The advent of the personal computer almost 30 years ago kick-started a cycle of technological revolution that continues to this day. During this time we've witnessed insurance agencies evolve from being non-automated to becoming completely dependent on technology to function.
From personal computers to smart phones, new technologies come along that make prior technologies obsolete with a disturbing regularity.
Indeed, the pace of change has been so rapid that most of us have little time to make full use of today's technological wonders, never mind plan for tomorrow.
Managing the day-to-day business of an agency consumes enough time and energy. Keeping ahead of new technology is all but impossible.
The good news is that some people believe the pace of change may finally be slowing. Basic software such as operating systems, word processing, spreadsheets, etc., may have reached a point of maturity where any new changes are likely to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
Meanwhile, the requirement to completely replace all of your systems and possibly reorganize the way you do business every few years may be disappearing.
The bad news is that if there are revolutionary technologies on the way, it is doubtful that anyone can accurately predict them.
For example, the Internet went from an academic conclave to wide public acceptance in just a few short years, but in the same time the perennially touted potential of voice recognition software has yet to fulfill its promise.
Because no one knows what the next big thing will be, a wise insurance agent should be neither on the bleeding edge nor overwhelmed to the point of paralysis.
Instead, agents should endeavor to be aware of new technologies but be prudent in their adoption.
There are many technologies emerging today that are already proven but are not in widespread use.
Many agents have overlooked the following technologies that are both easy and inexpensive to implement and also have clear and immediate benefits.
o Multiple Monitors Boost Productivity:
Desktops have moved from horizontal to vertical. Today agents do more work on their screen than on their physical desktop, yet their monitor is only a fraction of their workspace.
Imagine if your desktop was the size of a single sheet of paper. You would spend more time moving items to the top of the pile to see them than you would accomplish any real work.
Today's workflows require agents and customer service representatives to have simultaneous access to management software, rating systems, carrier Web sites, e-mail and more.
Flat-screen monitors have become quite economical. Every agency should have as many large monitors as possible. Setting up multiple monitors with one computer is not difficult, and the time savings and increased staff productivity will soon pay for the investment.
o Real-Time Inquiry Provides Instant Benefits:
This is undoubtedly the single most useful software feature ever created for agents. Real-time inquiry is the process of clicking a button on the customer screen of an agency management system and instantly viewing related customer information from the carrier's Web site--such as billing, claims or policy detail.
Real-time inquiry eliminates the time-consuming process of opening a browser, navigating to a carrier site, logging in, and entering search criteria for customer and policy information. This functionality is built into all management systems at no extra cost to the agent.
To take advantage of this feature, an agency only needs to do some limited configuration. There is virtually no training and the benefits are instantaneous.
Every agency should be taking full advantage of real-time features with all of their carriers. Unfortunately, many aren't. So you can gain a service advantage by doing it now.
o Remote Access Brings Your Office With You:
When visiting a client or working from home, your effectiveness is limited by the fact that you do not have access to all of the information in your office.
Remote access software can let you key into your office workstation from any device on the Internet. You just get on your laptop or desktop computer, log on, and now you're working on your office computer, and you can do everything you can do at the office.
You don't have to worry about finding or saving different files on different computers, because you're using your office system.
Once expensive and complex, remote access is now available through several popular options that are surprisingly inexpensive and easy to configure. (Some of the top choices include GoToMyPC, LogMeIn and CoPilot.)
o Social Media Put A Face On Your Agency:
Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blogging are easy and inexpensive ways for agents to keep in touch with their clients while at the same time developing a larger brand presence that would be cost-prohibitive with traditional media.
And social media outlets aren't just for youngsters anymore.
Millions of adults from their 20s to their 80s are using social media daily. Chances are someone in your office already spends a good deal of time with social media. Why not put their expertise and energy to work building your agency brand?
Today's volatile economic climate leaves little room for error, and veteran agents know not to take their success for granted.
Every agency needs to take advantage of real solutions for cost reduction, businesses development and customer service.
Technology is leading the way for even the smallest of agencies to quickly access information and provide clients with the type of service that today's consumers demand. Being up to date and nimble is the key, no matter what size your agency is.
To stay competitive, agents need to keep an eye on the future but should put their energy today into maximizing benefits of emerging but proven technologies.
Christopher R. Baker is president of Special Agent Inc. (www.SpecialAgent.com) in Holbrook, Mass., a full-featured insurance agency management system. He can be reached at 800-842-0450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.