of your team.

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC, helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales, service, and leadership organizations. She is the author of Selling from the Inside, Great Service Sells and the audio program Service Selling Supercharge. Contact Emily at 888-309-8802, www.sellingstrategies.com or emily@sellingstrategies.com.

Claim Handling – An Opportunity to Shine

By Emily Huling, CIC, CMC

The southeast storms of 2011 struck close to home – my home! In June, a Sunday evening thunder storm brought a bolt of lightning to a 40-foot high poplar tree on our property. Kaboom! John and I jumped 6 inches from our cushy seats on the sofa and screamed. The power went off, then surged back on. Our skylights were intact, the TV was still tuned to the golf match, but the burglar alarm was making all sorts of screeching noise. After trying to reset it with no success, we called the control center and they walked us through disconnecting it. We’d have to call Monday to set up a service call. Then twenty minutes later we said to each other, “Is it getting hot in here?”

To make a long story short, it took us a couple of days to find all of the damage. The heating and air conditioning system was toasted, stereo and speakers fried, burglar alarm inoperable, printers, telephones, wireless devices and the list goes on as to what was affected. Luckily, our three computers survived thanks to a top-grade uninterruptible power supply (UPS).

Nothing like first-hand experience to be reminded of the opportunity agents have at claim time to stand out in the minds of their policyholders. If you’d like to measure your agency’s level of claim handling customer care from my perspective as a claimant, this survey (and my tips) can help you do that.

Have you instructed your insureds to call you for the initial claim report and not the carrier’s toll-free number? Carriers do a great job handling claims promptly and fairly (if not, you shouldn’t be doing business with them) and I know the carriers don’t want agents interfering. However, to your customer, you are the company. You sold the coverage and service their policy. If you tell your insured to call the company directly you are conveying to them that you aren’t interested or involved. Customers will think, “What are you doing to earn your money and my business?” Please don’t leave a list of claim department numbers on your after-hours phone message. To avoid that, some agencies have the caller call a specified agent who, on a rotating basis, has been assigned after-hours customer-care duty.
Within 24 hours of a claim report, do you initiate a follow-up personal connection with your policyholder? How are they doing emotionally? Or physically, if someone was injured. Has the company’s claim adjustor made contact? Are there any questions? Is there anything you can help with? An added personal touch at a time of damage or distress is most appreciated.
Do you stay on top of the claim status with the carrier and keep the policyholder informed? For our lightening damage claim, we were instructed to get things repaired or replaced ourselves and complete the paperwork within 60 days. After 45 days we were still scrambling to get things done. A gentle reminder from our agent with an offer to answer questions or ask if we needed an extension would have been welcome.
Do you give advice on how to avoid future losses or problems? Bravo to the adjustor I spoke with who suggested we contact the electric company to look into having a surge protector added to the line into the house. Agencies should consider compiling a list of recommendations to offer policyholders to prevent another claim.
Do you deliver the check personally, if possible? Prompt and fair claim payment is why people buy insurance. If delivering the check is part of your customer service strategy, speak with the claim representative about doing that.
Do you send a follow-up survey after the claim has closed? Send an e-mail survey or use traditional mail with a return envelope. Ask your policyholder to rate response time, communication, courtesy, settlement process, and so on. This is great information to pass along to your carrier as well.
Do you offer an account review? People tend to pay more attention to their policy coverages, liability limits, property values, and deductibles once they have a claim. Within 30 days after the claim is settled, schedule a time to do a complete account review. Chances are you’ll uncover other exposures or opportunities in other areas to round out your policyholder’s insurance program.
Have one person assigned as a claims coordinator. Many agencies do not have a specific person assigned to oversee open claims. Instead, CSRs and producers learn of issues only when a problem arises. Stay on top of all open claims to be sure all goes well. Generate a list so all agency staff is aware, not just the assigned agent. There’s nothing more embarrassing than to run into a policyholder in the community and not know that a claim occurred.

How did you rate your agency’s claim handling acumen? If you’re wondering how my agent did, well, I’m going to send this to him and ask him to rate himself!

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC, helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales and customer service organizations. For information on her products and services visit www.sellingstrategies.com.
 

