We hope you had a chance to read Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 and found the information from Dina Buxton, director of communications and development at Crane Agency, and Kerrie Koestner, vice president of employee development at FBinsure, to be helpful as you navigate this new normal.
In case you haven’t read either part yet, 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 feature advice from one of the panelists from our webinar, Agency Roundtable: Our Digital Path Forward.
To conclude the series, we’ll hear from Kelley Herrin, owner of Jack Bradley Agency located in Northeast Georgia.
Sarah Ratcliffe: How has your business transitioned to a remote workforce?
Kelley Herrin: Well, we did not have anybody working virtually before COVID-19. We did add a third office location back in January and I think that helped us with the transition because we were already virtually connecting with each other and with our customers. We had also already added a bunch of digital forms to our intranet.
It also helped that our phone system was portable. We only have one receptionist so she was already accustomed to answering the phone for all three locations. It was just a matter of getting everybody's phones taken home, plus a few additional pieces of equipment to make it work. We made the decision to move to remote operations on a Friday, and by Monday, we were almost fully operational. Being a smaller agency, we don’t have an IT department so I counted on my team and learned a lot through this process.
SR: How is your agency staying connected with customers while physically apart?
KH: Initially we sat down with our team to discuss how we wanted to up our game when it came to response times. We didn’t want customers to know that we were no longer in our office. We all agreed as a group that we would respond to questions, whether it came from a phone call or email, faster than we had ever done before.
Commercial clients actually got a phone call from our team assuring them that we were here for them. Our producers had to have a lot of hard conversations about things that weren't going to be covered but we wanted to address this early on.
When we first moved to remote operations, we put notifications on our office doors letting customers know that our physical offices were closed but that we were still here for them. When we had pushback from customers about the decision to close our offices, we made sure to let them know that we were doing this to keep them and our staff safe. Now after several weeks of quarantine, we don’t have customers demanding to come in anymore. I think everyone is getting used to the new digital way of doing things.
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?
KH: We already had Slack in place but we typically don't use Slack for communicating with each other about customer questions or client issues. It's always been more of a motivational tool to keep staff connected.
We’ve always had a staff meeting on Tuesday mornings and were able to continue this with Zoom. We tried to stick to the same format as our in-person meeting so we sent out an agenda before the meeting to help us stay on track. Part of our staff meeting has always been each person takes 60 seconds to share something that can help somebody else. I was glad we continued this tradition because it helped us learn something new every week. I had never even set up a Zoom meeting myself before the pandemic so I was thankful that it’s an easy tool to use. Zoom meetings have also played a vital role in training. Our office manager is about to go on maternity leave so I’ve been training other staff members via Zoom on her role.
SR: What are you most hopeful for as we look ahead?
KH: The pandemic has given me time to think. Initially when we went home, I think our customers were in the same position that we were in with scrambling to get in a new routine. So we had a couple of weeks where things were a little quieter than normal. The time that I had during that transition period allowed me to step back and really think about where I wanted my agency to be in the next 10 years. We were already very focused on becoming a digital agency. I'm hoping this situation will put us on the fast track for becoming one. Moving forward, my focus will be on making it easier for my staff to do their jobs and for customers to do business with us.
SR: Are there any silver linings you’ve experienced during this time?
KH: Personally, I've learned to cook. I’ve called my mother more in the last month and a half because she's a great cook so she is probably tired of hearing from me.
This experience has also taught me that my staff is way more flexible and can adapt to more than I ever expected. I have never been a person that was afraid of change but what this has taught me is that big changes in short periods of time are possible. No need to keep thinking about it, just jump into the deep end.