INSURANCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND MORE
7 Tips for Implementing What You Learned at Applied Net 2015
So much work and energy often go into attending a conference that it may seem like everything concludes once it’s over. In actuality, post conference is when the work begins. Applied Net 2015 will have introduced new ideas, new methods and new concepts that can help you improve business practices in your organization, but only if you return to the office ready to put what you’ve learned into practice.
It starts with creating the plans that will carry you through the year as you work towards clearly defined goals within your business. Aim to build flexibility into your planning process, with regular feedback and new ideas to help you use what you’ve learned.
Follow these 7 tips to organize your process and develop the concepts that will best benefit you and your agency or brokerage.
- Put together a list of 5 action items
Start by creating a list of the top five action items you most want to implement within your agency or brokerage this year. These should be the things that your office is most likely to realize in the coming months. Be practical and focus on what is achievable to avoid creating a wish list. The goal here is to create a solid plan that keeps everyone on track to completion. If you have more than five items, narrow it down by looking at what will benefit you most in the short term.
- Make a separate list for supporting ideas
At a conference as large and widely attended as Applied Net, you are bound to have been inspired by ideas from a variety of fellow attendees. Use this list to explore these ideas and add any that you’ve come across in the weeks since the conference. These items may not be actionable right now, or perhaps they need refining before becoming viable. Write them down regardless and review them periodically. The process of looking over old inspirations will help you form new ones.
- Map the ideas onto the action items
For each of your top five action items, connect ideas from your list of possibilities that would support and advance each project. For example, if one of your top five projects is: “Start Using Download,” look through your notes from sessions such as “Streamline Your Workflow Utilizing Activity Notes and Claims Download” or “Exploring IVANS Exchange” that mentioned download. Review your handouts from classes, and any suggestions from panelists, or insights from the exhibit hall as well as any notes you took yourself to flesh it out.
- Archive anything not doable [for now]
No matter how carefully you plan, there will still be more items on your list then your organization can implement. Archiving anything that you don’t have the time or resources for in the next few months will help you focus on projects that can yield a more definite, immediate benefit.
Keep access to your original list of projects so that you can return to it at any time, but stay focused on short-term objectives to start to see the impact of what you learned at conference as soon as possible.
- Schedule time to take action
If members of your team were in attendance with you, schedule a meeting with them. Compare your lists of action items and ideas. Take time to consider what projects you have the capacity to carry out, as well as what will be most likely to benefit the business.
For those team members who weren’t able to attend, share your insights from the conference to give a sense of what has inspired you. Share a summary of what you learned and why it’s important with your team, and get their feedback. Their support will ensure that the implementation process runs smoothly.
- Prioritize your projects
This step is critical to truly begin the process of putting thought into action. Choose one project from your list of action items and supporting ideas to begin working on immediately. Ideally, this will be the one that is the most likely to yield significant results in the shortest amount of time, or the one that will have the biggest positive impact on your organization. Once you’ve chosen, sort the rest of your top five list by order of time necessary for implementation.
- Connect with people
Once you start work on the most important things on your list, tracking your progress and receiving feedback is crucial. Applied University, Applied Client Network Forums and the Applied Client Portal are all resources available to support you as you put your plans into action to benefit your agency or brokerage.
Ensure that you are open to new ideas and methods to help your business grow after the conference, and keep in touch with the speakers who inspired you. Collecting all of your notes and handouts from the conference in one location is a good way to keep track of what you’ve learned and where you hope it will take you in the months ahead. Reaching out to your fellow Applied Net attendees can also be a valuable resource as you work towards putting the things you’ve learned to work in your agency or brokerage.
What was the best thing that you learned at Applied Net? Tell us by commenting below!
The 2016-2020 Technology Challenges Reshaping the Insurance Industry: What They Are and How To Prepare
Never-Ceasing Customer-ICT Feedback Loop
Since the agrarian and industrial eras, society and commerce have been evolving from a Lego block experience, particularly with blocks that didn’t always fit together, to an increasingly more seamless real-time experience. This continual evolution, driven by the requirement to better meet customers’ wants and needs, is accelerated by a never-ceasing feedback loop between always-heightening customer expectations and the introduction of new information and communications technology (ICT). I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to consider this feedback loop as being a co-evolutionary process between two separate but increasingly interdependent species: humans and technology.
Objective of This Post
I believe that insurance firms (meaning agencies, brokerages and insurers) have to be aware of, prepare for, and compete on the new foundations of commerce that will come into focus during 2016-2020 and beyond. My purpose in writing this post is to help insurance firms prepare by discussing the key technology trends unfolding throughout 2016-2020 that will reshape the insurance marketspace and the challenges that insurance firms will confront.
The 2016-2020 Technology Trends Reshaping the Insurance Marketspace
There are five key technology trends that have already begun to reshape the insurance marketspace. However, there are two important points that insurance firms should consider:
- The reality of customer experience weaves through each of the trends. Regardless of how insurance firms prepare for the implications of any one trend, they must always create and deploy initiatives based on a foundation of providing quality customer service.
- We discuss trends in the context of “marketspace” rather than “marketplace” because commerce is undergoing a rapid transformation from being primarily conducted in a geographic place to being primarily conducted in a digital space. And while no one can hear you scream in space, insurance participants, whether an agency, brokerage or insurer, wanting to compete successfully in a marketspace must learn to compete on the basis of time. Real time, that is. Or the screaming that will be heard will be customer rants cascading around the globe through social media.