Lessons from a New Producer

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC

Our six-month new producer coaching program was coming to a close. Both Sarah and I felt we had accomplished much in laying the foundation for her long-term sales success. Through her own connections, during this time, Sarah successfully closed 20 new accounts. Through homework assignments and phone coaching sessions, we covered a variety of topics: creating her unique value proposition, moving prospects to clients using effective sales funnel activities, working with different personality and decision-making styles, and handling customer objections.

The purpose of our final call was two-fold. I wanted to learn from Sarah the top three lessons that she will apply consistently. The second piece of our discussion was to talk about where she goes from here. Here’s the essence of our conversation.

Three lessons Sarah will continue to apply:

Stay heavily involved with networking organizations. Half of Sarah’s new business success came through her BNI (Business Network International) connections. Her weekly group helps her hone her value message, networking skills, knowledge about the local business community, and gives her an opportunity to refer business to others.
It’s not about price. What a great thing for a young producer to learn early on! Sarah had chosen to work on a piece of new business that she knew had a long-time connection with an existing agent. She knew that the price and coverage she was offering was better than the buyer’s current program so she proceeded. Guess what? The lower price and better coverage did not move the account. The relationship between the account and the existing agent was too strong. Sarah will now do a better job of qualifying business and pay close attention to red flags.
Sales success requires harder work than she imagined. Although she had been told the hours would be long, she was amazed at how much there is to learn about coverage, rating, carriers and the selling process. Her first six months as a producer was a reality check.
Where did I suggest Sarah go from here?

Broaden her reach. While BNI has been an excellent source of business and connections, Sarah needs to create more connections building on the success that she had. One method is to approach her existing clients with a list of prospects that her client may know and ask for information and a referral. Another technique to generate more prospects is mind mapping which helps identify connections between clients and people they do business with. Joining and participating in the trade associations of target classes is another strategy. Sarah needs three to five channels that create qualified prospects.
Build her personal brand. Today, buyers want to do business with people they can relate to. They want to know some personal information about those they are doing professional service business with. Through e-newsletters, writing articles, speaking at business events, using LinkedIn and Facebook effectively, and even creating her own website with a link to the agency’s site, Sarah can communicate her business personality, areas of expertise, philosophy of client service, and community interests and causes.
Continuous learning. Having and applying knowledge is a key ingredient of anyone’s success. Sarah is creating a personal development plan that covers formal and on-the-job continuous learning opportunities. Key areas to cover include technical knowledge, communication, negotiating and sales skills, and carrier and competitor information. If all the agency staff works to discover, gather and share information, learning advances for all in the agency.
What Sarah learned and her game plan to move forward applies to producers and CSRs, new employees and seasoned staff. From this list of six, what’s one thing that you will do to further your career and your agency’s success?

About the author

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales and customer service organizations. She is the author of Selling from the Inside, Great Service Sells, and Kick Your “But.” For information on her programs and products call 888-309-8802 or visit www.sellingstrategies.com.

Great ideas from the front line

By Emily Huling, CIC, CMC

“Why don’t we…?” “Would it be possible to…?” “I would love to know….” “Have we ever considered doing…?”

Agency owners should jump for joy when they hear employees utter any of those words. When CSRs and Producers make suggestions to improve the agency it means they care about the work they do, they feel safe to share their ideas, and they see themselves playing a role in the future of the business. Here are some great ideas that were initiated and implemented by agency personnel whom I’ve had the privilege of working with.

Bring in an expert to teach us about Social Media. This was suggested by a CSR, a 60-year-old grandmother whose grandchildren set her up with a Facebook page to keep up with family news. Rose is now confronted with customers who want to be her friend. “Now what?” she asked. A community college instructor was hired to speak to the staff about the mechanics, privacy settings, and business-related issues for Facebook as well as other social networking sites.

Contact all customers in 90 days. Two agencies were merging, changing the business name, moving to a new location, and reassigning accounts based on the skills and expertise of the combined staff. Even though letters were sent to all agency customers, the staff was concerned that the letters may not be read or they may be considered impersonal.

“Let’s call everyone,” Jane, a personal lines CSR, suggested during a transition-planning workshop. The room grew quiet. Sally piped up, “That’s a great idea. How would that work?” Fifteen minutes later, the agency had a plan. Within the first 90 days of the merger, all customers would be called by their new CSR. Everyone did their part and the plan was a success.

