“Doveryai, no proveryai” – Ronald Reagan’s favorite Russian proverb – “Trust but verify” – quoted to Gorbachev about the arms control treaty in 1987.
As agency owners and managers we have the opportunity to train our staff in what we want them to do. Then we “trust” them to do it. But how many of us “verify” that trust? Is it lack of confidence or the knowledge that verification makes it more likely that both sides do exactly what they agreed upon that makes real managers use metrics to manage the operation of their agencies? And are we trusting or gullible if we believe that our instructions are followed even if we don’t verify the accuracy of performance?
Agency Consulting Group, Inc. has defined many metrics that are critical to the measurement of the success of insurance agencies. Obviously financial measurements define whether the agency is making money compared to its history in the same period in prior years and its budgetary measurement defines its performance compared to expectations. We’ve spent many words explaining the measurement of retention in the four critical categories (customers, commission, policies and premium) and the comparative importance of the pairs (customer/policy and commission/premium). We have explained how metrics are critical to producers in their hit rates, proposal rates and sales call rates and how the combined rates for all agency producers tell an agency how it is performing from a sales and marketing aspect. We have even given you many reasons for reading your Balance Sheets to calculate the Liquidity Ratios of the agency to establish trends that reflect changes to the agency’s cash positions. If you would like to speak to us regarding developing metrics for your agency, please call us (800 779 2430). We’d be happy to help create unique metrics for your agency.
But, until now, we have never illustrated how an agency can know where it is strong or weak in customer service and processing by analyzing activities.
Each of the major Agency Management Systems have activities as a part of their infrastructure to allow an agency to initiate an “activity” for every event involving a client and for time spent by a staff member on that client’s insurance program. Many agencies have asked and required their staff to create an Activity in the system every time they touch a customer, for whatever reason. This allows a history for a client that familiarizes anyone in the agency with the client’s transaction history even if the staff member who handles the client is gone. Standardization of activities as required on all transactions for all clients all the time also protects the agency against E&O exposure.
What most agents never investigate is the reporting system that supports the Activities generated through the system.
Imagine for a moment that you have four CSRs handling a department’s book of business. Do you know how much work each does? Do you “feel” that some may be more efficient than others? Which make more mistakes and which handle transactions effectively? Does it “feel” that some are always backlogged while others seem to handle the load? Have you been reluctant to address standardization of work because you don’t quite know what they do, just that they get the job done as well as each can?
Just as your body often tells you when there is something wrong, so do your “feelings” tell you that your workflow may not be operating as well as you expect or desire. But you would never treat your body without medically diagnosing that “feeling” of illness, you should never try to address a potential problem or issue in your service or administrative unit without diagnosing the situation to determine a)if there is something actually wrong, or not, and b) identifying both the cause and the solution to rectify the situation.
Activity Reporting is your diagnosis tool for operational issues.
Activity Reporting can be done in detail to determine if the employees are actually following your requirement to enter an activity on every touch giving you accurate records of activity for a client and protecting your agency from E&O potential if (and only if) activities are done on every touch. Activity Reporting can tell you empirically whether or not you have an equitable split of business by staff member and if some work more efficiently than others. Finally, Activity Reporting can give you trends by person and by department or for the agency to warn you when you will experience busy times in the future allowing you to staff up when volume trends dictate.
Equitable Splits of Business
Remember when equitable split was as simple as A-L and M-Z? There are now dozens of ways of splitting workloads more appropriate to the type of business operated (PL/CL/Specialty Lines) and the question that always arises is whether the workload is equitably distributed? Looking at Activity Totals by person in a department over an extended period of time is one way of determining whether the workload is equitably distributed.
Efficiency of Work Efforts
Do some of your employees simply work harder than others? Or do some work so inefficiently that they must do more activities to yield the same results as the more efficient employees? Or do some employees do multiple activities on a customer contact (reflecting greater numbers) while others enter a single activity for any transaction (a training problem)? Or do some employees forget to do activities at all, resulting in activity reports and numbers that don’t reflect their actual workload (also an E&O hazard)?
Consistent activity reporting allows you or your managers to address issues like these and resolve them through standardization of work activity.
Building a track record of activity reports will tell you whether employees, departments and the agency is getting busier or remaining in stable workload environments. Besides being an excellent training aid to managers trying to standardize their departments, this trending tool warns you long before performance problems or volume increases require staffing attention.
Detailed Activity Reporting – The First Step
First, you must determine whether everyone is treating activities in the same way. Run summary activity reports on each person doing the same job for the same period. Isolate the top five or ten activities for each person they should represent at least 80% of all activities done by that person and compare the activities of each person in a similar role. Are they closely aligned? Are the activities that take up 80% or more of their time what you expect them to be doing within their jobs? If the top activities are different for people in the same role, you already know that something is wrong that needs to be addressed.
The problem could be as simple as different people using different activity codes for the same transaction. That is easily remedied by training them to use the same activity codes for common activities and auditing for a while to make sure they are adhering to their training. But it also could mean that different people handle their customers very differently. This could require some further attention and standardization so all similar roles in the agency handle customers in the way that YOU dictate, not necessarily in the way most comfortable to each staff member.
If you have single performers, running activity reports on them weekly will tell you whether they are working consistently and whether their types of activities is what you expect them to be doing within their jobs.
If you haven’t been paying attention to Activity Reporting to date, I can assure most agencies that different people labeling the same activity differently is the most common problem that needs to be addressed in 95% of all agencies.
So looking at Detail Activity allows you to train and standardize your staff into your definitions of agency common activities.
Trending Activities by Individual and for the Department/Agency
The more encompassing need when doing Activity Reporting is to determine the workload and workload capacity of each employee in the agency and of departments.
The greatest problem with standardization of workflow in an agency is your assurance that every customer contact and every transaction bears an activity in the system. Most agents would like to assume that their edict that all transactions and work efforts are covered with an activity (to protect the clients and the agencies from inaccuracy of client information and to protect the agency from E&O potentials). However, the fact is that no initiative exists in most agencies to influence the employees to adhere to the ‘activity for every touch’ requirement.
If you show your employees that management is paying attention to the Activity Reports and that one of the metrics of job performance is based on activity management – the attitude that activity reporting need only be done on “important” issues begins to change. Doing work and not being credited is the result of working hard but not recording activities that you actually do on behalf of the client and agency. When comparing activities for individuals and noting that some staff members have exponentially higher activity levels than the others, you need to determine if the productivity of one employee is simply that much higher than that of another – or — if activities are not being done on some transactions – or – if an employee is required to do more activities because of high error rates – or – if employees are multiplying activities instead of consolidating activities for complicated transactions. Don’t assume. Investigate.
Every manager has a “feel” for who is efficient and who is wasting time. But we often allow ourselves to be fooled by assurances that activities are being entered on ALL transactions when, in reality, they are being done only on what the employee feels is critical. That which is not measured is not correctly implemented. Running and paying attention to Activity Reporting is like running blood work to identify the root cause of that feeling that something may be amiss.
We recommend that you familiarize yourself with Activity Reporting in your agency management system. Start slowly just to determine if activity reporting is being done to your standards. Use what you find as a training tool, not as an indicator of wrongdoing to be punished. If managed properly, Activity Reporting can be your hidden asset to help train your employees to do what you find most productive for the agency.
Call us 800-779-2430 and we would be happy to help you learn how to use this powerful tool in your agency.