Working from home is the new normal. And will be for some time. Yes, most states are re-opening after strict lock downs in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. But your staff may be worried about returning to the office full time. And the experts may be right: a second wave of the virus in the Fall could send us all back home.Besides, working from home can make your team more productive. Even when you don’t have to, you may want to have your team work remotely, at least part-time.
Managing remote workers can be a challenge. There are best practices, however. The folks at Staples, through Staples Connect, have gathered a number of helpful articles on remote work. One is aptly titled, Lessons Learned in Remote Team Management. The key takeaways include:
- Keep your team aligned.
- Show the work.
- Maintain the sense of team.
- Make quick decisions with clear directions.
- Look after your employees.
- Celebrate wins.
The full article is well worth your time.
One thing the article does not mention, but I would be remiss to ignore, is to provide your team with the right tools they need. For insurance agencies, that means the right software. You know, software like, NextAgency. NextAgency is an agency management system for life and health agents. We help you and your team stay aligned and organized. We also provide CRM, marketing and commission management tools.
Implementing best practices and using NextAgency can help your agency thrive no matter what the future holds.
The Coronavirus is going to change the way we do business, at least in the near term. That is simply a reality.
Our prior post, Thinking About Having Staff Work From Home?, was based on an email we sent out last week. It described how NextAgency can support your staff working remotely. Our message was that providing staff with flexibility could be good for your business. And that NextAgency was an important part of making remote work effective.
That email went out before health organizations and local governments began recommending that businesses let employees work from home. What a difference seven days can make.
That post also promoted many of you to ask a couple questions: Do my employees need to work from home? And how do I help my staff work from home?
As for the first question ….
Do My Employees Need to Work from Home?
In some parts of the country (sorry Seattle and New York), absolutely. Elsewhere, maybe not. At least not yet. However, the odds are you eventually will. The virus is spreading exponentially. Which means if it’s not in your neck of the woods yet, it is probably arriving soon.
Our previous post noted how enabling staff to work remotely can increase productivity and morale. The Coronavirus epidemic provides another reason to consider this step: employees working from home makes it harder for the virus to spread.
To be clear, working from home will not prevent you or your colleagues from getting the disease. That is always a possibility. But it could delay you getting it. And that means more time for health professionals to understand the disease and develop treatments.
There’s another reality. In certain Coronavirus hotspots you may not have a choice. We may soon see local governments requiring companies to permit telecommuting. In New York, the Governor today created a containment area that closes locations where large groups of people gather. This may include office buildings.
Whether voluntary or not, your office may need to close. Which leads to the second question.
How Can You Help Your Staff Work from Home?
Enabling your staff to work from home takes some thought and planning. You can’t just send folks home and ask them to “get to work.”
Fortunately, remote work has become relatively common in 2020. That means there are best practices available. Finding them is just an online search away. To get you started, here is a Fast Company magazine article with some worthwhile ideas.
Enabling your staff to work from home just requires some common sense. And remembering you are an insurance agency.
- HIPAA still applies. Your employees will need to secure personal health information they have at home. They need to make sure screen savers are enabled.
- Computers are mandatory. It’s hard to work from home without a computer. And you probably don’t want to have people using their home computer to store files. Of course, if they’re using cloud-based platforms like NextAgency, that’s not an issue. The key is to avoid having business (and PHI) stored on home computers.
- Keep connections secure. Make sure your team uses a reputable VPN. These can be used to enable colleagues to access your office servers. But even if you’re entirely in the cloud, a VPN can assure that communications are more provide. NordVPN is a good option, but there are others.
- Keep in touch. You may be working in different places, but you’re still a team. You need to continue to act like one. Agree on a video conference tool you’ll all use (e.g., Zoom or Skype, both of which are easy to use and have free versions). Hold regular web staff meetings to stay connected. And use these tools to reach out whenever you’d otherwise drop by their office.
- Enable secure access to information. This is where a modern, cloud-based agency management system like NextAgency comes in. NextAgency keeps all your data and forms handy. They enable you to assign and monitor tasks and client activity. You can upload your commissions, run reports to analyze your business, and even launch marketing campaigns. All from your home.
Make Your Office Safer, Too
Maybe thinking about remote work is premature for your situation. That doesn’t mean you should ignore what’s happening. You’re probably washing your hands more often than you have before. Pay attention to workplace hygiene, too. The Centers for Disease Control provides advice on keeping your office safe.
In addition, be sure to regularly clean shared surfaces. This includes copy machines, scanners, fax machines, and even the microwave in your breakroom.
This Wired magazine article describes how to clean your cell phone. It covers how to safely clean your computer, too. These methods apply to other office machines as well.
