The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the workplace, industries, economies and relationships around the world. Overnight, it created personal isolation and pushed workforces to operate remotely. For some agencies, it revealed cracks in their operational foundation that were not previously apparent. Many found themselves scrambling to get the tools in place to enable remote working and stay in communication with their customers when face-to-face meetings were no longer an option. For other agencies, however, they rose to the challenge and were able to transition quickly to remote working and our new normal.
We thought it would be helpful to hear from some of these agencies on how they did it. Sarah Ratcliffe, vice president of agency and broker solutions at Applied, recently got together (via Zoom, of course) with three of your agency peers to discuss how their businesses have adapted and what advice they have for fellow agencies.
In this three-part series, we’ll feature advice from one of the panelists from our webinar, Agency Roundtable: Our Digital Path Forward. First up, Dina Buxton, director of communications and development at Crane Agency located in St. Louis, Missouri.
Sarah Ratcliffe: How has your business transitioned to a remote workforce?
Dina Buxton: So before COVID-19, we had a decent amount of staff already working remotely, which, I think, gave us a little bit of a leg up. However, there were others who had never worked from home before and were not prepared to do so. The decision to go remote happened very quickly but I would like to give a huge shout out to our IT department. They did an amazing job making sure everybody had the equipment and training they needed to be able to work remotely successfully. Within a week of making the decision to work remotely, we were fully operational.
SR: How is your agency staying connected with customers while physically apart?
DB: Communication has been key throughout this entire situation not only with respect to letting our clients know that we're there to serve them 24/7 and assist them with their needs but also keeping them educated on coverage changes and things that are happening in the insurance industry in relation to COVID-19 as a whole. We didn’t have a ton of clients coming into our office before this happened so the transition to remote work was pretty seamless. Our clients know that we're always accessible by phone and email.
From a communication perspective, we added a line in our email signature that linked to a page on our website with information on our work-from-home policy and additional resources available to our clients. To help them mitigate the crisis, we also increased the number of blogs we were publishing to make sure our clients were aware of changes occurring and had all the information they needed to get through this time. So, just making that information readily available to them to use in a variety of different formats and keeping those lines of communication open with social media, the website and email have just been really key in communicating with our clients.
SR: Do you have any stories on how your staff has stayed in touch with each other, communicated in difficult customer situations or any other stories you'd like to share on ways your staff have navigated this new environment?
DB: I would say engagement is definitely key. Before this, our management team typically met once a month. However, since this happened and we've all transitioned to work from home, we're now meeting every Friday. Then after that meeting, we take the meeting minutes and actually distribute them to the whole agency so everyone is aware of what each department is working on and what's been discussed.
Our HR department has also done a phenomenal job with engagement. Right now we've got virtual bingo going on and we're brainstorming a couple of other things to keep people engaged. We rolled out Microsoft® Office 365 last year and are now using Teams. Our producers are using Teams to communicate with their clients. Internally, we're using Teams for a majority of our meetings and using the chat feature to stay connected with our managers and the different teams throughout the agency. People will send fun things out during the day using the chat feature so it’s been a good tool to keep everybody uplifted and on the same page.
SR: How do you see this pandemic evolving your book of business?
DB: I think for some time there's been a conversation about transitioning from more of a generalist type philosophy on the broker side to a more specialized, targeted approach with brokers focusing on specific industry verticals and the services they can provide surrounding those verticals. I've been in this role now for almost five years and a big part of it has been producer development. We've been working on giving the producers the tools they need to move in that direction. I think moving forward it’s going to be important for brokers to be targeted and focused on their class of business and bring more than just an insurance product to the table. Obviously, that's very important, but it’s also about the services that we can provide and the carriers that we bring to the table. It’s about really emphasizing that we are a respected advisor and a business partner to our clients. This is something that we've been working on leading up to this time, but I think it's definitely going to continue to be a focus moving forward.
SR: What are you most hopeful for as we look ahead?
DB: Before COVID-19, we had adopted technology and were on the path to being a digital agency. But we had those few who wanted to hold onto the of the old ways of doing things. The current situation really motivated these team members to embrace our digital tools.
There has also been a change in attitude overall with how effective you can be working remotely. This situation has shown us that you don't have to be in the office every day to get your job done. In fact, some have said they can get more done working remotely. So I just think it's given us a whole new perspective about what the future is going to look like for the insurance industry.
SR: Are there any specific technologies that we've provided to you that are helping and are there any other ways that we can help you?
DB: We were an early adopter of eSignature and had a few team members using the product but the larger rollout was stalled. With this current situation though, we've recently transitioned from Right Signature to DocuSign and that's been a game changer. It’s improved our workflows and allowed us to be paperless. We're really excited about the latest release of Applied Epic® with round-trip eSignature integration that allows signed documents to be automatically attached in the system. We are always looking at different ways to partner with Applied on technology and appreciate our partnership.
SR: Are there any silver linings you’ve experienced during this time?
DB: I would say the pace has been slower. It's not that I'm working less, I think we are all working a little bit more just because there's really nothing else to do but the pace is slower. It’s allowed me to take a step back, refocus efforts and get things done that have been pending for a while, which has been really nice.
I'm also very appreciative of Crane Agency and the leadership for taking to heart people's concerns. They’ve tried to do everything right, from transitioning everybody home safely to making sure we're taking care of our clients and being very slow, methodical and smart about when to bring people back to the office. I would almost say that communication and collaboration has gotten better because we're all very hyper-focused on making sure that everyone is engaged and on the same page.