Teach employees about agency operations. “There’s so much I don’t know about how this agency works,” lamented Chris, a 26-year-old producer. Chris was quickly learning about sales, coverages, and carriers, but felt more knowledge about how the agency business works would help him succeed faster. The agency operations manager created a curriculum to teach employees about agency financials, carrier contracts and compensation, alternative markets, human resource practices, and so on. Through a series of lunch and learns, employees expert in specific areas taught classes for their coworkers.

Learn quickly about a target niche business. Tanya, a personal lines CSR, was asked by the agency owner to move to the professional liability unit to assist a producer in developing her dentist professional book of business. Although Tanya was willing to take on the challenge, she wanted to fast-forward her learning about her clients, markets, and coverages. Working with her producer, Tanya put together a fast-track learning program for herself. It included participating in the upcoming association meeting to attend the learning sessions, spending two days in an existing policyholder’s office, traveling with the producer for several days to meet clients and get intensive field training, and spending a day working with their main carrier’s underwriter.

Interested in generating great ideas from your staff? Ask them to complete any of the phrases that opened this article. “Why don’t we…?” “Would it be possible to…?” “I would love to know….” “Have we ever considered doing…?” Let me know how it goes.

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC, helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales and customer service organizations. Visit www.sellingstrategies.com for information about her products and services.

Don’t Be Deleted!

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC

Read. Delete. Read. Delete. Read. Ummm…Interesting. Save.

Listen. Delete. Listen. Delete. Listen. Ummm…Interesting. Save.

You know the drill. We do it every day. We read e-mails and listen to our voice mail messages making split-second decisions as to what is relevant, valuable, and worth our time.

Think about this question for a minute. What is it that moves us to act on a voice mail message or an e-mail sent by someone we do not currently have an ongoing business relationship with?

The broad answer for most of us is “What’s in it for me?” Is the seller offering a product, service, or knowledge that will advance my personal or business goals? Has the seller done any homework to learn about me or my business? Has the seller zeroed in on my specific issues and challenges and conveyed that in a knowledgeable and concise manner? Has the seller reached out to me because we have common connections? What is the seller asking from me at this time?

The most common mistake salespeople make is leaving a message that says, “This is who I am and this is what I can do for you.” Here’s an example of an ineffective voice mail message. “Hello, Gina. This is Joe Smith from ABC Insurance Agency. I can save you money on your business insurance. Please call me back if you’re interested in learning more. Here’s my number.”

When I receive a message like that, I think “You haven’t a clue who I am, what my business is and what I’m concerned about.” Delete.

What would be an effective “what’s in it for me” message?

“Hello, Gina. Maria Connor suggested I give you a call. This is Joe Smith. Last week, she and I worked together to save 20% on her company’s health insurance premiums while broadening coverage. I’ve learned from your website that you have fifty employees and you’re a member of (association). I’m an associate member. Let’s set up a time to talk. Again, this is Joe Smith from ABC Agency. My number is 888-888-8888.

Here are four reasons this message works. The referral source, a name familiar to the buyer, was mentioned first. Specific value was mentioned – saving money and broadening coverage. Checking her company’s website – I did some homework to learn about you. We hang out with the same business associates – I do business with your colleagues.

Here’s an alternative close to that voice mail message since connecting by phone can be a challenge. After leaving your call-back number say, “I’ll send you a follow-up e-mail with my contact information in case that’s easier for you to connect with me to set up a time to talk.”

So, what do you do if you don’t get an immediate reply? Use another communication channel to connect. Here are two ideas.

Mail a business article that would be of interest to Gina using the USPS delivery system. It could be something from her industry trade publications or information about how providing more health insurance options for employees – even when it’s at their expense – is a proven way to improve employee satisfaction with their health insurance program.

Connect at the next association meeting. Give Gina a call or send an e-mail telling her you’re looking forward to meeting her at the upcoming event.

Buyers have loads of choice where to spend their insurance budget. Through demonstrating you know who they are, have knowledge of their business environment, and do business with others they know, you’ll set yourself apart, earn their trust and insure their business.

