This was the headline in our local newspaper this morning. Talk about stating the obvious!!!!
AMERICAN INDUSTRY IS PAYING FOR THE “RAT RACE” PERCEPTION
According the Human Resource Institute, 43% of current workers will become eligible for retirement within 10 years. While some of them will need to (or choose to) continue working, at least half will retire with more joining their ranks every year thereafter.
What makes an employee decide to retire? Personal reasons and infirmity are certainly ingredients in that decision. But a surprisingly high number of people retire because they are “fed up” with their jobs, their superiors, working conditions, etc. Their only tests of retirement are, “Can I make it on my available retirement income?” or “Can I get another (or part time) job to supplement my retirement income and get out of the “Rat Race?”
Those of us in the insurance agency industry already know that a shortage of good employees already exists. So why do we keep treating our employees as a disposable commodity?
We have preached for years that employees, not customers, form the strength of insurance agencies and we must treat our employees with the same degree of respect and professionalism that we treat our best customers. Yet, most members of each new generation of owners and managers are taught their management skills at the feet of the ‘troglodytes’ before them. So they treat their employees like children (at best) or like “gophers” (go get me this, go process this transaction – at worst).
Happily we have gone through one generation of professional managers who understand that employees are an agency’s conduits to success. It is the employee, not the producer or the owner, who can cement a relationship that a salesperson begins by treating the client in a way that convinces him that he made the right decision to bring his account to this agency.
CAN WE CHANGE? Is there time to strengthen our ties with our employees so that they are among the minority who enjoy their jobs so much that retirement is not an attractive alternative? YES – but it will take work and a change in our habits as managers.
1. Don’t ask an employee to do something that you wouldn’t do – passing off distasteful tasks should NOT be a part of their jobs.
2. Treat every employee as you would your best client. That doesn’t mean you don’t give them direction or be critical of them, as needed. You would (or should) do so to your clients if they needed that critique if you have formed a truly professional relationship with them. But treating everyone with respect is the first way to win loyalty and a returned respect, as well.
3. Encourage them to think, to criticize you, if needed, and to communicate openly with you. You are still the boss. They will still defer to your decisions. But wouldn’t it be helpful if they felt free to stop a decision that they feel is not in the best interest of the company or the client before you hear the, “I just KNEW that wasn’t a good idea!”
4. Be open and communicative with your employees. Whether the news is good or bad, the employees deserve to know. It is their career as much as it is yours. If they don’t understand the concepts that you are communicating, explain them.
5. (This is a tough one) – Evaluate and get rid of your mediocre employees and try to upgrade to the best employees you can find. The reason for this within this article is to raise the professionalism and camaraderie within your organization by eliminating dissention and poor performance and attitudes – let someone else deal with them. If your entire team gets along and pulls their weight for the company it makes for a more pleasant working atmosphere – one that is less likely to be abandoned as soon as retirement is possible.
Over the next decade you must also adopt EVERY method available for increasing employee productivity and efficiency (FULL use of agency automation, imaging replacing filing, etc). You must do this for a few very good reasons.
1. If fewer employees can handle more customers within the same working day, you will not lose productivity and profitability as the employee pool decreases.
2. The tasks that are readily automated are the repetitive, boring tasks that are dull and mindless, not something that an interested professional would want to do. The test is whether you would mind doing that task day-in and day-out. If you would, you may count on the fact that so would professionals that you employ. So if there is a way of automating or eliminating those tasks, implement those changes. The cost now will be more than overcome with increased productivity in the future.
Finally, as a safeguard and survival tool, you must invest in telecommunications and automation to permit Shared Workloads and Telecommuting. This means you upgrade your automated systems to the ASP world (in which your automation is hosted remotely and accessible over the Internet) and your telephone systems to networks that are capable of Remote Call Forwarding to employees’ homes (in the event of weather conditions or the need for an employee to work from home) and advanced management reporting. No good phone system is being sold without the option of management reporting that would permit you to keep control of calls and volumes, regardless of whether those calls are in-house or remote.
Treating your employees better is the first and foremost method to survival in the insurance agency system. We are already seeing many agency acquisitions PRIMARILY for talent, rather than for books of business. Changing the way you operate will make you more profitable AND will make the jobs more interesting for your employees, a prerequisite for their continuing past normal retirement age. Adopting cutting edge technology will also keep you ahead of the curve when agencies begin declining customers due to their inability to manage more accounts. I know this is a foreign thought now, but within a few short years, many agencies will actually have to consider limiting customers or will face huge retention problems.
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned company Service Centers in this article. On the surface Service Centers appear to be a viable solution to the productivity problem. Some 30% of agents already use Service Centers for personal and small commercial customers. However, in analysis, the concept of Single Company Service Centers has two basic flaws – 1. it takes the agent out of the service stream, the primary reason that clients use agents instead of coming directly to the carrier for handling, and 2. since the concept is carrier-centralized, it doesn’t consider the potential of multiple carrier clients and clients who may feel that re-marketing may be beneficial to them at some point in time.
1. If the clients wanted to be insured only with ABC Company, they would have gone direct. If they find that using an agent, while spending part of their premiums on commission, still ends them up in ABC’s Service Center for any and all issues, why do they need an agent at all? If the answer is that the agent is the ‘sales arm’ only then the agents should expect that their commissions will some day be similar to life insurance commissions, high front end and little back end.
2. If clients get used to dealing with carriers direct on all normal servicing transactions from policy changes to claims, how do they reflect any potential displeasure with their situation? Once a client has been transferred (abandoned) by the agent who initially wrote them to a service center, it won’t take long to have forgotten who the agent was in the first place. If the urge arises to shop the market or if the client is dissatisfied with the treatment that they receive, their only option will be to go back to the Yellow Pages and find another quote. Currently, the agent can intervene and retain the customer, even if not with the same company.
So, while the concept of carrier service centers is sound – it is a cheaper way for an agent to service a particular book of business, the down-side is great and only about half of the agents using carrier service centers are satisfied with them (that’s half of the 30% who use them at all).