Five Technology Trends Unfolding During 2016-2020
Onward to the five 2016-2020 technology trends (Figure 1) and accompanying challenges. These trends will actually feel and act more like a set of human-technology hybrid capabilities:
- Consumer media-casting
- On-demand economy
- Digital Gaia emerges
- Presence amplified
Figure 1: 2016-2020 Technology Trends
We don’t need to look at yet another series of graphs projecting or estimating the growth of mobility and smart devices to know that mobility is becoming life’s platform. We use our smartphones and tablets to conduct business, share our thoughts and opinions with friends, be entertained, check our fitness metrics, and collaborate with our colleagues. We even make the occasional phone call. Mobile devices and earbuds sprout around us regardless of what we’re doing. Our society seems to be becoming a nation of loners joined only by bandwidth.
There are two aspects of mobile use that need reinforcing: aspects of demographics and types of use. A July 2015 comScore report contained these two findings, among other conclusions:
- Most mobile use occurs through apps rather than through mobile browsers.
- Millennials, people 18-34 years old, spend an average of 50% to 100% more time on mobile than on a desktop.
The immediate challenge for insurance firms is not to jump to deploying mobile apps but instead to determine how current customers and target customers want to use mobile – app or browser – and for what functionality presale, during the sale and post-sale. The kicker is, of course, that whatever current and target customers answer now about using mobile does not guarantee their answers will remain the same the next time they are asked. Who said insurance wasn’t a fun industry?
Customers have an increasing array of social media to express their thoughts in words, pictures, sounds and videos. Just to select a few examples of consumer media-casting (or should that be “me-casting”) that Qmee reports happens every 60 seconds:
- Over five million videos are viewed on YouTube
- 293,000 statues are updated on Facebook
- 277,000 snaps are posted on SnapChat
- 1,800 posts are published on WordPress
- 1,100 photographs are posted on flickr
- 88,000 calls are made on Skype
- 67,000 photographs are uploaded on Instagram
One implication is clear to me: with this plethora of content, there must be a dearth of attention. The primary challenge for insurance firms is getting and keeping clients’ attention.
However, the challenge is not so much for an insurance firm to choose the right media to reach clients. The challenge is for an insurance firm to choose how to enable clients to access the content they want in a manner the want and when they want. One of the famous lines in the movie The Graduate was, “Plastics, my boy, plastics!” The uncle would, or should now, give the advice, “client focus, my boy, client focus!”
The great unbundling of traditional industries continues swiftly as startups abound in the marketspace all fighting for room on smart devices and recognition in the hearts and minds of customers. Uber and Airbnb are the on-demand services which most readily come to mind. But whether it is these two familiar on-demand services or others which may not be known as widely such as Instacart or Munchery, the reality remains: aggregators are bundling app-deployed demand on smart devices to meet specific customer needs while simultaneously unbundling well-known industries. Marketspace is being fragmented into small bits available at everyone’s fingertips.
The challenge for insurance firms is to identify where new app-deployed on-demand service firms can take profitable business and client relationships from activities within the insurance value chain. A second challenge is for insurance firms to consider creating and deploying thier own on-demand aggregator capabilities. Not that long ago, Allstate acquired Esurance. What on-demand capability might an insurance firm acquire or create now to succeed throughout 2016-2020?
Digital Gaia Emerges
Gaia is the theory espoused in the 1970s that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to helping to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet. A digital mobile Gaia is becoming more real as increasingly more physical artifacts, animals and people have IP-enable sensors embedded, attached, worn or ingested in them. These Internet of Things (IoT) objects will eventually form an ethereal layer over the entire planet.
In the digital, mobile Gaia insurance firms will have an opportunity – and challenge – to identify the new products and services, beyond providing cyber liability coverage that consumers will appreciate. Insurance firms will also be challenged to determine the partnerships they need to form from a variety of industries – from manufacturers to telecommunications and software firms to retail or wholesale distributors – to create and service the new IoT-driven insurance products.
In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan wrote a book titled, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man in which he stated that technologies would serve as extensions of the body and extensions of cognitive functions. He was spot on. Today and continuing throughout 2016-2020 and beyond, each of us has our individual presence extended and amplified using social media, real-time streaming video, IoT (such as wearables, vehicles outfitted with telematics capabilities) and mobile messaging and payment apps (whose capabilities will soon fuse because payments are really just another type of message). Where each of us lives geographically doesn’t matter. However, the extensible mobile digital functionality amplifies each of our individual presences by enabling us to be found by others, to find others and to conduct our activities of life when and how we want.
The challenges for insurance firms certainly includes becoming data analytical and visualization mavens, at least to the extent insurance firms decide to outsource the hands-on data management and governance aspects generated by each individual client (whether retail or enterprise). Other challenges facing insurance firms include determining:
- How each client makes their own specific digital presence known to others.
- Whether clients want to use each of their digital presences (because any one client will have more than one digital presence) for aspects of insurance commerce and interaction.
- How clients’ preferences of using their digital presence for insurance commerce and interaction changes over time.
From the Coffeehouse in 1688 to Digital Gaia
We’ve come a long way from Lloyd’s coffeehouse and not just in hundreds of years. Lloyd’s was an information clearing-house and a source of discussion about risk and acceptance (or rejection) of providing coverage. But the coffeehouse ship owners, merchants and investors didn’t have access to immediate information about what was happening in real time.
Information, whether text, sound, pictures or video, is now available instantaneously and customers are increasingly more demanding in their expectations about how, when and where they want to conduct business with insurance firms. Inanimate objects are becoming sources of real-time information and should be sharing space in insurance firms’ customer relationship management and/or producer productivity system.
