7 Steps for Supporting Independent Agents in PAS Transformations
Insurance Experts' Forum, February 18, 2014
Over the past several years, we’ve seen more and more carriers embark on policy administration system transformations. A key component of many policy administration system transformations is to enable agents to self-serve through online quoting tools, reporting and real-time processing. While carriers view this as a positive change, independent agents and their support staff may not
One of the primary reasons independent agents decide to place business with a carrier is ease of doing business. Change, by its very nature, causes disruption to the typical ways of doing business, thereby making work more difficult.
If avoiding change isn’t an option, then how does a carrier introduce policy administration system (PAS) changes to its independent agents and limit disruptions?
Carriers that successfully manage the agent experience during PAS transformations can expect to maintain revenue or limit negative impacts immediately after implementation, achieve transformation benefits faster and improve the likelihood of being a preferred carrier. Those carriers that don’t do so place valuable business relationships at risk. Because independent agents likely have experienced other carriers’ (often difficult) PAS transformations before, getting one right can be a differentiator.
What should carriers do to manage the agent experience during and after the change?
First and foremost, carriers should recognize that independent agents are fundamentally different from employees or even captive agents. They work with your competitors, have choices in where they place business, and have diverse needs and preferences. Because independent agents each have their own identity and approach to business, one-size-fits-all approaches tend to fall flat. Many carriers simply don’t address agents’ needs and rely on a standard approach, which may include avoiding change (at a cost) or managing change like a marketing campaign.
Marketing campaigns won’t be enough by themselves to make the transformation process a smooth one. Carriers should supplement them with change management processes that help minimize disruption. Carriers will be more successful if they 1) understand how independent agents will perceive change, 2) plan ahead for potential challenges and 3) customize communications and training to meet agent needs.
The following are useful considerations in the development of an independent agent preparation approach:
1.) Define your change vision: Carriers should define what’s changing and why it will benefit agents. Doing this early on will help agents understand what’s in it for them and will help the carrier remain customer focused throughout the transformation.
2.) Assess and engage your stakeholders: Understand which agents will be affected first, which ones will be more likely to need support and which ones are most important to your organization. This will allow you to use resources more effectively throughout the initiative.
3.) Align the organization around key messages: Independent agents may call anyone in your organization if they have a question — not just the people you‘d expect. Develop key messages that answer “what’s in it for me” for both the transformation as a whole and for specific changes in screens and functionality, and familiarize your organization with the answers early on in the process. Everyone will need to be familiar with these messages and understand the support plan by the time implementation begins. Test early ideas and bring agents into the design process to help anticipate reactions.
4.) Build commitment through effective communication: Develop and execute a communications plan that considers agent-facing employees and customers. Good communications plans i) build commitment over time, ii) provide the right amount of lead time to agents, iii) ensure that employees receive agent-facing materials before agents and iv) ensure that agents receive customer-facing materials before customers.
5.) Adjust roles and organization structure as needed: While changes may be beneficial to agents, carriers should incorporate any new or different demands on them into the support model. Consider what support agents will need both immediately after implementation and in the long term.
6.) Deploy timely, relevant training: While employees often share a similar culture and view of what support they will need, agents are both more diverse and more demanding. Consider multiple options for training them, such as reference materials, webinars and classroom sessions in order to meet their needs.
7.) Aim for smooth adoption and sustainability: Training is not the last step; implementation is when real change management is necessary. At this point, there is the greatest risk of pushback, and all employees will need to be ready to reinforce the benefits of the PAS transformation to agents. Monitor agent attitudes and perceptions, and be prepared to act on any feedback you receive.
For many carriers, the relationship between agent and carrier is a leading factor in the business’ success, not just the success of a PAS transformation. Leading carriers understand that each interaction with an independent agent is both a test and an opportunity and strive to enhance their agent relationships throughout the transformation process.
Imran Ilyas, partner with PwC's Advisory Services, co-authored this piece with Debra Mazloff and Michael Wellman of PwC’s Advisory Services.
Readers are encouraged to respond to Imran using the “Add Your Comments” box below.
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