ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

PROCESS ENGINEERING IN INSURANCE AGENCIES

How to determine if you are properly staffed and if it’s the proper workload of your staff

Do I have enough, too few or too many people? Is my workload actually growing or are my employees just complaining more about too much work? Why do we always seem to have a backlog?I believe that some of my people are much more efficient than others. How can I prove it?

It seems like every time the carrier changes procedures, it adds work to our workload. Is there a way of proving that?

We are constantly asked how much a CSR or other employee should be able to handle in an insurance agency. Agents would love to be given a premium amount, a commission amount, or at least the number of clients or policies an efficient service representative SHOULD be able to handle.

Most agents would use that information to determine if the constant harangue by their employees that they are overworked is true. Some agents would use the information as a ‘hammer’ to get their employees to work to expected competency when the manager feels that the employee is not working hard enough.

The reality is that there can be NO POSSIBLE general statement of proper workload in terms of premiums or commissions. It doesn’t take an engineer to understand that a single client generating tens of thousands of dollars in premium and commission that is property-heavy and service-light takes much less time in service than a casualty client (that may generate much less premium and commission) with a service-heavy load, like a busy contractor or a large fleet operation. The contractor may have several transactions and interactions a week while the property account has a few transactions a year. Multiply that by all of the clients and you begin to see the problem with our telling you that commercial lines CSR can handle 500 customers and a PL CSR can handle 1000. Personal Lines has an advantage of having a more stable number of transactions per customer in a normal book of business. But even there, transaction counts can easily depend on how much is E&S vs. standard, DB vs. AB, rural vs. urban, etc.

But there actually IS a way of identifying and calculating whether you are properly staffed or whether your staff is overworked or underutilized.

The real measure is TIME USE. The average workday is 7.5 hours and the average work year is 240 days (52, 5 day weeks less 10 days each for holidays and average vacation). That’s 1800 average work hours in a year. Taking average downtime of 15 minutes/hour, we can net to an average 1,350 productive hours in a common work year for one of our employees.

But knowing how many man-hours of time you have available in a given day, week, month or year doesn’t tell you how your staff is managing. What WILL tell you the golden secrets in your agency is an analysis of the transactions that each and every person handles within your agency.

When we’re all paper-driven, it was almost impossible to identify how many times your employees spoke to clients, carriers, each other and processed transactions. The best we could do was measure how many policies and clients each handled and whether they “seemed” busy or not. Several decades ago, the primary agency management systems provided us a way to measure transactions. It has progressed into an excellent measure of work effort because entering a transaction on every customer contact (from any source) gives us an accurate record of what has been done for the customer and acts as both audit tool and E&O protection. If we can access a customer file as agency manager and see exactly what has been done, in date order, for that customer, we are much better prepared to provide the excellent service that we expect of ourselves.

A side benefit of transaction logs is the ability to engineer your work process to determine exactly how many transactions are handled by your agency, by a department team, and by the individuals within that team. Rather than use this as a threat to employees or as evidence of any kind of wrongdoing, the wise agent realizes that every employee has a different workload capacity. As a manager, our job is to identify the workload capacity of each individual in a department or in our agency, and to help the employees and employee groups to enhance their capacity through work efficiencies. Once the department or individual’s workload capacity has been reached, the only thing that will be accomplished by adding more work is to raise the levels of frustration and backlog.

Sometimes when your staff tells you that they are overworked, they ARE! Other times, it is an indication that they have reached their workload capacity and, rather than ask or find ways of doing those transactions better, faster or easier, they try to impress you with the need for more people.

In order to determine whether, in fact, you need more staff, you need to upgrade your systems and procedures to handle more with the staff you have, or your staff has shortcomings that require retraining or replacement, a Process Engineering project can provide you with all the answers you need.

WHAT IS PROCESS ENGINEERING?

Process Engineering is the determination of how much transactional work effort is being exerted by your staff and determining if that work effort is sufficient to respond to all of the transactional work offered to your agency through the year.

HOW DOES PROCESS ENGINEERING WORK?

The major agency management systems have the capability of giving you transaction reports. Most will appear as a list of every transaction done within the system over a selected period of time. Happily the systems also have the ability to download that information into a friendly Excel worksheet format. You can then manipulate the data to identify a) the list of transactions by their volume in your agency, b) transactions by staff member (entering the transactions), and c) transactions by calendar period (month, week, day).

Transaction volume by type is best used to determine the work effort for prevalent transactions in your agency that can be attacked to allow them to be processed in less time. This is the true management task of making expected transactions faster and easier to save time (allowing for more clients serviced by the same number of staff members over time).

Sorting transactions by month over a several year period permits you to trend work volume by month, by season, and by year to project future workload and acquire employees before work crises occur.

Sorting this report by Employee allows you to see if workloads are even (by actual transactions accomplished by the employees), gives you trending over time to see if you are reaching your employee’s workload capacity and permits you to actually calculate the number of transactions that are being done by employee, by employee group or by your entire agency.

One of the many problems found in agencies are recording the client calls and/or transactions in the agency system. We hear this complaint whether by the clients or by those employed at the agency. For many agencies, this is true. We suggest that every agency convert over time to a system in which every contact on behalf of a client is recorded as a transaction (for audit history and to properly cover your E&O exposure). But even if you do not record every call, conversation or intervention on behalf of a client, the reality is that every contact made in an agency eventually results in a transaction of some type. So while the number of transactions recorded within your system may not be an accurate representation of EVERY transaction, they are certainly ‘indicators’ of time use and can be used to estimate staffing needs and usage.

A growing number of agencies actually require a transaction be entered for every interaction for a customer. For these agencies, the transaction counts become relatively accurate representations of all of the work done by the service and administrative staff. For the agencies that only use transaction logs for policy changes and billing transactions, if you subscribe to the theory that every contact made eventually results in some form of transaction, they transaction logs still represents some percentage of the total number of transactions done by a service staff. If you believe that each transaction in your system is supported by one or more transactions that are not entered into the system, the systems transaction count is still representative of the overall work effort and work load exerted by your staff. So if two CSR’s are supposed to be handling a similar workload and one reflects substantially more or less transactions than the other, it stands to reason that the system statistics will equally reflect the number of non-entered transactions generated by each.

Obviously, whether you insist on ALL transactions be entered or only certain classifications of transactions, all staff must be operating under the same procedures to make this analysis operate accurately. If one CSR enters everything and another only enters some of his/her transactions, this device will certainly reflect the total count of the CSR entering all transactions as higher than the other CSR even if they actually perform similar number of contacts in a year.

The sky’s the limit on how to use transaction reports. We have helped agencies estimate workload in Commercial Lines by month to help them manage their vacation schedules to avoid employee absence during times that have historically been busy (even outside of big renewal months).

Certainly astute agency owners who understand and can operate Excel worksheets can create their own analysis of workload through their Transaction Reports. If you have the data but can’t manipulate or understand how to analyze it, call us at 800 779 2430 and we’ll help you. The Process Engineering of an agency is a part of our GPP (Growth, Productivity, and Profitability) Analysis that we conduct to help independent agencies grow and generate greater profits.