When new technology becomes available, the people behind that technology quickly get to work marketing and selling their solutions to decision makers within their industries. Of course, when technology is sold between businesses (B2B), those making the purchase decision are rarely the same individuals that are actually meant to use the technology.
Often, this creates a problem when management, sold on making a change for one reason or another, matter of factly introduces that change to the people affected by it and for whom the invoked rationale carries little weight. What typically follows is a technology investment that is either ignored and worked around, or minimally adopted.
When that happens, everyone loses. In a perfect world, decision makers would win staff buy-in across the board before an investment is actually made. In the real world, however, that would prevent any decision from ever being made. Instead, its important to:
- Bear the users in mind when investing in technology, while simultaneously considering the operational, as well as managerial, impacts of that investment.
- Have a plan in place to ensure that the investment will be properly implemented.
In the space of this post, I will provide some best practice guidelines to follow in order to foster complete and low-friction adoption for insurance firms investing in new agency management systems.
A Unified Front for Uniform Implementation
Managers, agency owners, and even senior rank-and-file employees have to introduce and champion adoption of new technology to their teams, team leaders, and co-workers. This has to be communicated to both the front and back offices equally.
The front office refers to the operational domain occupied by marketing, insurance agents, and customer-oriented personnel, where they work to drive sales and revenue. The back office refers to the operational domain occupied by administrative and support personnel, where they work to facilitate business activities and translate them into a functional organizational model. While these two halves of the business are supposed to seamlessly connect to and strengthen each other, more often than not, they grow distant, falling victim to poor communication and even worse, cooperation.
This, in turn, can lead to an office environment where the front and back of the house operate increasingly independently and become indifferent or even hostile to each others needs. Thats not how things are supposed to operate and it certainly doesnt encourage productivity with that sort of frayed arrangement.
Bridging the gap between the front and back office not just represents a challenge to the effective roll out of a new management system, it also represents one of the key value adds of any good system. If you approach the situation with a deft hand, you’ll be able to create a virtuous cycle and make inter-office tension a thing of the past.
Managers who try to introduce new systems into this type of environment sometimes find it simply does not work. They might think its a simple matter of selecting a system and telling people to use it. Its not. Its about turning your staff into a cohesive team and selling that team on:
- The value of the system
- Key performance indicators and ROI metrics
- The general approach and resources involved in implementation
- Actionable lessons and best practice internalizations
This will help your sales and customer service personnel get on board with using the new system to its full potential.
Too often, when a new system is implemented, the team starts using it, they fumble, and 6 months later trash it, claiming its too complicated. Then, they go back to operating on inferior systems (with negative real world business ramifications) or worse, Excel spreadsheets.
Heres how you can present your new management platform so that it gets adopted (beyond the lowest acceptable usage model that is so commonly the norm) without a lot of fuss or foot-dragging:
Let Facts And Data Determine Decision-Making Processes
As a rule of thumb, facts and data should be your guide. There was a time when business was conducted on the basis of educated guesses, intuition, and gut instincts. That time has passed.
Never mind the research showing that good business intuition is just smart, probabilistic interpretation of rudimentary subconscious calculations, the bottom line is that today theres a better way of doing things and that better way has led to higher standards and stiffer competition. Intuition just wont cut it anymore. You need data.
The right insurance agency management system is invaluable as a central data repository and conveniently accessible source for pertinent information. Its important to bring this fact to the fore and emphasize the many practical, data-driven advantages.
For example, management systems with advanced data and predictive analytics can show agents what insurance policies and coverage options clients are most likely to need more (and less) of. Based on current coverage amounts and types, the management platform can determine what insurance agents should be talking to their clients about.
It can also keep track of time spent on individual client files so that clients dont take up too much of the agents time relative to the business being generated. Additionally, advanced management systems can reduce time spent on paperwork by pulling data from an existing application and other data already on file.
While your use of facts and data should extend to how your sales and customer service personnel conduct their jobs, that shouldnt be where it starts or even where it ends.
You should start by drawing on and communicating to your team available statistics from research and case studies on the implementation of leading insurance agency management systems.