About the author

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales and customer service organizations. She is the author of Selling from the Inside, Great Service Sells, and Kick Your “But.” For information on her programs and products call 888-309-8802 or visit www.sellingstrategies.com.

10 Tips to Support New CSR Success

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC

Most agencies cringe at the thought of bringing a new CSR onboard. Will she get along with everybody? Who will train her? Will her work be accurate and reliable? How fast will she learn our agency management system, rating programs, and carriers? Will she connect with our customers? While this conventional thinking puts the burden of success on the new employee, it’s the employer who is primarily responsible for ensuring that the qualified new hire is a winner.

Before the CSR’s first day, let everyone know a little personal information about her and why she was chosen to be part of your agency team.
Have her workstation clean and organized with equipment to be up and running on the first day. Remove all things that she won’t need for the job or was the personal property of the former employee. Having business cards and a name plate ready is a nice touch.
Plan the reception that your new employee receives from the minute that she walks in on her first day. This includes being greeted warmly by all employees and scheduling a break time to mix and mingle.
Assign an office buddy. Match your new CSR with a coworker from another department who will make introductions and familiarize her with general office information. This assures a cross-departmental welcome which is often overlooked.
Agency owners should spend some time to welcome the new hire and impart firsthand the vision and values of the agency.
Have a 90-day structured orientation and training program in place to coincide with the 90-day probationary period. Within that time both the manager (or assigned training coordinator) and new employee will have enough interaction to determine if the employment is working as it should.
Expose the new hire to as much as the agency operation as possible through shadow training. Have the CSR spend several hours or more with coworkers in various departments and positions to get a feel for job responsibilities and the flow of the agency.
Utilize as many coworkers as possible for technical, product, and technology training. This not only spreads the work around, it helps build relationships.
Ask your carriers for assistance in training. Marketing reps love to do this to gain loyalty and get business.
The manager or training coordinator should provide weekly feedback and monthly updates to both the employee and the owner. This keeps the training and education process on track and opens communication for adjustments in the training schedule. A highly-monitored program helps avoid surprises and if things don’t work out, the situation can be handled within the 90-day trial period.
Think of your new employee as a guest. Be welcoming, helpful, have the place in good order, and educate them on the house rules. With an effective 90-day orientation, your new CSR will be a guest you want to have around a long time.

About the author

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales and customer service organizations. She is the author of Selling from the Inside, Great Service Sells, and Kick Your “But.” For information on her programs and products call 888-309-8802 or visit www.sellingstrategies.com.

Face it! Reputations are made 24/7

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC

Social networking sites have heightened conversations about the business life-personal life connection, but these new media haven’t changed what has always been true – each of us is responsible for the image we create and the reputation we have.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was an insurance company underwriter, a colleague was called on the carpet one Monday morning for having participated over the weekend in a Hooter’s wet T-shirt competition. Her manager had received a call from an agent who had been at the event and hadn’t expected to see his underwriter – at least not that much of her. Fortunately for my coworker, cell phone cameras hadn’t yet been invented. Today, a picture would have been snapped, uploaded to Facebook and been tagged for all to view. And let’s not forget the permanent image which would live on in cyberspace.

Fast-forward to May 2010. The headline in my local newspaper, The Charlotte Observer reads, “Facebook post costs waitress her job.” The story tells of a college-student waitress who was left a measly tip for the time customers sat at her table. After her shift, she went on Facebook and posted, “Thanks for eating at Brixx you cheap _______.” Her bosses called her in two days later and fired her for violating company policy against speaking disparagingly about customers and a second policy against casting the restaurant in a negative light in social networks.

In order to protect their own reputations and liability exposures, employers are working diligently to create and enforce social media guidelines for their firms. Social media platforms include, but are not limited to, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Wikipedia, MySpace, and blogging. An effective policy addresses both corporate and individual use of social media communication. Companies need to protect their public image while not squelching individual expression and rights. One published resource that agencies can access for samples of a good and useful employee handbook language is The Agents Council for Technology (ACT) Social Web Policy Guide. Visit www.iiaba.net and navigate to Member Services, then Agent Council for Technology.

Even with a clearly-stated social media policy in place, not all issues can be covered in an agency manual. It’s an individual’s responsibility to protect his or her job and character.