The ultimate challenge for insurance firms is creating new strategies, business models and tactical initiatives to live in the digital mobile era rather than hanging on to the methods and technologies of the past.
What additional challenges do you see ahead for the insurance industry? How should insurance firms address these? Share your thoughts below.
This blog post is based on the presentation by the same title that Mr. Rabkin delivered at the Applied Net 2015 Client Network Conference.
Barry Rabkin, president of the insurance technology analyst firm Market Insight Group, is known for his research focusing on areas where current and emerging technology affects insurance commerce, markets, customers and channels. He has been involved with the insurance industry for more than 35 years. Before rejoining his own company in April 2014, he was a principal analyst at Ovum, where he was responsible for leading the global insurance research stream. Before that, Rabkin was responsible for leading the global insurance advisory team at Financial Insights, an IDC company.
Agency Perpetuation: What You Need to Know
One of the great things about having your own business is the legacy you create having built it from the ground up. When you’re ready to step back from the helm, you can then either sell it, or pass it down to your chosen candidate to run. In particular, when it comes to perpetuation, our research shows that the insurance industry is lagging behind.
So what can you do to help ensure that you have as many options as possible when it comes time to let go of the reigns? We believe the key lies in positioning – you need a plan, before it becomes too late to create one. Then you’ll need to stick to it.
Start by thinking in the long-term. The future of your business is more than just next year’s sales figures. It also includes investments that make the changes now that will show dividends later in the two most critical factors of your business: your staff, and your technology. Regardless of whether or not you choose to perpetuate or sell externally, by ensuring that you invest well here, you’ll help give yourself the best possible options and outcomes.
In our experience, by running your agency at optimal efficiency now, you’ll reduce the challenges and increase your agency’s value when it comes time to sell.
Step 1: Reinvesting in Staff
Investing in your staff starts with hiring the right people, for the right roles. This may seem simple, but according to our proprietary benchmarking system, Perspectives for High Performance (PHP), only 1 in 5 producers work out in the long-term. Since producers are at the heart of your business, this is an area that requires some sound decision making, financial investment and patience. So why do it? You may have 3, 10, or 50 producers working for you, and maybe you think that’s enough. They all do their work well, and things seem okay. That’s great, and things probably are okay, but is there anyone that stands out as a potential candidate for perpetuation? This is why we believe that investing in your staff is critical. If you eventually want to sell your agency internally, the first thing you’ll need is a buyer, and it’s never too early to start preparing your staff so that a good one is already lined up when you’re ready to sell.
Your producers can be your pool of candidates when you’re looking to perpetuate, so you’ll want to invest significantly in hiring the right people. I’m sure at this point, your main question is, “Who are the right people?” To answer that, start by looking at your current roster. What percentage of your producers are over 50? If you want to create a candidate to buy your business that will be ready when you need them to be, you’ll need to invest in hiring younger individuals.
Often, producers under 50 will be in a better position to take on the debt that comes with buying stock in your agency because they’re likely more able to take risks. To make those risks look more attractive, you’ll need to introduce the best candidates to the idea of purchasing stock in the agency earlier on in their careers. The more comfortable they are with their options, the more likely they will be the ones to help you ensure your option to perpetuate. From there, you also need to make sure that your business is attractive from an investment standpoint.
Step 2: Reinvesting in Technology
Take a look at the technology your agency is utilizing. Making use of current software that handles the automation of your business, and leveraging laptops and tablets to create mobility, can help you attract younger producers looking for modern, digital workplaces. If your website hasn’t been updated in a few years, then refreshing the layout and overall site design should be a priority. Younger producers – and most of your customers – will start learning about your business by looking at your website. A professional, well organized site will make a much better first impression.
Organizational structure can also go a long way toward helping you find, train and keep the most promising talent. We are seeing that more successful agencies are moving away from the traditional producer-controlled workflow toward a more team-based, specialized system. This could mean hiring additional staff, or reassigning and readjusting workflows, to create teams that interact with clients, rather than concentrating the bulk of the customer relationship in the producers’ hands.
Specialization means that you can have a ladder system whereby your service staff supports your producers by interfacing with clients and handling service requests and other more administrative work while your producers concentrate on bringing in new business. Consider implementing intermediary roles like account executives. They can interact with clients on a day-to-day basis, leaving producers free to focus on bringing in new business. This model takes the pressure off producers and allows you have dedicated staff that can give clients the personalized service they need. This makes workflows more efficient, as customers have a variety of ways to get information, access and update their data and file claims. With account technicians/processors to work on any additional administrative work, your customer service representatives (CSRs), as well as your producers can focus on providing the customer service that can help grow your business.
Step 3: Follow Your Plan and Track KPIs
Now that you have a plan, you’ll need to track it to ensure that you’re reaching your long and short-term goals. In our opinion, there are five key performance indicators (KPIs) that will give you a good idea of where you are:
- New Business Production
- Organic Growth Rate
- Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization (EBITDA)
- Total Commission and Fees per Employee
- Weighted Average Owner Age
These KPIs are some of the essential methods of determining the overall health of your business, and will likely be important for helping you quickly spot issues in your plan such as hiring or staff problems, untapped growth potential, or compensation discrepancies that might otherwise hinder your efforts. If you review each factor periodically, you should be able to make any necessary changes well in advance, and increase your eventual valuation as profitable systems will already be in place within your business. You can easily extract this data directly from your management system where some of the figures will have been pre-calculated for you. You can then use the rest in the form of financial statements or production reports to create a dashboard of vital statistics that you and your stakeholders can review regularly. Doing this will help enable you to make and meet short-term goals that feed into your overall plan.
