by Ed Higgins
I recently made a major conversion in my agency to Applied’s Epic® management system, and as part of that hands-on process, had a great vantage point to see both the benefits of Real Time and to pick up some tips to help agencies in their real-time implementations. I have also developed some recommendations to assist carriers and vendors in providing better support to their agencies going through this process.
I believe the same lessons apply regarding real-time implementation, no matter what system you are currently on or installing, as long as the vendor has a strong commitment to incorporating the latest real-time functionality.
Preparing for Real Time
I had implemented Real Time in my previous system, so I knew there were benefits to using Real Time. For several months, we were without Real Time, because we were focused on other aspects of our system conversion and frankly we missed it. I kept in mind the end goal, however, which was to implement a system incorporating the latest technology, in order to give our agency new and enhanced features that would allow us to become even more efficient. I was hoping that even my real-time transactions would be faster with the new system.
We are a small agency and it took us several months to do the system conversion, learn all of the functionality and train our employees. In the final analysis, we received no current client policy information conversion, so we used an initial download from all of our download carriers and manually re-entered non-downloaded policy data, putting our multiple monitor environment to good use! Going through this process once again underscored for me the critical nature of the downloads that our carriers provide to us. Sending us complete, clean downloads for all lines of business needs to be a priority for every carrier, if agencies are to achieve the peak efficiency they need in this highly competitive environment.
Implementing Real Time
After a several month conversion process, we were back in control with our new system ready to unleash the system’s horsepower by installing Real Time.
I recommend that you start with your vendor’s real-time page and locate its chart that identifies the specific real-time functions that are available for each company for both personal and commercial lines. If you have trouble locating this chart, click here for the charts provided by several of the vendors.
Vendor Tip: These charts are a great resource, but they would be even more helpful if they provided an initial contact person for each carrier, where the agent could go for real-time implementation help.
I then turned to the carriers’ real-time pages for each of my companies. We found four companies that had real-time capability listed on our vendor’s chart which had NO presence in the carrier section of the getrealtime.org site. Of the companies that were listed, a majority of them did not have any information providing the contact and phone number for agents to go to for implementation assistance.
Carrier Tip: Carriers should create a presence on getrealtime.org’s carrier page and make it easy for agents to find initial contact information for implementation assistance on their first landing page. Marketing reps for the carrier should also be familiar with the carrier’s real-time functionality and the person for the agent to contact if he or she needs implementation help.
Thanking the Carriers
The support I received from Applied Systems and each of my carriers was very helpful, once I got to the right people. I was very focused on thanking each of the companies for their commitment of time and resources to develop real-time capability and assured them we would both be frequent and consistent users. I also encouraged them to continue to enhance and extend their real-time capabilities. I let them know that Real Time is such a time saver for our CSRs – allowing us to provide faster and better service to our clients – that we will give carriers with real-time capability preference, when their pricing is close to the competition.
The carriers were very glad to hear these comments and gave me the sense that most agents do not take the time to express their appreciation for the carrier’s investing in this improved agency functionality. Hearing from the agents is the best way to assure continued investments by the carriers in Real Time and other improved agent-carrier connectivity.
Agent Tip: My take-away from these conversations is that we agents need to express our appreciation more aggressively and consistently to those companies which have committed to Real Time and are continuing to commit resources to further expand and enhance the functionality.
Creating the Real-Time Habit
By the end of the fourth business day, we had installed Real Time for eight of our ten companies. We have four staff members who have been with us less than a year and were never exposed to the limited real-time functionality in our old management system. The other five CSRs had had a five month lapse from Real Time, while we were undergoing our system conversion and had developed new “work-arounds” using the carrier website to complete their daily work.
We needed to develop a helpful tool to ensure rapid and consistent adoption of Real Time by both our experienced and new staff members. I recalled the industry’s 2011 Real Time 21 Day Challenge and realized we needed to establish Real Time as a habit with our staff. We did a one-on-one demonstration with each CSR covering the functionality for several different companies. Everyone was impressed with the improved speed of the real-time process which was running about sixteen seconds per transaction.
To ensure that each of our staff would develop the real-time habit, we created a one page document that lists all of our carriers and the real-time transactions offered by each, with the notation of “(+C)” if the company provides the function in both personal lines and commercial lines. I provided each CSR with a laminated copy for his or her workstation. Finally, we informed them we would be generating weekly reports to monitor their use of Real Time to be sure there was consistent usage.