Keep up to date on the Coronavirus. Don’t, however, succumb to despair or panic. The Coronavirus epidemic is not a hoax. It is also not the apocalypse. There are simple, common sense steps you can take to protect yourself, your colleagues and your family. Take them.
You will hear a lot of nonsense, but there are resources that can help you separate facts from myths, too. For example, this information from the World Health Organization.
As insurance agencies we’re used to thinking about risk. This, however, is usually in the context of risks faced by our clients. Now is the time to prepare against the risks your business faces as well.
Here’s an interesting trend. Businesses large and small are encouraging employees to work from home. Reports show remote workers are as or more productive than those who working every day in an office. And their morale improves, as well. And these results happen whether employees work remotely all the time or just a day or two a week.
Enabling your team to work from home requires the right technology. Video conference tools like Zoom or Skype are critical. As important: a powerful, modern agency management system like NextAgency.
With NextAgency your office is wherever you have an internet connection. Need to see the latest notes about a client? It’s there. Same for carrier information and forms. Want to track a colleagues progress on an important task? It’s right there.
With NextAgency you can launch a newsletter, reach out to renewing groups, analyze sales and manage commissions wherever you are.
Learn more about how NextAgency can help your life or health agency at one of our weekly webinars. During the demonstrations you’ll see how NextAgency can save you time, money and clients.
You’ll discover how to sign-up for our no-risk 14-day free trial and receive a code to save 25% on our already affordable license fees.*
NextAgency helps you more effectively and efficiently run your business. We can also enable you increase staff productivity and morale by giving them the flexibility to work wherever they are.
*25% savings promotion in effect at time this email was sent. It is a limited time offer, subject to change.
This email was originally sent on 3/2/20
This email was sent on February 9, 2020:
Want to send newsletters to your clients? Contact hundreds of prospects at once? Is expensive email campaign software overkill for what you need?
Good news. We’re rolling out NextAgency 3.0. And email marketing a part of the package.
NextAgency is agency management software for life and health insurance agencies with CRM and commission management tools. And now we’ve added the ability to blast emails and newsletters. Our agency management system makes it easy to understand your prospects and clients. Then launch email campaigns and newsletters with the right message to the right person. It’s fast. It’s easy.
Learn more about email campaigns and what else is new with NextAgency 3.0 at one of our weekly webinars. This week’s webinar is Tuesday, February 11th. Space is limited, however, so please RSVP now. During the demonstration you’ll see all the ways NextAgency saves you time, money and clients. And you’ll learn about our no-risk 14-day free trial and receive a code to save 25%.*
*25% savings promotion in effect at time email was sent. It is a limited time offer, subject to change.
I am honored that California Broker magazine has asked me to write a monthly column for their publication. The magazine has been an important resource for insurance agencies in the Golden State for decades. I’ve written numerous articles for them over the year, but this is the first time I’m doing a regular column.
Since the topics I’m writing on are not geographically limited, I thought I’d share them here as well. This first article, Putting Politics Into Perspective, published in the January issue, explains why there is almost no chance of Medicare for All becoming law in the next administration. While the COVID-19 epidemic changes the calculus slightly, I stand by the conclusion made here. Unless something remarkable happens in the Fall, there simply won’t be the votes needed to enact legislation this sweeping. The article has been slightly edited since its publication.
Putting Health Care Reform in Perspective
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day events that comprise America’s politics. Like an easily distracted dog, every day brings another squirrel. Or three.
By the time you read this, for instance, cable news is no doubt obsessing over the twists and turns of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. (As I write, the Judiciary Committee is getting ready for its first hearing, but where this road leads is pretty easy to map). Once the trial is over, the news channels will resume fixating on the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. That means we’ll be hearing a lot more about Medicare For All, Medicare For All Who Want It and all the other permutations that are healthcare reform in 2020.
A winning issue
In the 2018 mid-term elections healthcare reform played a critical role in helping Democrats capture a majority in the House of Representatives. That’s in part because Republicans badly botched their “repeal and replace” approach to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), misplacing the “replace” part of the formula. For Democrats, healthcare reform is a winning issue. They’ll keep it front and center in 2020.
Listening to politicians debate an issue that could devastate your profession and livelihood can be … upsetting. Especially when the issues involve something as complex as healthcare reform and the politicians, by choice and necessity, talk in generalities and principles that often only glancingly connect with reality.
For example, the Democratic Presidential Debates over the past few months have spent considerable time on the need to fix America’s healthcare system. They often fail to separate health insurance practices from, say, pharmaceutical company pricing decisions. There should be a warning on the screen: Politicians conflating insurance policies covering the cost of care and providers setting the cost of care may lead to indigestion and high blood pressure.
