Transformation Advisors, Inc.
B.I.G. Strategies for Business Excellence

STRATEGY: PROVIDE TOOLS TO DO THE JOB.

Now, more than ever, keeping your good customers and finding new ones is your number one priority. The best way to do that?  Make sure your business is the kind of place where people want to do their best work, by providing the tools they need to do their best work.

While we’re obviously not talking about hammers and saws, the analogy is apt. If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Using the wrong tool can be costly. And think how much longer and harder you must work to cut with a dull saw.

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Pamela A. Millard, CPCU

Pamela A. Millard, CPCU 530.295.1083

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Failing to keep your tools honed is costly. Especially in today’s economic turmoil, costs must clearly be weighed against the benefits.

Expecting producers and support staff to make do with the wrong tools, or tools that are out of date or poorly maintained, is like expecting them to work with one arm tied behind their back. During these tough times, when you’re asking them to go the extra mile, make sure their tools (or lack of them) aren’t obstacles.

Tools of the trade.
With all the high tech tools available, the days of typewriters and filing cabinets are long past.

Your employees need a set of ‘basic’ tools to help them deliver for your customers.

How effectively are you using the tools of your trade?

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“I think the hard thing about all these tools is that it takes a fair amount of effort to become proficient.”
             ~ Bill Joy

  • Telephones with headsets
  • Computers with multiple large screens
  • Desktop scanning and printing devices
  • An agency management sytem that facilitates* the best practices for managing customer information and supoports once-and-done processing
  • Competitive rating software to support initial pricing/oplacing decisions
  • High-speed Internet connections to make asccessing company websites fast and easy

The cost of providing these basic tools is not insignificant, to be sure. But the benefits in speed and efficiency are clear. When it’s time to replace or upgrade basic tools of the trade, it may be a false saving to delay making purchases. A system server stretched beyond capacity can be costly to replace but not doing so will be even more costly. Watching the screens paint is bad for morale and bad for the customer.

Think broadly.
Even the latest, greatest hardware and software tools won't be enough to get the job done unless there are some other things in place. Not all tools come with tangible price tags and costs are not always easily justified so it’s important to look critically at the tools you need and the cost/benefit effect.

Not all tools are “costly” in terms of dollars and cents. Think of tools as "anything used as a means of performing an operation or achieving an end." So, in the broadest sense, even the carrier markets you contract with become tools to help producers and customer service staff provide the protection your customers need.

Written, current, procedures and process, including standards for customer service and errors & omissions, are critical tools.  They ensure employees know what to do and how to do it.  So whether proposals are done in a full-function proposal system or as a word-processing template, they represent agency’s standards of professionalism – every time. The cost—the time required to keep procedures up to date—is well worth it. The cost of not keeping procedures is far greater. In addition, current, audited procedures are part of your commitment to your E&O carrier.

Training and education are critical tools needed to do the job. Some employees must complete minimum continuing educational requirements for licensing and insurance department regulations. If that is the total of all the training going on in your business, you’re failing to provide tools that help employees grow.  Sales training (even for non-producers), new products/approaches and industry trends, updates to internal systems and processes all help employees do their current jobs better. You’ll be helping your employees help your customers if you also look for training that will build bench strength for your organization. If you fail to help employees prepare for their next job in your agency, the best ones will find their own training to prepare them for their next job somewhere else.

Watch out for hidden costs.
While we’re on the subject of training, let’s talk about some ‘double-edged’ tools.   There is no question that email is a necessary tool for doing business today. But email can be a huge time waster. Make sure your staff knows how to use email effectively so it works for them instead of the other way around. If you feel like you and your staff are drowning in your inboxes, check this out

Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., etc.,) is also a tool. Like any tool, if it is right for the job and used skillfully, it can produce powerful results. But don’t assume that just because these sites are free, there is no cost.  To create a presence and maintain it—and do it well—someone is going to spend a noticeable amount of time. Just “being out there” isn’t enough to deliver any return on investment. Look at social media as a set of tools and decide if and how they can support your strategic marketing plan. If they can, be willing to make an investment. If not, then don’t waste your resources.

All tools are not created equal.
You may expect producers to complete ACORD apps or enter customer data into the management system but these are not the tools that support the sales process.  While the agency system vendors have made significant improvements in functionality, most do a marginal job of support for prospecting, lead nurturing, relationship building and pipeline management. The tools you provide your sales team should facilitate* your sales process.

And sales is not the only place where different jobs require different sets of tools. Accounting and Customer Service may use the same system but they don’t use it for the same activities or in the same way.

The best way to ensure that employees have what they need to do their jobs is to ask them. Seek regular feedback on how well systems and processes support the customer experience. Make investments in tools and training that truly meet the needs of the job.

Tools as perks.
Are company cars and cell phones tools or are they benefits provided to producers and owners to support their lifestyle? Likely some combination of each, depending on the models and plans. The key is to identify what portion of the cost supports which goals.  To the extent that they are a requirement of the job, or a component of competitiveness in the job market, they are tools. As such, you want to make sure the costs and utility are managed as you manage other tools. To the extent they are perks, you want to make sure you get some bang for that buck as well. Make sure employees know all the ways they are compensated and rewarded.

Good communication is the most important tool.
Perhaps the most important tool of all is effective communication. This may sound like a big “duh” but it is amazing, and amazingly common, to see “ineffective communication” as one of the issues most common in the employee surveys we conduct for agencies.  It’s not that there is too little talking. But there is often too little understanding. Good communication  that ensures everyone in the business is on the same path with the same set of goals and the same standards is a critical part of the tool set..

For a whole list of “infrastructure tools” that provide a foundation for delivering quality and consistency, check out this article. 

If you’re looking for ways to cut costs, take a look at your “tool kit.” Are you providing the tools your business needs to keep your existing customers and bring in new ones? Are you spending too much—or too little—to keep your tools well maintained and provide new tools that support your strategic goals? If you’re not sure, call us. We can help you find ways to cut costs without cutting productivity.

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