You don’t have to view perpetuation as the only option for the future of your business. You may not have come to a decision yet as to what your agency’s future will be, but we believe that ensuring that you have the option to perpetuate is critical. Many agency leaders find themselves forced to sell externally because the chance to perpetuate internally is gone. In our experience, reinvesting in your business and ensuring that your agency is running at optimal efficiency will not only keep both choices open to you, but will also be good for business, increasing your profits, productivity, and overall value within the industry.
What are your plans for perpetuation? Where are you reinvesting in your business? Leave your comments below.
Sarah Lucas, vice president of MarshBerry, is a key contributor to the merger & acquisition and consulting practices of MarshBerry. Her primary responsibilities include merger and acquisition valuation and analysis, due diligence, document review, deal negotiation, integration planning and intangible asset valuation. From the consulting side, Sarah performs agency valuations, consulting projects such as business planning, perpetuation planning and operational reviews, and other financial management consulting.
Securities offered though MarshBerry Capital, Inc., Member FINRA and SIPC, and an affiliate of Marsh, Berry & Co., Inc. 28601 Chagrin Blvd., Suite 400, Woodmere, Ohio 44122, 440-354-3230. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as, and does not constitute, an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any financial instrument. Except where otherwise indicated, the information provided is based on matters as they exist as of the date of preparation, and may not be updated or otherwise revised to reflect information that subsequently becomes available, or changes occurring after the date hereof. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results and individual results may vary.
The Game Plan: 6 Tips for Navigating the Applied Net Exchange
This year, the Applied Net Exchange will be the biggest ever, with more than 70 exhibitors and our largest exhibit floor yet. Open throughout the conference, the Applied Net Exchange provides the opportunity for you to discover new Applied products, network with your peers and industry experts, and see the latest vendor and insurer technologies and products.
To make navigating the Exchange easier, here are tips to help you stay organized and make the most of your Applied Net Exchange visits:
Plan Ahead – Identify Exhibitors You Want to Meet
Check out the list of 2015 exhibitors and decide which companies you’d most like to visit with. Are there vendors there that your business would like to learn more about? Are there exhibitors your agency or brokerage already has relationships with? Make a list of any questions you might have for them and be sure to stop by their booths to learn about the latest vendor and insurer products and technologies.
Bring Your Contact Information
Don’t forget your business cards. Industry peers, Applied staff, Applied Client Network members and exhibitors are ready and willing to network with you so have your business cards handy to exchange contact information. Or, the Applied Net 2015 mobile app makes networking even easier. See the next tip…
Use the Applied Net 2015 App
With the Applied Net 2015 app, you’ll have all of the resources you need at your fingertips to successfully navigate the conference. You can manage your session schedule, network with peers and exhibitors, access conference venue maps, and more – conveniently from the app. While you are visiting exhibitors, be on the lookout for QR codes placed throughout the Applied Net Exchange. Scanning a QR code and then posting a status update in the app will earn you an app Achievement Badge. Those who earn all Achievement Badges will be entered into a drawing to win a Microsoft® Surface Pro!
Download the app at appliednet.com/app
Experience New Applied Technology
At the Applied Net Exchange, you can meet with Applied software experts at the Applied booth to demo the latest Applied innovations, or schedule a one-on-one meeting with a support specialist. Below are some questions to think about ahead of time to help narrow down which products you should check out:
- What other technology solutions are available that can integrate into my management system that will help us bind quotes more quickly and provide higher value service?
Suggestion: If you are a U.S. agency interested in solutions to increase efficiency and save your staff time, don’t miss the IVANS Insurance Solutions booth. IVANS solutions enable U.S.-based agents to seamlessly connect to carriers and MGAs by a single, efficient workflow for information exchange that reduces manual processes, so agents can deliver faster client service. Stop by to demo IVANS Download, IVANS Real-Time and the new IVANS Exchange online tool for agencies to quickly view and manage carrier and MGA download connections on demand.
Did you know that Applied has expanded its rating solutions to the U.S. market? Both U.S. and Canada-based agencies and brokerages now have access to the industry’s most accurate and comprehensive rating solution. Applied Rater allows agencies and brokerages to deliver faster customer service while increasing productivity. Stop by the Applied booth for a demo.
- Am I still using the best Applied agency or brokerage management solution for my business?
Suggestion: Stop by the Applied booth for a demo of the latest version of Applied Epic, the fastest-growing and most technologically advanced management system chosen by more agencies and brokerages to manage their property and casualty and benefits business in a single application. Applied will be announcing some new capabilities at the conference that you don’t want to miss!
- Do I have multi-channel service capabilities that enable my staff to meet today’s consumer expectations?
Suggestion: At the Applied Net Exchange, you can demo technology solutions that enable mobility. For example, Applied MobileProducer connects insurance producers and brokers in the field to information in their management system via a mobile app, enabling them to sell more business for increased profitability. Consider an online self-service portal like Applied CSR24 to provide your clients with 24/7 access to their information. You can demo both at the Applied booth.
- We have massive amounts of data but does our current technology truly provide data-driven insights that enable us to make quicker, more informed, actionable business decisions?