Be familiar with your company’s written and unwritten social media policies. Not knowing your company policy is no excuse if you violate it. If you don’t know if your employer has a written policy or the topic hasn’t been discussed, ask your boss about it. It’s in your company’s best interest to establish written guidelines. As a responsible employee, it’s in your best interest to know and follow them.

Establish your own personal guidelines. Who do you want to let into your online social media world? Combining personal and business friends (which most people do) bears added responsibility to what you post, join and comment on.
Sound business practices have taught us not to talk about sex, religion or politics. Think twice before posting comments or joining groups that could adversely affect business dealings.

Use good judgment. Is the content you’re posting consistent with the professionalism and standards you want to project? I just read a post from a business colleague who had a few minutes to kill because his “jerk of a client was late.” Even if I assume his delayed client doesn’t have access to this comment, I wondered why he would make a disparaging comment of any kind about those he does business with. What’s he saying or thinking about me?

Your responses to others’ posts and blogs reflect your beliefs and attitudes. Be respectful of others’ views. If you disagree, take it off the public site.

Work comes first. Remember when employees wasted time on personal phone calls, playing solitaire, or surfing the Internet? We may have evolved in the sophistication of how we kill time at work, but the resulting poor performance, lack of productivity, and disruption of others’ ability to do their jobs hasn’t changed. Engage in social media only during legitimate break times – and that’s only if your corporate social media policy permits you to engage at work at all. And remember, by using company property, your right to privacy is forfeited.

Privacy doesn’t exist. The Brixx waitress learned this by venting her frustration about her customer on her Facebook page. In addition, do not disclose proprietary or confidential information about your company, customers or colleagues; do not speak ill of the competition; do not violate copyrights, trademarks, or other intellectual property rights. Be careful if you choose to actively seek a job online if you still want to keep the one you have.

In our industry we sell trust, reliability, professionalism, and sound advice. In order to be regarded as possessing those qualities, it’s critical that we demonstrate them in all of our communication encounters.

About the author

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales and customer service organizations. She is the author of Selling from the Inside, Great Service Sells, and Kick Your “But.” For information on her programs and products call 888-309-8802 or visit www.sellingstrategies.com.

Get Personal for Personal Lines Success

By Emily Huling, CIC, CMC

Attention Independent Agents! When is the last time you thanked the direct-response companies (DRCs) for how they are helping your business? Before you call me crazy, here are my top five reasons to be grateful to the competition.

DRCs offer no long-term personal relationships. Instead, they offer only toll-free numbers and website access.
At claim time, DRCs are the claim company and provide no client advocacy.
DRCs offer customers “name-your-price” policies that reduce coverage and decrease limits.
DRCs are not physically located in the policyholder’s community.
DRCs do not provide one-stop shopping for personal lines.

There is no better time to differentiate yourself and strut your stuff! Here are five ways to do just that:

Conduct complimentary Personal Lines lunch-and-learn seminars at the worksites of your commercial lines and benefits clients. Suggest that employees bring their personal lines policies in for a no-cost account review.

Begin with a brief fifteen-minute talk such as, “Will Your Next Claim Be Covered?” citing examples of how bad advice, reduced coverage, decreased limits, increased deductibles, etc., play out at claim time. As soon as someone shouts out, “I didn’t know that!” you have their attention!

Have a question and answer period for fifteen minutes.

Ask people to sign up for fifteen-minute one-on-one meetings that immediately follow. If a review will take longer, schedule it in your office or at their worksite for another time.

What a win-win-win this is for your current business client who is looking for ways to help his employees, the employee who gets honest personal insurance information and you!

Conduct newly licensed driver educational meetings. Invite the parent(s) and youthful operator to your office to learn about the responsibilities of holding a driver’s license, operating a vehicle, and the consequences of having an accident or getting a ticket. On my website, www.sellingstrategies.com, under the Free Stuff tab, I have a sample newly-licensed driver agreement which serves as a meeting outline and formal document to reinforce the conditions the youthful operator must follow.

Solicit business your agency has lost in the past eighteen months. This time period complies with the Federal Do Not Call provisions which state that calls can be made during this period of time to established business relationships even if the customer is on the do not call list. However, if the customer requests not to be called, compliance is required.