For example, after implementing the Novidea platform, Howden leveraged a more efficient back office and more accurate data capture to the tune of a 40% increase in cross-sales, a 63% increase in policy sales, a 30% increase in renewals, and 75% quicker agent onboarding (post M&A). Those facts speak volumes.
Of course, the ultimate use for facts and data should be to provide valuable insights on important decisions. At the end of the day, the tone must be set and the lead must be taken by the C-Suite in letting facts and data rule the day.
Prove Your Current System Under-Delivers
The only way to boost performance in your agency is to know, for a fact, that you can make an improvement by upgrading your management platform.
Survey your team on the efficacy of the existing system; benchmark your standard operating productivity against industry norms; test your current system in measurable ways to ascertain functional shortcomings.
Once youve proven inefficiencies, emphasize them to your team in each and every conversation about the new system and its implementation. Use those same agreed upon dimensions of the current system’s under-delivery to identify measureable KPIs for the new system. Work together with your team to build a realistic and phased plan for using the new system to hit defined KPI benchmarks for each of the next four financial quarters. Be sure to discuss what if any additional resources would be required to properly enable your team and demonstrate your commitment to their success by delivering those resources in a timely fashion.
Couple this with the facts and figures referred to in the previous section and you should secure intellectual buy-in, even if emotional resistance remains. (To win their emotional buy-in, youll refer to the next session.)
Of course, this requires strong communication skills and a well-defined understanding of your current business problems, future business goals, and the reasonably expected outcome of employing a centralized agency management platform to help bridge the two.
Emphasize the Appreciable Benefits
A smart, automated, system has many appreciable benefits you need to emphasize to your team. These systems can automate data entry across the application process and reduce errors, making the application process simpler and easier for the agent and for the client.
Visual display and dynamic module functionality decreases the learning curve for seasoned agents and should be implemented wherever possible. One click is all it should take to send applications for processing. Likewise, clients should be able to easily communicate with their agents through a self-service portal, where they have 24/7 access to their agent via email or private messaging suite.
Data processing, manipulation, and analysis should be simple for agents. Drag-and-drop functionality allows agents to drop information directly into Acord (or other) documents, move those documents into and out of client files, or email them with a click of a button.
Enforce Adoption From The Top Down
Whenever new technology is introduced, some resistance is normal. Agents tend to not change what they feel is working for them even if there are problems with the current system.
There should be a grace period for adoption to bring agents up to speed, and to allow everyone to become acclimated to the new platform. Often, the way management handles adoption is to allow the grace period to extend indefinitely and transition when everyone is comfortable. This makes it hard to bear down and enforce adoption after its been practically ignored for 2-6 months or longer.
At the same time, its important not to altogether do away with the grace period. A good compromise is to have a defined grace period and periodic reminders of when it ends. Its important that scrutiny and penalties are withheld until the end of the grace period, while still pushing for adoption throughout the transition period.
Once the grace period is over, enforcement must be strict and consistent. Senior and junior employees must be held to the same standards, as must management. More senior employees should be singled out for both praise and criticism. Of course, criticism must always be followed with a prescribed course of corrective action. This sets the tone that you are serious about adopting the new system. It will also show employees who are set in their habits that they need to adjust to the new platform.
(At the same time, focusing on more senior personnel should help to prevent any hurt feelings or embarrassment, as more senior personnel normally have more professional confidence and are more capable of taking a punch, so to speak, without feeling picked on.)
Time should be set aside for experts to train and educate senior employees on how the new management platform works and how new normal protocols are run through it. Time should also be set aside for senior employees to sit with more junior employees and train them in the system first-hand. This serves the triple purpose of reinforcing senior employee comfort with the system (building procedural muscle memory), sending a positive message to younger staff, and building a broader sense of teamwork.
Change is necessary. Its easy to forget that fact because certain aspects of old systems seem to work fine. However, legacy systems are generally inefficient and will never improve.
Todays customers demand at minimum enhanced communication with agents, a simpler application process, and access to policy information online. Old insurance agency management systems are dying because they cannot keep up with these demands.
When implementing a new system in your insurance agency make sure to lead with the facts, prove the inefficiencies of the old system, emphasize the beneficial functions of the new system and encourage use of the platform from the top down. This way, your employees will be more inclined to follow through, complain less, and willingly persevere through the learning curve it takes to successfully implement a new management platform.