Posted on 15 Dec 09
In this issue we’re going back to basics to help our members in the coming year address persistent challenges that the state of the economy continues to present. Whether you are a carrier, wholesaler, MGA or a retailer…or your clients are big organizations, non-profits or mom and pops, we are all facing issues that can be stressful in the workplace. As such, we are talking with Gloria Willis, president of Gloria Willis Consulting, LLC, a firm that specializes in working with insurance agents and financial advisors to increase overall production through increased vision, alignment and action. Gloria also works as a business development coach with business owners.
Annie George (AG): Throughout 2009, we keeping reading/seeing another “say what” story in the news. First the banks needed bailouts, then several life insurers received TARP funding, followed by the automakers. Now Wall Street is back on track with big bonuses slated for payment but double-digit unemployment exists throughout the country. It’s disconcerting, especially when you have friends, associates, family members that have found themselves out of a job for the first time in their careers.
Gloria Willis (GW): “We’ve experienced unprecedented times, and there is a lot of fear that still needs to be allayed. Everyone has been affected by the economy; you may know someone who has been laid off from his/her job or you may know people who have lost some of their own retirement and confidence in the financial industry in this economic downturn. Whether they show it on the outside or not, there is a growing concern about financial security, retirement, and job stability.
“The Property/Casualty industry has not experienced the downturn that many other industries simply because insurance is needed. What we do find though is that consumers are increasingly savvy in what they purchase, how much they purchase, who they purchase it from and looking at how much it will cost. Consumers are more demanding about good customer service, therefore agents need to make contacting customers and determining how to best serve them a priority. Connecting with customers cannot be undervalued at this time as it is estimated that 80% are willing to change carriers if in fact they feel they will get better service or a better deal somewhere else. As their advisor, agents need to be more attentive, take the initiative to talk to clients, to review their policies before they ask or before renewal time, to make sure that everything is updated and to look for ways to provide savings without cutting back on what is needed…to make that connection.
“Also, when it comes to your employees, be sure to let them know the status of your own organization. Most are nervous about the economy as well, which ultimately affects their performance.”
A key area to review is your company’s mindset about negative press. How has the negative press about our industry affected your staff, your clients? “You want to be sure to convey the integrity of the firm to everyone affiliated with your company,” says Gloria. “Customers, prospects, agents, and vendors all need to know that you stand 100% behind your company and all the good things you are doing even if there are things you do not fully understand or even disagree with. The positive has to override any negative press that may be out there. Focus on the specific times when you helped your clients during an accident, when a family member passed on and you had a check for them, or when helping someone relocate their service, business to your city. Find a way to get that message out to the public and rehearse it in your meetings. Keep asking ‘what else can we do?’ Connect with clients whenever you can.”
AG: What else can you do with your staff to make sure communication is open and you’re all on message?
GW: “You need to manage fear among your staff. You can be proactive in this area by implementing structures to ensure your people are given opportunities to speak up about important things. Creating a culture that supports open and honest communication frees up salespeople, producers and customer service reps to provide better service, while helping to retain staff.”
Listed below are ways to help you build a culture of support within your company:
• Hold regular meetings. Schedule meetings each week at the same time to discuss challenges, goals, strategies, possibilities, and customer service. Both team and individual meetings are needed. Have an agenda for your meetings. Use the meeting as a place for team members to discuss concerns and talk about what they’re experiencing at their desks. Facilitate a “what is working and what is not” discussion. This should not be a gripe session but rather a place where people can check in, get their questions answered. It also serves as a way to reinforce what is positive about your work. You are looking for a way to engage your people and meetings are an excellent way to do this, both individual and group.
• Policies/procedures. Implement clear policies and procedures for consistently handling issues within your agency. Make sure you adhere to them and use your meetings to discuss policies and procedures. Provide feedback on how effective they are being and where changes are needed. Again, this is another opportunity to get team members involved and to safely address issues.
• Roles, responsibilities, accountability. Give each person a specific role and make sure he or she is accountable for the responsibilities of that role. This is a way to build loyalty and self-esteem among staff members. It is empowering for people to have a unique role that’s matched to their skills within the company. Opportunities to delegate responsibilities become more obvious as you form these roles.
• Set goals. Develop, share goals with staff members and work to accomplish them together on a regular basis. Meetings geared to where you are currently and where you are going become motivational and serve to keep communication open. Set non-financial goals as well. Give recognition and appreciation frequently.
• Leadership skills. Good leaders must be good communicators. They lead the way, and engage their people by looking for the best in them. Asking for input and sharing expertise encourages openness and honesty in communication and provides a platform where everyone “leads”. This is a good sign of a healthy company.
• Provide useful feedback. Giving useful and genuine feedback can prevent an employee from leaving, and can help him/her to become motivated. Avoidance magnifies problems. Giving feedback can be uncomfortable, but it is almost always appreciated and serves to provide an atmosphere of teamwork. People want to know how they are doing and where they need to improve. The energy is more positive in your company when you give useful feedback.
• Track your results. Tracking results serves both agent and staff and provides a clear direction for training, discussion, and celebration. Tracking promotes clarity as to what to work on, and serves as a foundation for future growth and change.
• Rewards and recognition. Setting up rewards and recognition is key to consistent production and a more committed staff. Create a venue to publicly recognize outstanding production and contribution. Give appreciation frequently and use rewards as a vehicle for finding out more about your people and how they are motivated.
• Have a business plan. A business plan provides a blueprint for your success. It will include all your streams of income, your target audience, information about your competition and a marketing plan. Refer to it often. Most importantly, a business plan provides focus for a business and direction. It helps keep everyone moving towards the goals most important to your growth and success. Completing a simple one-page plan will help you focus in on what is important and where you may be deviating.
“It’s much easier to manage and communicate with people when we have systems in place and opportunities built in for accountability. Your people make it all work.”
Gloria also underscores maintaining a positive attitude, positive energy and positive language to convey what you want. “You have to be upbeat and genuine. People are drawn to that level of confidence and the positive. While these times are challenging, they also are filled with opportunity. Keep talking to clients, prospects and staff because they want to talk to you now more than ever before.”
About Gloria Willis
A former life insurance agent, Gloria is the author of Explode Production with Sound Business Practices, a book and CD series released last month, which outlines some best practices for growing an insurance business. You can reach Gloria at: 504-342-2177 or via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.