The procedure to solicit lost business is to send a letter to the customer which asks, “How are you getting along without us?” A sample of this letter is also on my website under Free Stuff. The best time to send this letter is thirty to sixty days after an account is lost. That gives the policyholder enough time to evaluate if the premium and coverage matches what was promised, the billing is correct, the agent is providing service, and so on.

Follow up all new sales with a thank-you phone call to say how much you appreciate their business. Reconfirm your personal handling, local presence, advisory services, and claim advocacy.

Reconnect with existing policyholders mid-year to say, “I’m thinking about you.” If each agent calls just six policyholders a week for forty weeks a year, that’s over two hundred outgoing calls each to stay personally connected with your customer! Note to agency owners: call clients you don’t personally know to introduce yourself and stress your appreciation of their business and decision to do business locally.

Independent agents who capitalize on their uniqueness and personal contact advantage will not be fretting about the competition from direct response companies, they’ll be thanking them!

About the author

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales and customer service organizations. She is the author of Selling from the Inside, Great Service Sells, and Kick Your “But.” For information on her programs and products call 888-309-8802 or visit www.sellingstrategies.com

The Psychology of Getting Work Done

Remember back in the dark ages when our work spaces were cluttered with color-coded paper files? Many offices were literally piled high with work on every available surface. During that era I was working with an agency’s personal lines department to eliminate a never-ending work back log. I walked into Margaret’s cubicle. No, come to think of it, I stepped over a few piles of files on the floor to get to her work area. Margaret was close to tears. When she looked at me, they started to fall. “I can’t get my work done,” she sobbed. “Why?” I asked. “Because I get sixty phone calls a day,” she said. “My goodness, that’s a lot of phone calls! Who’s calling you?” I replied. Barely able to speak, Margaret choked, “The people looking for this work!”

Unfortunately, this scenario continues to play out fifteen years later. Only I think the problem is potentially worse today. We don’t see paper files and work sits invisibly in our computers. More often than not, downloaded policies aren’t checked for accuracy and policies sent directly to insureds aren’t reviewed for coverage gaps or inadequate values or limits.

For years I’ve been preaching and teaching the principles of time management. You probably know them by heart. Get to work on time. Make your to-do list at the end of the day. Organize your work to process similar work at the same time. Do the hardest task first thing in the morning. Break down large projects into smaller pieces. Make a call giving the status of work to avoid receiving an irate call from the person looking for the work. Sound familiar?

If people believe they know how to manage work, why is it that so many employees can’t handle what’s deemed a realistic workload?

The answer is psychology – the mental and behavioral aspect of a person. As human beings, it’s our perspective or attitude that dictates our ability to handle a situation as much as our capabilities or skills.

Who hasn’t cleared his or her desk of work prior to going on vacation? Or maybe you’ve permanently lost weight, given up alcohol, stuck with an exercise program or eliminated credit card debt. If you’ve ever made up your mind to really doing something, you’ve seen the result. Having an “I can do it” attitude enables people to accomplish what they set their minds on. Let’s examine the qualities and characteristics of the psychology of getting things done.

Be a doer not a feeler. Imagine two CSRs each beginning her day with a critical to-do list of tasks to be completed by day end. Within three minutes of settling in, both CSRs� phones start ringing. Calls come from policyholders, company underwriters, and family members. The feeler responds to all the calls immediately without assessing their place on her to-do list. Why? Her attitude is “Gee, I really didn’t feel like doing what’s on my to-do list anyway.” Before long it’s noon and the feeler has yet to accomplish a to-do list item. She heads to lunch complaining she can’t get anything done.

On the other hand, the doer, who also takes the calls, proactively asks, “When do you need this?” or “I have a couple of critical items to do this morning. May I get back to you this afternoon?” or to her family, “I’m slammed with work. Let’s talk this evening.” By noon, the doer has crossed off several critical items, added a few more with priorities assigned, and has a feeling of satisfaction as she heads to lunch.

Are you a feeler or a doer?

Be proactive in your work rather than at the effect of it. Working effectively with producers is a challenge for most CSRs. That’s true whether the producer is the agency owner or a commission salesperson. Why? Successful producers have economic drive, healthy egos, and high energy. These qualities can cause producers to over commit themselves and their team, juggle too many plates at a time, and not pay enough attention to detail.