Or consider the appropriation of Medicare to sell a single-payer system. Any and every health insurance professional knows that when candidates talk about Medicare For All they are not referring to Medicare As It Is Today. Medicare As It Is Today includes premiums, co-pays, deductibles, coverage limits and more. It limits costs by setting reimbursement levels for doctors, hospitals and other providers. Medicare For All includes no cost-sharing. And it sets prices providers can charge–a fact no politician will emphasize.
However, Medicare As It Is Today is popular. Co-opting the term “Medicare” for a government-run single payer plan is simply good marketing. And good marketing is good politics. Which means this conflation will continue.
Governing isn’t campaigning
There’s a simple way to get through the coming stress-inducing political maelstrom. Relax. Pay attention. But don’t panic. What you’re hearing is the sound and fury to which William Shakespeare referred. He noted such noise signified nothing. In the case of healthcare reform, it signifies something, but much less than might be apparent.
That’s because campaigning and governing are two different things. Campaigns are about hope (or fear). Campaigns are aspirational. Governing is about counting votes. Administrations are pragmatic. That’s because the calculus each use is different.
Campaigns are about aggregating voting blocks to create a majority (or at least a plurality). In presidential campaigns this is complicated by the Electoral College, but let’s not go there. That’s why politicians talk about “big tents” and “coalitions.”
Governing requires cobbling together sufficient majorities in a legislature (let’s assume Congress). This process is focused on the needs and fears of 535 lawmakers, not 130 million voters.
The 60th Senator
The implications of this difference are profound. Despite all the attention paid to the presidential contest and the nearly $2 billion that will be spent to influence who sits in the oval office, the president doesn’t get to decide the final shape of health care reform. That power resides with one senator.
Interestingly, we don’t know who that is. Yet. But let any president, Democrat or Republican, try to push through healthcare reform and we’ll find out. That most powerful Senator is whoever positions themselves as the 60th vote. (There are ways to change laws in the Senate with a simple majority, but let’s consider the traditional method for now).
Getting to 59 votes is tough. Getting to 60 votes is much tougher. Senators who commit late are extremely powerful. They can often determine what the final bill contains.
In 2017 we saw an example of this phenomenon. Senate Republicans needed 50 votes to pass a “skinny” repeal of the ACA (why 50 were needed as opposed to 60 isn’t relevant now). That crucial vote turned out to belong to Senator John McCain. And neither the president nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could capture his support. In that famous “thumbs down” moment, Senator McCain doomed the Republican effort to kill the ACA.
Medicare for All: Not happening
Come November 2020 we’ll find out which party holds the majority in the Senate. Given that every Republican and several Democrats oppose Medicare For All, that proposal will be dead on arrival.
It’s totally appropriate for Democratic candidates to use Medicare For All to define their aspirations and build their coalitions. When it comes time to govern, however, no matter who is elected, Medicare For All is not going to happen. The 60th senator–whoever that may be–won’t let it.
This doesn’t mean the healthcare reform debate this year is meaningless. This doesn’t mean, as knowledgeable health insurance professionals, we can be detached or silent. Quite the opposite. Momentum matters. Education makes a difference. And advocates for a single payer system are not going away. Engaging in the debate is necessary and useful.
Just keep things in perspective. Your blood pressure will thank you.
Alan Katz is a co-founder of Take 44, Inc., the company behind NextAgency, an agency management system for life and health agencies that saves them time, money and clients. Learn more at www.NextAgency.com. Alan is a past president of NAHU, was a senior vice president at WellPoint and general manager of the general agency Centerstone. He has served as chief of staff to California’s Lieutenant Governor and on the Santa Monica City Council. You can follow him on Twitter (@AlanSKatz), connect on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/alankatz44) and contact him at Alan@Take44.com.
Insurance agencies have lots of choices when it comes to technology. Take insurance agency software. These platforms come in all shapes and sizes. Well, not so much shape and sizes given that they’re basically zeros-and-ones. They do, however, come with different functions.
Two types of software available to insurance agencies are easily confused: agency management systems (AMS) and customer relationship management systems (CRM). This isn’t surprising. There’s considerable overlap in the benefits they deliver. Each can help you sell more. Each can help you be more organized. CRM and AMS software are not the same, however. Understanding the differences can help you decide which type of software you need.
This article will focus on CRM and agency management software designed for insurance agents – and, in particular, agencies focusing on benefits, senior and life products. If you’re interested in an AMS system for your realty company, there’s probably a blog out there for you. This is not it.