Suggestion: If you’ve heard about big data and understand its importance but find it challenging to actually move from data to insights, stop by the Applied booth and ask for a demo of Applied PerformanceMangaement. Applied PerformanceManagement is a purpose-built business intelligence solution for independent insurance agents and brokers that presents data in an easy-to-understand visual interface with graphical reports that deliver multiple levels of analysis on key performance business indicators (KPIs) for your book of business, employee operations and insurer relationships.
Don’t Miss the Applied Client Network Booth
Applied Client Network is the largest group of educators and advocates for users of Applied Systems software. Comprised of dedicated volunteers and committees, Applied Client Network identifies and responds to the needs of users in developing new education, tools and materials to drive efficiency and agency value. More than 55 affiliated local and virtual chapters give members the opportunity to network and utilize training materials, seminars and membership support with other users in their area. Simply put, Applied Client Network facilitates “users helping users.” Stop by their booth to learn more or visit www.appliedclientnetwork.org.
Last But Not Least, Learn All You Can
The most important thing that you should take away from the Applied Net Exchange or Applied Net conference as a whole is education – whether new tools, insights, or best practices, putting what you learn to work at your agency or brokerage will help you succeed and grow.
As we like to say, “What happens in Vegas, DOESN’T stay in Vegas.” Instead, the insights and best practices you learn for using Applied solutions return home with you so you can share your knowledge and improve your agency or brokerage.
Building Deeper Customer Relationships Starts with ‘GPS’
Your ability to establish deep, engaging relationships with your clients and prospects is an essential element in your quest to create a memorable customer experience journey. So, it’s not something you should take lightly. That said, building “magical” relationships isn’t something you have to be a natural at. It’s a learnable skill, something that can be developed over time and nurtured until it becomes second nature.
Keys to Building a Memorable Customer Experience Journey
Research has shown that more than 50% of customer experience is predicated on how you make the customer feel – their subconscious. Impacting your customers’ feelings and creating positive emotions are the keys to building a memorable customer experience journey. This “journey” is the sum of all experiences the customer has with you and your firm – the actions and results that make them feel important, understood, heard and respected.
How to Know What Drives Your Customers
Don’t worry; you don’t have to read your customers’ minds. The best way to find out what’s going to positively impact your clients and prospects (and therefore the best customer experience) is to get to know what drives them. Ed Wallace, the author of Business Relationships That Last introduces us to a concept called, “Relational GPS.”
GPS stands for:
- Goals: Short- and long-term professional objectives.
- Passions: Personal and professional causes that your clients and prospects care so deeply about.
- Struggles: Obstacles holding them back from their goals and passions.
People will not share their goals, passion and struggles with you until they feel confident and comfortable in the relationship. They must trust you. Your credibility, integrity and authenticity open up the GPS of your client or prospect. Once your customer allows you to navigate his or her GPS, you have the road map to a long term relationship and a distinguished customer experience.
Become Unique and Indispensable
It is especially important to note that addressing some of your customers’ struggles – whether through recommending products, strategies, services, or simply listening – will deepen the relationship and give you crucial insights to keep their needs at the forefront. An intense focus on your customer with the mission of alleviating pain points is the best way to demonstrate your unique value proposition. Without a compelling value proposition, you are ordinary and disposable – a commodity. With a distinguished value proposition you are unique and indispensable.
The outcome of an exceptional customer experience is that you will have differentiated yourself from the others in the industry. Don’t you want your customers to feel as though you and your firm are the only ones that can truly give them what they want?
Essential Steps to Differentiation
- Listen to the customer. What do your clients and prospects enjoy more than anything in the world – talking about themselves, their goals, passions, hobbies, family business, etc.? Your listening skills will create a positive first impression and get the relationship off to a great start. This is a critical first step of your customer experience journey. By the way, this simple technique has been neglected by generations of well-intended professionals.
- Exploit the differences between your offerings and that of your competition. This step is pretty straightforward. You must articulate how your process differs from the others in the market. And, highlight the tangible results your customer or prospect will receive, the unique benefits that you bring to bear that others cannot. If you cannot achieve this step, you are simply another face in the crowd.
- Demonstrate the value of your offerings. Because you understand the pain points of your client or prospect, you are positioned to prove that you have solutions to mitigate them. By tailoring your offerings, you will elicit emotions from your customers that affect their decision making process. The emotions include fear, greed, pride, envy, anger, pain and guilt to name a few. In the business of insurance, compliance, employee benefits and risk management, fear is a real motivator. Fear of losing something. Fear of lawsuits. Fear of injury. Fear of risk. It is also helpful to give specific examples of how your products, strategies or services will combat the fears of your clients or prospects.
- Include creativity and passion when you’re building your customer solutions. Think outside the box. This should go without saying, but sometimes we get set on using original formulas as opposed to what your customers really need. Focus intently on how you can customize the services you offer to fit their goals. Cecil Beaton, the English Academy Award-winning photographer said it best: “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose, emotion and imaginative vision against play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”
- Demonstrate your personal commitment to ensure that your customers achieve the proposed outcomes. That’s what it’s all about – your customers put their trust in you for a reason, so make sure to show them that you’re fully committed to helping them achieve their goals.While your clients or prospects surely value each member of your team, it is your personal commitment that matters the most. Personal commitment is an essential component of the customer experience journey.
- Shoot for your customers’ hearts. To truly engage with your customers, you must go right for their hearts as it is here where their deepest emotions are stored. Earning the trust and loyalty of those you serve is well worth the effort because at the end of the day they will continue to come back to you time and time again well as refer you. It is also why they prefer what you offer over the competition.