Janice is a Commercial Lines CSR who lives in perpetual frustration. She complains bitterly about the producers she works with. Producer requests are last minute, voice mail messages are forwarded to her on items she believes the producer should complete, and renewal information is consistently late which creates unnecessary endorsements.

To uncover what was really happening, I questioned Janice about her work. How well did she know her clients? Why weren’t they calling her directly? What was her relationship with her underwriters? Did she and the producers have renewal strategy meetings to assign timelines and accountability? Was she proactive with policyholders to obtain missing information to complete tasks?

What I learned from Janice was this. She believed her position was that of a processor. She waited to be told what to do by producers, reacted to requests from clients and underwriters rather than taking charge, and did not view herself as personally accountable for the outcome of her work. Janice lived at being the effect of the situation rather than being in control.

After much discussion with Janice and the agency owner, Janice understood what was required to rid herself of her frustrations and victim attitude. A game plan was implemented to get Janice more involved with account strategy, clients, and underwriters to develop her sense of ownership and accountability.

Are you proactive in your work or at the effect of your work?

Stay focused on your work. “Leave your personal baggage at the door” is one of my Ten Commandments of Customer Service. And for good reason. Employers, coworkers, and clients count on you to get your job done. What doesn’t get done or done correctly makes work for someone else. And you’re being paid to do your job.

Everyone has a life outside of work. Life’s rollercoaster ride brings happiness, sadness, and everything in between. No doubt, some of life’s happenings require work time to resolve. Fortunately most employers understand and accommodate those issues.

What gets in the way of getting work done is the psychological drama brought into the workplace. Andrea is the queen of drama in her office. If something’s brewing, she’ll attempt to drag others into conversation and say, “Did you hear about?” or “What do you think about?” When non-work related discussions remain out of the office, employees are more productive and accurate.

Are you leaving your personal baggage at the door?

Traditional time management tips and techniques are a good start to get more work done. Make the psychological commitment to become a doer, be proactive, and stay focused and you will accomplish more and stress less.

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales and customer service organizations. She is the author of Selling from the Inside and Kick Your “But.” For information on her programs and products call 888-309-8802 or visit www.sellingstrategies.com.

Leading from the Front Line

When I speak with agency customer service staff ; receptionists, CSRs, and bookkeepers; about leadership, the response is generally rolling eyes and a shaking head indicating, “If I were in charge, things would be different.”

News flash for those waiting for the perfect leader to follow “Don’t wait” become a leader yourself. I’m not suggesting you mutiny or overthrow the person in charge. Leadership is not found in position; it’s found in action and influence. Great leaders inspire the best in us. They are role models for appropriate behavior, are open to the ideas of others, and relate to others with passion and compassion. Constructive leaders can be relied upon to keep their word, explain their thinking process, and step up when needed.

Nowhere in those qualities does it say a leader must have a title of owner, manager, or supervisor. Too many employees abdicate their position of influence and knowledge because they aren’t the boss. What a waste of talent, personal potential and the ability to make a difference!

Here are several ways to become a leader in your organization, without a change of position or title.
Have a leader’s attitude. John Maxwell, an author of more than thirty books on leadership, said, “Leadership has less to do with position than it has with disposition. Take a quick measure of your temperament and personality. How do your colleagues view you? Are you approachable? Do you maintain a balance of professionalism and personal interest? Having a personal interest in someone without getting involved can be a challenge for many front-line people.

Personal connection is not friendship; it’s having a listening ear with emotional support. There’s a line not to be crossed to assure that personal caring and professional character remain appropriate and separate. I’ve witnessed employees who are friends with a coworker struggle with how to deal with a conflicting business situation.

A word of caution for those businesses who hire employees; friends and family. Consider the impact on reporting situations and work teams. What will you do if things go awry resolving performance or personal situations? An agency client hired the sister-in-law of a good employee. Several years later, her brother and sister-in-law divorced. While the two women worked in separate departments, they worked in close proximity to each other. To their credit, they didn’t bring their family situation to the office.

Leading from the front line attitude is exhibiting professionalism and maturity no matter what life unfolds.

