In an automation rut? Move the paint can

There is an old joke about a man hired to paint lane lines on a highway. The first day he painted a line about a mile long, the second day only a half mile, by the third just a quarter of a mile. At the end of the week his boss asked, "What happened? You started out great, but every day you paint less and less." His reply: "I keep getting farther from the paint can!"

I thought of this joke recently when I was helping an agent with a question he had about his agency management software. In the course of answering his question, I mentioned a fairly common feature. The agent got excited and said, "I didn't know you could do that!" He had been doing things the hard way when a quicker and easier solution was right in front of him.

We've all been guilty of something like this at one time or another. We're all so busy doing the task in front of us that we don't take time to see if there is a better or more efficient way to do our jobs.

Most software is big and complex--especially agency management systems. No one uses every feature in a program. This is natural because most software is designed for many different users with different goals. Right now, there are probably plenty of features in your current system that you have no use for, but I'll bet there are also lots of valuable functions that you don't even know about.

Over time, you invest a lot in your agency management system: dollars for purchase and maintenance, time in learning and developing procedures around your system, and effort in gathering data about existing clients and prospects.

To unlock the value in your system, you will have to invest a little more to educate yourself to discover and take advantage of its capabilities. From experience, I've found that a few of the overlooked areas are:

Real time. I think this is the single most exciting feature in agency management software. Ever. Real time is the term used to describe the feature of one-click access to policy, billing and claims information on a carrier Web site. It doesn't cost anything extra--all systems include it as part of their basic functionality. It only takes minutes to set up and seconds to learn. The benefits are immediate and the payback in terms of time savings to staff and prompt customer service are huge. Real time's time has come.

E-mail management. All systems have a facility for capturing client e-mail addresses and sending e-mail. You'll have a complete record of exactly what you sent to each client over time.
You should be gathering e-mail addresses and communicating by e-mail wherever possible. It is far more efficient and less expensive than snail-mail and usually more efficient than telephone tag. There is a good chance that if you asked, most customers would prefer to be contacted via e-mail over any other method.

Prospecting. You have invested a lot in gathering and maintaining data about your clients. Use the marketing functions in your system to make the most of it. You can slice and dice customer information many different ways. Identify cross-selling opportunities, target niche markets, or just stay in touch with existing clients.

Eliminating rekeying--data integration. If you find yourself entering the same data over and over into different screens and different systems, you and your staff are wasting time. There probably is a better way. If you can't figure out a better way, ask your software vendor. If they don't have a better way, then ask why not!

These are the most common overlooked areas, but your system probably has many other unique functions and shortcuts that could have just a big a payback for a very small additional investment in learning.

Take some time to read the manuals, watch training videos, participate in webinars, go to user group meetings, attend classes, or just spend some time playing with the software. Encourage your staff to do the same. Take advantage of every learning opportunity your vendor offers.

Use whatever method works for you--everyone learns differently. Just don't expect to get everything in one shot. Learning should be continuous.

"Moving the paint can" takes a little effort, but it's a lot easier than trudging back and forth.

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