What is Customer Relationship Management?
There’s a slight difference of opinion concerning what a CRM platform is. Some people claim customer relationship management is a strategy, not a technology. They define CRM as making the customer the center of everything an agency does. Technology may help implement this strategy, but the software is incidental to a customer-centric strategy.
Others focus on the technology involved when discussing CRM. Salesforce defines CRM as “a technology for managing all your company’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers.” That Salesforce focuses on the software, rather than the philosophy, is not surprising. They are, after all, one of the world’s largest customer relationship management platforms. That doesn’t make their definition a bad one, however.
These two definitions of CRM are not mutually exclusive. CRM can be a strategy for putting customers first. It can also be the technology that enables this. For purposes of this post, we’ll define CRMs as software that helps agencies manage contacts, track sales, measure productivity, and understand the history of their customer interaction and more.
What is an Agency Management System?
An agency management system is software. Someone somewhere may claim that AMS is a strategy. If so, I can’t find their posts. Agency management systems help you organize your agency. It helps with sales, but goes further. AMS helps you manage information about carriers, general agencies and your own agency. Agency management software helps you deliver better customer service, track your commissions, keep commitments and more.
Agency management systems are a subset of data management software. Techopedia defines data management well. “Data management refers to an organization’s management of information and data for secure and structured access and storage.” When data management software is built for insurance agencies it’s called an agency management system. But at the end of the day, it’s a data management system.
Comparing CRM and Agency Management Systems
Whether an agency management system or CRM software is the better choice for you depends on what you want to accomplish. CRM tools are great if your goal is to dive deep into customer interactions. Agency management systems are better if you’re looking to improve more than just sales issues.
Customer Relationship Management Systems
Strong customer relationship management systems go beyond just tracking client data. They may offer auto dialers and caller ID. They may have built-in text systems. More sophisticated customer relationship management systems can adapt your web site to the status of the visitor. Prospects will see certain content. Clients will see something different.
Because CRMs are fixated on sales, they can seem like one-trick ponies. They aren’t much help beyond selling. Sales are critical. But customer relationship management systems don’t help you run a more efficient agency. Agency management systems do.
Agency Management Systems
AMS software usually include CRM tools. Improving sales results is just a part of what an agency management system should deliver, however. For example, NextAgency helps you track prospects through your sales pipelines. NextAgency also helps you store notes and automatically associate emails related to each prospect and client. NextAgency makes renewing — and cross-selling — your clients easier. Our software makes it simple to implement a drip marketing campaign. The platform also helps you assign policies to specific employees. These are all CRM tools.
NextAgency is an agency management system, however. Which means it does more than help you sell. NextAgency helps you deliver better customer service with service pipelines and benefit portals for your clients. Our software helps you manage your carrier, general agent and vendor relationships. NextAgency helps you keep commitments made to clients and others. NextAgency includes a built-in agency library. This keeps your forms, documents and collateral handy wherever you are. NextAgency helps you manage commissions. NextAgency syncs with your existing email account. Not all agency management systems do everything NextAgency does. Most do not. However, all agency management systems deliver more than just sales tools.
Which is Best for You, an Agency Management System or CRM software?
How to choose between a CRM or an agency management system? The answer depends on what’s most important to you. Customer relationship management software has a narrow focus: sales. Do you need – and will you use – every sales tool available? We all want to improve sales. But buying tools you won’t or can’t use wastes money. If you will use all the sales tools available in a CRM, however, that may be the right choice for you.
Are you looking for software to address more than sales? A strong agency management platform will include CRM tools, just not as many as dedicated customer service software. Agency management software can help you track commissions, manage documents and carrier appointments and so on. If you want to make your agency smarter, more effective and more efficient (while increasing sales), you probably want an agency management system.
A number of agencies have come to NextAgency from CRM systems. They thought they only needed help with sales. These agencies realized that managing their client relationships was critical. However, they realized they needed something more. They found that CRM tools were a part of the solution, just not the entire solution. They needed an agency management system. You know, one like NextAgency.
There’s numerous types of software that can help insurance agencies succeed. For example, social media management tools can optimize marketing processes by having a single, centralized dashboard to manage social media activities. Still, two of the most powerful tools available to these agencies are CRM and agency management systems. Choosing the right one is critical.
Whether you sell benefits, senior or life products, NextAgency can save you time, money and clients. NextAgency is a powerful, modern agency management system (NextBroker) with CRM, marketing and commission management tools. Please visit www.NextAgency.com to learn more. And to see NextAgency in action, please sign-up for a free demonstration at one of our regular webinars.