It is no exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every organisation and every individual throughout the UK to some degree. Now, more than a half a year into the crisis, what the world might look like on the other side of this unprecedented event is steadily becoming clearer.
In those tumultuous early weeks of the initial lockdown, it was irritating to hear the phrase ‘the new normal’ being bandied about, noted Nic Brown, sales and marketing director, National Markets at Markel UK. At the time and, to some degree even now, many organisations are still operating in a business continuity planning (BCP) environment with key members of staff who should be office-based still having to work from home. Only recently are most businesses starting to enter the space where they can start to track what shape the future of work might take.
The first lockdown was not the time to start proclaiming what the new normal might look like, he said, but instead to accept that the situation facing everybody was the furthest thing from normal and one that needed his team to go the extra mile. For Markel UK, those early weeks were dedicated to enacting business continuity planning and meeting the challenge of ensuring everybody within the organisation could work from home.
“It wasn’t good enough just to keep the lights on,” he said, “we needed to be able to operate as effectively [as before], if not more so, because our customers were also experiencing difficult times. So we had the double challenge of not just executing our BCP but doing so really quickly and really efficiently. And I think we did a very good job in terms of keeping our teams focused and proactively dealing with broker and customer queries.”
Brokers have been faced with significant challenges during this time, he said, as they work with lots of SMEs, many of which are really struggling through the crisis. From adapting to remote working technologies, to managing their budgets, to managing renewal prices, to the pressures associated with getting the right outcomes for customers, particularly with the uncertainty surrounding providers potentially withdrawing from markets, brokers are under extra pressure.
“[Also] between different exclusions going in and different pricing approaches, brokers are being faced with very challenging market conditions,” he said, "and I think, in the main, they have adapted to that incredibly well.”
Something that the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted has been the need for the dissemination of high-quality content in the face of so much information and misinformation. After the lockdown, Brown noted, there were a lot of customers whose businesses had been interrupted due to closure during the shut-down and who were making claims. Markel UK utilised expertise from its legal and tax consultancies to produce over 200 pieces of in-depth content to directly assist its brokers and customers, and to enable its brokers to help their customers manage queries around furlough and take advantage of any available grants.
Going forward, there is no doubt that the pandemic will continue to impact the way that the team works, he said, but it’s too soon to be able to tell exactly what those changes will be. Right now, the focus has to be on maintaining customer-centricity and supporting staff who may be struggling with the impact of working from home for such a long time. The need to focus on keeping people motivated and well supported is especially essential right now as, should another long stretch of lockdown occur, the same urgency which drove the initial stage would likely no longer be present.
“The social element of work, especially when you’re in a sales and marketing environment and dealing with external clients is a big motivator for a huge number of people that work in the industry,” he noted. “And the end of not having any kind of face to face interaction will be very welcome.
“[However] I’m not sure that, as an industry, we will go back to conducting business in the way we have been before. So, I’m really looking forward to getting back to face to face but I’m also looking forward to trying to reinvent the way relationships are managed. And I think that’s going to be a really exciting challenge.”