Scott Addis, CPCU, CRA, is CEO of The Addis Group and President/CEO of Beyond Insurance. Beyond Insurance is a coaching and consulting firm whose purpose is to transform the process that insurance agents, brokers, and carriers use when working with their clients. To learn more, contact Scott by phone at (610) 945-1019 or email.
9 Essential Apps for Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers
Apps for smartphones and tablets have forever changed the way we work and do business. No longer just games and photo editors for personal use, mobile apps can help you and your staff be more organized, efficient and productive. And the resulting time-savings can be significant allowing your staff to shift their focus to activities that drive new business and increase client retention.
But which apps should you use? There’s almost nothing that there isn’t an app for, so to narrow things down, we’ve pulled together a list of essential apps that can help your agency better manage communications, customers, documents and more.
What apps do you use to keep organized and be productive? Share by commenting below!
8 Reasons Why You Can’t Afford to Miss Applied Net 2015
Applied Net is right around the corner, in fact, it’s less than 10 weeks away! If you are still on the fence about attending, here are the top 8 reasons why you CAN’T miss the world’s largest gathering of independent agents, brokers and insurers.
- Expansive learning opportunities
Choose from more than 200 educational sessions in 20 different tracks that address business and technology challenges your agency or brokerage faces today and in the future. Sessions cover a variety of topics including:
- Thought Leadership: Effectively plan for the future and learn key management strategies.
- Products: Discover new ways to maximize your Applied software and learn about new solutions to enhance your services.
- Technology: Drive business success with IT and online strategies and solutions.
- Insurer Strategies: Learn about the latest advancements in insurer technology.
Inside Scoop: Some of last year’s top sessions were Applied Epic and Applied TAM Tips and Techniques, 10 Reports Managers Should Know, and Roadmap to Success: Looking Ahead at Applied CSR24. Get the full list of the education sessions and descriptions >
- Network with peers and friends
Network with fellow Applied software users and product experts to share experiences and exchange ideas about how to get the most from your agency or brokerage’s Applied Systems technology.
Inside Scoop: If you’re a first-timer, don’t miss out on the First-Time Attendee Reception on Monday night! The Applied Net Exchange is another great forum to network with industry peers.
- Gain exclusive access to the latest software releases and innovations
This year’s theme, The Digital Future of Insurance, focuses on opportunities for growth and increased profitability for agencies, brokerages and insurers worldwide through the enhanced use of software to power the business of insurance. Test drive and learn about the latest technology innovations and meet one-on-one with Applied technology experts.
Inside Scoop: Be prepared to demo the latest products released exclusively at Applied Net.
- Drive business success
The Executive Management Program is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for agency and brokerage leaders to engage in high level discussions on insurance industry trends and business strategies to drive success at your business. Hear from agency/brokerage leaders, consultants and influencers on best practices enabling you to run your business better.
Inside Scoop: This year’s Executive Management Program is the best yet! 2015’s sessions are presented by the industry’s most knowledgeable experts including Forrester research, MarshBerry Consulting and Strategy Meets Action. See the full list of Executive Management Program sessions >
- Inspiring keynotes by Dr. Madeleine Albright and Horst Schulze
Applied Net 2015 presents remarkable keynote speakers, providing you with unique perspectives and strategies on leadership, business and customer experience. Dr. Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. Secretary of State, global strategy consultant and best-selling author, will serve as the featured keynote. Horst Schulze, legendary leader renowned for creating a culture of service as founding president and COO of Ritz-Carlton, will share his insights on successful customer experience strategies.
Inside Scoop: Schulze is a legendary leader in the service world whose vision helped the Ritz-Carlton Group win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The Ritz-Carlton Group is the first and only hotel company to win even one such award. This keynote is not to be missed for those who want to improve their agency or brokerage’s customer experience!
- More insurers, partners and solution providers then ever at the Applied Net Exchange
This year, the Applied Net Exchange promises to be the biggest ever, with more vendors and a larger exhibit floor. Open daily throughout the conference, the Applied Net Exchange provides you with the opportunity to experience the complete Applied product portfolio and network with industry experts and leading solution providers.
Inside Scoop: Check out the full list of 2015 exhibitors here >
- Get your accounting and reporting certifications
Earn your Applied software certifications at Applied Net. Programs are designed for you to easily earn your certification during the conference, while leaving time to attend other sessions of interest. Both Applied Epic and Applied TAM users can receive certifications in Accounting and/or Reporting.
Inside Scoop: Each registered attendee who completes the four-session certification program will receive a certificate of completion. Learn more >
- Unforgettable entertainment –
Cirque de Soleil: The Beatles LOVE & Drai’s Nightclub
When the days draw to a close, the evenings are just beginning. This exciting selection of events provides the perfect opportunity to engage with fellow attendees against the backdrop of beautiful Las Vegas.
- Monday, Oct. 19: Welcome Reception in the Applied Net Exchange
- Tuesday, Oct. 20: Cirque du Soleil: The Beatles LOVE – Exclusive Applied Net Peformance
- Wednesday, Oct. 21: Live Music and Dancing at Drai’s Nightclub
Inside Scoop: The entire Beatles LOVE show has been reserved exclusively for Applied Net attendee private viewing!
Already attending Applied Net 2015? Tell us what you’re looking forward to by commenting below!
The Insurance Producer’s Secret to Managing Risk
Producers today need to be well-versed in a variety of risk to provide customers the service and products they need and expect. A key factor in meeting the needs of your customers and providing a quality customer experience is to assess their insurance needs effectively. It’s important that you as a producer have a tool you can use to educate yourself about risk types you might not be familiar with.
