It might surprise you to hear a software company say, “There really is no substitute for great people” – particularly a company that is pushing the envelope on automation. But that’s precisely what EZLynx believes. Automation shouldn’t be a tool to replace people. Instead, it’s a way to make good people great. With automation, your great people are more effective, more efficient, and can focus their time and energy on tasks that add the most value to the agency.
Put another way, a great person’s time is too valuable to be squandered. But that’s exactly what’s happening when a valued member of your agency staff spends time on the types of activities that would be performed so much better by technology.
Personal relationships are the lifeblood of the independent insurance industry. These relationships are the engine behind an agency’s growth and what sets it apart from its local competition. But as an agency grows, all-too-important personal touches become increasingly difficult to administer. These personal touches take time, and that’s time that could otherwise be spent cultivating new business.
So, how can you continue to both improve and scale your customer value as you grow? The answer is automation. Automation is an obvious time-saver (less time servicing, more time selling), but its advantages don’t stop there. Automation’s real advantage is the many ways it can improve what you do, not just how fast you do it.
Everybody wants automation. But if you ask them why, you’ll probably receive a generic response about increasing efficiency. Let’s get more specific and identify four ways automation can help improve the performance of an independent agency.
Offload repeatable tasks. There are things you do every day that don’t require difficult decisions, or really much thought at all. Some examples are sending a notification when a customer pays their premium or an overdue notice when they don’t. Running end-of-day reports also falls into this category. Not surprisingly, the most common use of automation is offloading these repeatable tasks. Agents should spend their time selling, not copying and pasting boilerplate text into emails – and automation frees them up to do so.
Minimize errors. Let’s face it, humans make mistakes – we make typos, we select the wrong option from a menu, and we commonly get busy and forget a step. Automation rules can create tasks for each step in the process, or even complete the steps without a person needing to be involved. The overall effect is that fewer steps in common processes are left to chance.
Create and enforce SOPs. A less used benefit of automation is to create and enforce standard operating procedures [SOPs] for your agency. When you’re a small agency, it’s relatively easy to train your staff to follow uniform procedures. Staff training can become a major barrier, however, when scaling up a business. Automation can define repeatable processes by creating tasks for your common workflows, and it can also enforce SOPs by checking off tasks as they are completed.
Identify high-value activities. High-value activities for an agent are things like cross-selling, identifying new opportunities or educating customers about the value of the product you’re recommending. But it’s not always easy for an agent to know which activities have the highest value. Automation can help identify these opportunities – Which customers have a homeowner’s policy, but not auto? Which customers would benefit from umbrella coverage? – and raise them to the top of an agent’s task list. It can help identify customers at risk and drive the agent to proactively retain the business.
Again, the real value of automation is in empowering people to focus on activities that add value. Never lose track of the fact that your people are still the most important part of any process, and keep these processes focused on the customer experience.
With that in mind, we like to follow these best practices at EZLynx:
Augment customer contact, don’t replace it. It’s tempting to let automation handle customer communications on the servicing side, but this diminishes the value you provide as an independent agent – that personal touch. Let automation increase your customer touchpoints, not replace the ones you have. For example, a policy renewal event is a good cross-selling opportunity, and a phone call might have a higher success rate than an automated email. So automate a quick email to the customer on the renewal status, and then follow up with a phone call to discuss their coverage.
Don’t try to fake out your customers. People today are used to, and appreciate, automated emails – under the right conditions. Notifications that documentation has been completed or payment was received are excellent candidates for automation. But if you attempt to pass off an automated email as personal communication, your customers will see through it.
Remember exceptions. A rule that works 95% of the time might not be so great the other 5%. If your automation rule sends an email to customers, do you want that email going to every customer or only a portion of them? Maybe you’re OK with the email being sent to all customers, or maybe you can handle the exceptions in the automation rule. But if neither option works, this might not be a good process to automate.
Automation isn’t meant to replace great people, but it can make them greater. An effective strategy is key – make sure you identify your automation goals, and make sure your implementation keeps the customer experience front and center. And once things are automated, let your great people do their thing.