Most of us don’t think very much about how we communicate to our carriers and even less about how we communicate to each other—but both are important factors in our success in new business development and existing business retention.
Let’s look at carriers first
In handling an account submission or renewal, the first step is to keep in mind the recipient of our communication. It’s usually not the marketing rep who visits your office periodically, gently reminding to write more business with the company. Rather, it is often the overloaded, perhaps underpaid insurance underwriter, who has too many files to handle and too little time to accomplish it satisfactorily. So try to be empathetic and keep in mind the following when sending in a new or renewal submission:
- Anything you can do to make their jobs easier will inure to your benefit
- Acknowledge their problems, either in writing or during a phone conversation
- Figure how you might help them while asking them to help you.
I can pretty much guarantee that your underwriter will not have received a letter or email like that; at the very least, it’s bound to make a positive impression and create a more collaborative environment. Don’t forget, though: You have to follow through on all your future submissions.
The other thing to keep in mind is the need to be professional, concise and accurate in all memos and conversations. If it’s a submission, take the time to make sure all of the information you know the underwriter will need is included so he/she doesn’t have to chase you for it. Time is a precious resource for everyone, so be mindful of not needlessly wasting it. It’s okay to be informal, but it’s not okay to be sloppy.
Poor communications within the agency can seriously hamper an effective and efficient submission process. Just because we may have a collegial working relationship with our colleagues does not mean we can or should overlook how to communicate effectively. A few caveats to keep in mind:
- Respond, respond, respond. Staff members should not ignore requests for information from others in the agency or delay providing it. They too are under time constraints and having to constantly remind or chase down individuals for needed information will threaten that good working relationship.
- Use email, but don’t overuse. Endless strings of emails are testimony to the way in which matters that can be resolved in one simple conversation get dragged out needlessly. There’s a fine line between use and over-use, but learning to recognize it and realizing that the other person is within easy reach to speak with can often short-cut communication blockades.
- Don’t misinterpret. The other danger of over-reliance on email is how the reader can often misinterpret what is being written. Body language, intonation and explanation are all missing from an email, so be careful if you’re expressing anything other than strictly business matters.
- Keep staff current. If you’re in management, periodically update everyone on what’s going on in the agency. We talk about not wanting to have a "silo mentality" among our staffers, but managers need to discourage that kind of thinking by keeping everyone abreast of matters affecting the agency as a whole. A quarterly agency-wide meeting, or a periodic memo to everyone discussing how the agency is doing, goals achieved, marketplace updates, what carriers have recently been aggressive on what kinds of risks—this kind of information good for morale and broadens the perspective of everyone working for what you hope is a common objective.
- Encourage staff feedback. The best ideas usually come from the desk-level individual; they’re the ones who deal with the day-to-day issues and problems of writing business, and they’re the ones who can often see most clearly what kinds of ideas could have a positive impact on the transactional process.
You don’t have to bring back the old suggestion box outside the boss’s office, but encouraging an active feedback mechanism throughout the agency, both inter-departmentally and direct to the principals, can have a surprisingly advantageous effect on overall efficiency and morale.
But you really have to listen. If nothing happens after employees provide feedback, it will soon dry up. Act on every suggestion, whether it’s to implement it or explain why it cannot be implemented, at least at the present time. And thank anyone who comes forth with a suggestion or idea, using words to encourage that behavior in the future.
Having employees who feel they are well-regarded and an important part of the agency’s success will pay enormous dividends in creating the kind of atmosphere most agency owners would love to have. And it will make your entire processing function more effective and efficient.