Consider this situation: You are going to meet with a new business referred to you by a current client. The prospect is in the crop dusting business and you have never quoted this industry before. You think – Aviation risk? Agribusiness risk? What do I need to know in order to quote accurate coverage for this prospective client?
That’s where Risk Analysis tools, like the one provided in Applied MobileProducer, come into play.
By using Applied MobileProducer, you can:
- Access narratives, surveys, coverage assessments, and supplemental data about a specific type of business, providing better risk education for seasoned producers and enhanced training for new producers.
- Get quick access to SIC and NAICS codes allowing you to easily look up risk associated with a specific industry.
- Ask relevant risk questions, providing an informed experience to both clients and prospects.
- Propose more accurate coverage proposals based on more precise risk.
Applied MobileProducer shows you details on all of the above categories of risk, and it’s the first independent agent app designed specifically for producers to access and manage client and prospect information anywhere, anytime via a mobile tablet.
Our customers are using the risk tool within Applied MobileProducer to:
- Provide new producers better training for client meetings. By reviewing the risk questionnaires, producers are better prepared for meetings.
- Expand producer’s market base, allowing them to feel more comfortable assessing new types of businesses and risks.
Creating a superb customer experience is not a one-time event, but an on-going activity that your agency will continue for the rest of its existence. The key is to ensure that you are monitoring the buying behavior and risk needs of tech-savvy consumers to ensure you are delivering the policies, service and experience customers want.
How would you leverage Applied MobileProducer’s risk analysis at your agency? Leave your comments below.
Sarah Ratcliffe, vice president of product management, agency/broker solutions at Applied Systems, oversees enterprise software solutions and listens to the strategic needs of customers to guide them to the right solutions for success. Sarah Ratcliffe began her insurance career 15 years ago and has held various agency positions in small to large agencies & brokerages. During her agency tenure, she was also actively involved in the user community, including time as the National Education Chair for ASCnet.
Champion Change – Key Considerations When Adopting New Insurance Agency or Brokerage Technology
Today, you are currently facing a number of changes in the industry – increasing industry consolidation, the evolving workforce and new consumer experience expectations. You are required to do more with less time, particularly smaller agencies or brokerages where individuals are asked to fill multiple roles and manage many disparate tasks. To ensure maximum productivity and technology gains, agencies and brokerages are reviewing their internal technology strategies to ensure their systems are advanced and flexible enough to respond quickly to new market opportunities.
Adopting or switching technology can be a daunting task – there are a number of associated resource requirements and expenses with these projects that require thoughtful consideration and planning. When evaluating implementation approaches and methodology, there are two distinct ways to view the move-forward strategy: one is focused on the best steps to champion change and the other lacks clear focus and purpose which can lead to a challenging transition. As shown below, these are two diverging paths – one ultimately leads to recognized benefit from the technology investment while the other leads to team frustration and adverse productivity.
How to Become a Change Champion at Your Agency or Brokerage
When evaluating if it is the right time to make a technology change – whether adopting a new self-service software or switching management systems – consider the following stages to success to become a change champion within your agency or brokerage:
- Awareness and Understanding:
Provide compelling business reasons for the change
As agencies and brokerages continue to evaluate their growth strategies – both organic and acquisitive – they are in tandem assessing their internal infrastructure to ensure it can support expansion. To support growth goals and continue to attract and retain new clients and employees, they require integrated software that delivers consistent workflows, standardized data, and a modern architecture that is scalable for growth. Consistent workflows provide your business with universal procedures across locations and office branches, as well as simplify employee on-boarding and training. Standardized data provides a single view into your agency’s or brokerage’s book of business, enabling you to better service your clients and identify opportunities to cross/upsell. Finally, as technology continues to become even more embedded across all enterprise functions, your business needs to look to software best built to integrate additional technologies such as mobile applications, business intelligence (BI) tools and customer self-service portals that will further drive business efficiencies and support superior client servicing.
- Engagement and Acceptance:
Change is a team effort – get everyone on board
In any organization, change management requires well-defined business benefits, objectives, and structured steps to be successful – and adopting new software is no different. Clearly communicating why change is needed and the benefits of implementing new software to all stakeholders in the transition helps to build buy-in from the start. Teams need to foster a partnership approach, examining strategic areas of the business to make operational, process and training improvements based on insurance technology best practices. Throughout the implementation process, your business will discover insights that increase ROI by optimizing business operations and service practices. Change is never easy, but by setting expectations and preparing your staff thoroughly, you can quickly derive benefits from your investment.
- Testing and Action:
How to avoid bumps in the road
Key focal points in your transition should be centered on data, workflows, staff education, and business continuity, ensuring that you maintain daily business operations to continue supporting clients and prospects. When beginning any software conversion, you should consider what data needs to be transitioned. When evaluating moving management systems, look at the process as being similar to moving to a new home: you take the time when moving to consider what items to move into your new home and what you no longer need; you don’t simply move everything from your existing home to the new one. When making the transition to a new management system, data quality is critical to your success. Also, focusing on workflow development can be critical in driving overall efficiency and reducing time spent onboarding employees to a new system. As implementation of a new management system can take up to several months, it is critical to involve employees consistently throughout the process. In doing so, your business can obtain critical insight on how your technology has been used to date and identify opportunities to better leverage your technology investment. Additionally, employees then feel more involved in the decision-making process and are motivated to support adoption of the new management system within your organization. I encourage you to identify “champions,” those eager and excited about the change, early in the transition process and involve them in every step along the way.