Have a leader’s persona. Picture a person you view as confident, knowledgeable, and expert in his or her profession. Consider body language, verbal language and conversational skills, personal grooming, and personal work environment. Make a list of ten things you admire that represents leadership qualities. Here are ten qualities that I believe represent professionalism and influence in a work environment. Correct posture both walking and sitting; well-fitting clothes; neatly groomed hair and nails; smiles and makes eye contact when speaking with others; never gossips or spreads tales; respects others’ work space and privacy; practices proper eating manners and table etiquette; extends a hand for a proper handshake; silences her cell phone for all meetings; and encourages others to contribute thoughts and is open to other ideas.

What qualities do you demonstrate that tell others you mean business? What attributes can you work on to enhance your front-line leadership position?

Keep emotions in check. For some front-line associates, controlling emotional response requires constant monitoring. Emotions not appropriate for the workplace include crying, pouting, anger, distrust and fear. Any of these will cripple productive work and create a dysfunctional work environment. Coworkers distance themselves from those they find emotionally unpredictable. Why say good morning to someone when the response could be unpleasant? Why ask a question if the reply implies distrust?

There are two parties involved to keep heightened emotions under control; you and the other person. No matter who initiates what’s perceived as inappropriate emotional behavior, it’s up to you to recognize and manage the situation. Here are five steps to diffuse emotionally charged circumstances.

1. Recognize and understand the emotional charge. Is your coworker angry or just excited? Are you dealing with anxiety or is it full-fledged panic?

2. What’s the source of the feelings? Are you recalling a similar past situation that caused the emotion and not today’s reality? Could your coworker’s reaction be a result of something having nothing to do with the situation at hand?

3. Unhook from the source. Take a deep breath, acknowledge the emotion, and deal with it directly. Say to yourself “I will not get plugged into; a snippy tone of voice, rushed coworker, feelings of doubt about my job, etc.” If you need to remove yourself from the situation until the emotions clear, do so.

4. Acknowledge aloud what you are feeling or what you sense from your coworker. Do this in a non-confrontational way. For example, “I’m sorry I’m so angry about this. It’s not directed at you. This situation happened last week and it was a lot of extra work.” Or if you’re the recipient of the emotional charge, say to your coworker, “I feel frustrated because this happens all the time.” Do not say, “You do this all the time. I-messages explain where you’re coming from and avoids unproductive, accusatory language.

5. Use business tools and strategies that will help avoid emotionally charged encounters. For example, handling large commercial renewals can be a stressful challenge for your team. Make the process smooth and predictable by implementing and adhering to a renewal workflow with scheduled meetings, accountabilities and timelines.

Strong emotions result from any number of personal factors. The office is not the place to deal with the psychology of the issues. Leading from the front-line is knowing how to divorce yourself from the emotional charge to get work done to meet agency, department, and individual goals.

Self-manage. Quite simply, don’t wait to be told what to do. Managing yourself is the highest level of leading from the front line. Keep your own work accurate and current.

Come to meetings; one-on-one or group; on time, prepared, and eager to participate. At group meetings, sit close to the person in charge to make a statement about your intent and interest. Don’t just be punctual, be early to get that good seat.

Know that work and priorities often change. Be open and flexible to adapt. Anticipate problems and speak up if it will help avoid them. Offer solutions that identify the problem, provide background and perspective, research possible solutions and the affects, and make a suggestion to resolve.

Be willing to do what others don’t see or won’t do. A commercial lines CSR in a small agency stepped up to solve a problem of organizing, filing and retrieving insurance company information. Information arrived in the agency to various people through paper, e-mail, marketing reps, and conversations with the company personnel. There was not a central place to retain, and even more important, retrieve the information. The agency did not have an Intranet and it had been on a to-do list for a long time. The CSR produced a plan to assign companies to different people, created shared electronic folders, established filing and scanning procedures, and so on to solve the company information headache. Within a week, the program was up and running to the delight of all.

Leaders are needed at every level of an organization. Stepping up to further contribute to the success of your employer not only brings personal satisfaction, it raises the bar for others to contribute more as well. Everyone wants to be on a winning team. What can you do to lead an improvement in productivity, morale, or teamwork in your agency?

The author

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales and customer service organizations. She is the author of Selling from the Inside and Kick Your “But.” For information on her programs and products call 888-309-8802 or visit www.sellingstrategies.com.