Agency Management Involvement
It is especially important for agency management to be involved at the onset to track adoption by staff and to identify error messages. These error messages need to be quickly addressed so that staff is not discouraged from using Real Time. We had two examples where my early intervention was important. The first involved a CSR alleging a function didn’t work, only to realize later that the company being used did not offer the requested real-time function.
The second example was an endorsement request that failed to execute properly. Applied Systems said the file name was too long because it exceeded a named insured character limit of 40 characters. The carrier downloaded the policy file successfully, so this did not seem to initially make sense. Further investigation identified that the carrier allowed up to 90 characters to complete a successful download match while Applied Systems only permits a maximum of 40 characters. This was not a big deal and we identified this client file as an exception not eligible for real-time endorsement processing.
Agency Tip: Immediate management intervention to resolve apparent problems establishes early confidence by the staff that Real Time is a real benefit to them that WORKS.
Carrier Support with Implementation
Of the ten carriers that now offer us Real Time, most are national carriers, but a couple are smaller regionals as well. I asked one of these small carriers, New York Central Mutual Insurance, why the company had taken a leadership role in providing Real Time, compared to its competitors of a similar size. The response was that the company really believes in the importance of Real Time to the future success of its agency plant. Moreover, the company monitors real-time usage and reaches out to agents who are not using particular functionality and offers to do on-site training for their staff for free. They also will help their agents install real-time functionality, not just for their company but for all of the companies the agency represents. This company knows that agencies are most likely to use Real Time when it is available from most of their carriers and they can implement a more consistent workflow.
There are several additional carriers out there – large and small – which are strong believers in Real Time as well, offering hands-on implementation assistance to their agents. Agencies should take advantage of this assistance and thank the management of these companies for their strong support of this superior workflow for agencies.
Real Time Benefits
Real Time through my new management system has provided our agency with a significant efficiency boost. Real-time transactions are averaging just sixteen seconds, with the logins, navigation and data flows back and forth all taking place automatically. During the week of August 6, 2012, for example, we had 108 real-time transactions agency wide. That’s up from 50 the week before and includes the full range of real-time inquiries, quotes and endorsements available. We calculate about a three minute time savings for each transaction, saving our agency 324 minutes or over five hours in one week!
Based on our experience, I would offer these recommendations:
- Adopt every real-time capability your management system vendor offers.
- Take advantage of the implementation assistance your vendor, carriers and user group can provide you. There is a lot of willing help out there!
- Take advantage of the industry, vendor and carrier resources out there to assist you in your implementation.
- Thank each of your companies offering you the functionality for their commitment to your future.
- Urge your vendor and your carriers to continue to expand and enhance the real-time functions they provide, so that you can have consistent, fast workflows across all of your carriers.
- Agents that adopt Real Time are likely to be the leaders in selling your products in the future. Continue to help them build competitive advantage by expanding your real-time capabilities and continuing to enhance your speed and reduce errors. The Agency Real-Time “Best Practices” Workflows and Implementation Strategies Guide for Carriers & Vendors is a great resource for carriers to use in this regard.
- Be sure to register your real-time capabilities and your contact person for implementation assistance both with the real-time vendors and on your carrier page on the industry’s getrealtime.org site.
- Ask your marketing reps to encourage your agents to implement Real Time and to be familiar with the real-time functions the company has available. These reps should also know the contact person at the company to provide the agent in need of implementation assistance.
- Provide hands on or virtual assistance to your agents who want to implement Real Time.
- Continue to enhance and extend the real-time capabilities you offer through your system to eliminate steps, improve speed and reduce errors. The Agency Real-Time “Best Practices” Workflows and Implementation Strategies Guide for Carriers & Vendors is a great resource for vendors to use in this regard.
- Be sure to register your real-time capabilities and contact person for implementation assistance on your vendor page on the industry’s getrealtime.org site.
- Provide your agents with a chart that details the real-time functions provided by each carrier, along with the carrier contact person for implementation assistance. This chart should be in spreadsheet form, so that the agency can easily customize it to just their companies.
Agencies, carriers, vendors all win by implementing real-time functionality. Real Time enables agencies to provide clients with more responsive service. It frees up agencies to produce more business for carriers. It positions vendors to provide their agency clients with state of the art connectivity with the carriers. But most important, Real Time positions our distribution system to grow in the future, which will benefit us all.
Ed Higgins is an agency principal of Thousand Islands Agency located in Clayton, New York. Ed is a former chairman of ACT and has held numerous positions in state and national agent associations and industry organizations over the years. Ed prepared this article for ACT and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article reflects the views of the author and should not be construed as an official statement by ACT.