The means are worth the end
Many agencies and brokerages have been on the same systems for well over a decade, and their users are comfortable with the status quo. However, the benefits of modernizing agency and brokerage technologies outweigh the challenges of change. Advanced, integrated technology enables businesses to customize and automate operations, further improving staff productivity and allowing you to focus more time on attaining and servicing customers. The key to success is going in with realistic expectations, strong executive sponsorship, and a focused commitment to change.
What hesitations does your agency or brokerage face when it comes to changing technology, processes or procedures?
Kris Hackney, executive vice president of customer experience, is responsible for Applied’s customer delivery strategy and operational execution for the company’s Professional Services, Support and cloud-based solutions. She is the former vice president of Worldwide Enterprise Solutions & Services for Chicago-based SPSS Inc., a leading global provider of predictive analytics software and solutions, now part of IBM.
Advice on Data Migration from the Experts
Everyone’s been talking about data this year – how to secure it, analyze it, and why you should pay attention to it. It’s an important topic.
So what’s the key to improving the overall health of your business? Clear, accurate data.
The best way to streamline and organize your workflows? Managing your data.
Need to get everyone on the same page and boost client and agent relationships? Data again.
It’s definitely a big concern, and for those of you who are in the midst of or considering moving to a new management system, maintaining the health and integrity of your data is critical. As the VP of Technical Services at Applied Systems, I live, eat and breath data. Over the last five years we’ve managed more than 3,800 data migration and merger projects from multiple systems. This represents over 10,000 individual databases delivered within that same time period. We’re very familiar with some of the most common issues that agencies face. Some agencies see data migration as a daunting challenge and let this delay their conversation to a new system. Following a well-defined process makes this transition much smoother with less time and a faster return on investment.
Evaluate the Data in Your Current System
To make your move to a new system successful, you will need to spend time taking a thorough inventory of the data in your current system. Why? The answer is simple.
I recently read an article by Oracle that calls accurate data “the raw material that maximizes the value of enterprise applications.” In short, it’s what makes your new system worthwhile. Taking time to evaluate, organize and update your data at the beginning of the move will maximize the return once your new system is in place.
It’s likely that you’ll have data from the very beginning of your business and from every employee you’ve ever had. Not all of it will be necessary to move to the new system, so I recommend that as you evaluate, you determine the value of each portion of data, and make sure you keep a record of it.
Next, ask yourself some questions. When is the last time you examined your data? Have entries been kept up to date, or have they been duplicated or saved in different locations? How accurate is your policy and coverage information? What about lists of clients and prospects? You can utilize the reporting tools in your current system to generate a more accurate look at what data you have, and what might be missing.
That brings me to the next step: updating. This is something you’ll need to determine early, because there are two ways to do it. You can clean and modify your data prior to conversion, or you can manage it as part of the conversion process.
The key here is to acknowledge that the data conversion process is one of the most critical elements of the migration, and you will most likely have to make updates to your existing data. Be sure that your timeline includes enough time to make any and every correction you might need.
Develop a Data Transition Plan
Planning is one of the key steps to transitioning your data. You won’t just need to move it to a new system; you may also need to convert it into a new format that works better within the new framework. Creating a solid overall timeline with completion dates will help you lay out a roadmap to the conversion and migration process, and ensures that you include ample time to test your data.
In a recent article, Steve Forte of OneNote recommends doing “dry-runs with large data sets to flush out inconsistent source data,” and I couldn’t agree more. You’ll want to identify the areas where data is incomplete and inconsistent as early on in the process as possible to allow you time to run these tests.
Investing the time to make sure that the data you are migrating will be as accurate as possible in your new system is possibly the most important step you’ll take in this process. Treat the conversion of your data from the old system to the new with as much care and attention to detail as possible, and you’ll be much more likely to have a successful implementation.
Get Staff Up to Speed
Naturally, migrating to a new system will involve training for your employees, but you can significantly ease the process of transitioning by carefully planning the training process from the beginning. Besides ensuring that everyone is up to speed at the right time, requesting additional training for your staff creates additional resources when reviewing the data conversion process. When scheduling training courses, consider the dates of completion and aim to have all training completed by the time you’re ready to perform your data testing.
Remember, you have options with how you choose to manage getting data into your new system. Oracle recommends that you move your data to the new system in stages, and use both systems together until the new one is fully functional.
*In the implementation phase I recommend there should only be 1 system of record. Meaning, there is only 1 true production system. Prior to an activation date on the new agency management system, the system of record is the current agency management system. As data is converted, the data review and new system workflows should be tested repeatedly from the new system. This approach gives you additional time to ensure that staff are fully trained and comfortable with the new system. It also allows you to ensure that you have fully completed evaluating your data. You can catch any remaining gaps or incongruences that may need to be addressed prior to system activation.
Regardless of how you choose to go about the final implementation, making sure that your data is as accurate and up to date as possible is going to smooth the process immeasurably. It will also put your mind at ease. If you’ve taken care to ensure that everything is as complete as you can make it, then you’ve already done the hard part.
What tips do you have when it comes to data migration?
Dave DeGroot, vice president of technical services, is responsible for data migrations, integrations, and infrastructure assessments. DeGroot joined Applied in 1989, and since that time has participated in numerous product development initiatives including Applied TAM, Applied Vision, Applied Epic, and many custom development projects.