Shift in Culture is Redefining Insurance Agencies and Brokers

by Nick Brown - Community Manager - Astonish Results on August 16, 2010 · 18 comments

Nick Brown shares with us responses he received from Astonish Results member and non-member agencies to the question:   What does agency culture mean to you and how has it changed over the past five years? These are great responses.  Nick asks you to share what agency culture means in your agency.  Please share with us all.

The word “culture” has infinite definitions depending on the context and the person being asked. Some consider MTV’s Jersey Shore a microcosm of American culture, while others scoff TV and pop culture altogether in favor of the written word and classic works of art. The food we eat, our regional accents and entertainment choices all figure in to the concept of culture.

For these reasons, I had no idea what to expect when I asked professionals from eight different insurance agencies/brokers the exact same question:

What does agency culture mean to you and how has it changed over the past five years?

My goal in asking the question was to show that an evolution in agency culture is occurring, and to demonstrate how different agencies are handling this shift. The range of answers incorporated everything from technology to attitudes to incentives to philanthropy, proving “culture” means different things to different people. Unanimously, each person involved has seen significant culture changes in the last five years.

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Ann Mohler – Director of Corporate Communications, Heffernan Insurance Brokers – Walnut Creek, CA: Culture means everything to Heffernan. Heffernan has repeatedly been named one of the Top Corporate Philanthropists in the Bay Area, a Best Place to Work in the Bay Area, and a Best Place to Work nationally by both Business Insurance and Insurance Journal. Giving back to others is really the cornerstone of the Heffernan culture, and the activities we engage in to accomplish that help us to solidify as an organization.

Our giving program allows employees to take four paid working days to volunteer offsite, and encourages staff to create teams to train and compete in charity running races, walks, and bike rides. Oftentimes, for weekend events, Heffernan family members come along, and are encouraged to do so. Through our wellness program, called Wellness at Work, we make team shirts with logos and make a real effort to have fun together while giving back. The results are amazing. Not only do we work together to raise money for those less fortunate, but we exercise together, celebrate together, and best of all, create long lasting friendships.

Ultimately, it’s the shared experiences and friendships made during these volunteer and wellness activities that create a better, more functional and trusting work environment. Also, Heffernan seeks to foster a family-friendly environment. Dogs and babies are regularly seen around the office, and recently we counted 54 relatives working among us out of about 400. We have married couples, siblings, parents and children, and even one case of three generations of family at Heffernan.

Amanda Spittell – Marketing Manager, Berry Insurance – Franklin, MA: Agency culture is what happens and how you feel when you go to work to on a daily basis.  The environment, including employee attitudes and team ‘togetherness,’ are what project the true culture of an agency.  At Berry Insurance, we are a huge proponent of team-building activities for the enthusiasm they bring to employees.  We’ve always tried to inject a certain amount of fun in our agency, but with social media, we’ve been able to do things like a cubicle decorating contest that our fans could vote on. I definitely think that helps define your culture, internally and externally, and it’s certainly something we weren’t doing five years ago.

Rex Caton – Owner, Caton Hosey Insurance – Daytona Beach, FL: Culture happens in every business, regardless of whether you create a certain kind of culture or not.  I think the leaders of an organization have the opportunity to create an atmosphere that thrives ONLY if you take charge of creating a certain type of culture.  We found ourselves two years ago in a process environment.  In a process environment, the computer features are implemented at a very basic level.  Paper files are maintained; however, they only contain items not stored on the computer. The staff is trained on the computer features.  As the vendor releases new features, they are implemented, and staff is trained on them.  There is a lot of focus on internal agency processes.

Once we came on board with Astonish we realized the need to create a well thought out, automated work flow to streamline tasks to make servicing a client’s needs quick and accurate, keeping in mind that we need more time to develop relationships to better meet our client’s needs.

In the service environment, the computer features are well implemented.  Workflows are in place integrating the features and the insurance workflows.  Supporting documentation is maintained, but not in the traditional paper file.  Scanning has been implemented.  Procedures are in place supporting an automated environment.  Focus shifts from internal processes to value added client contacts and service and sales.

The whole reason we have gone through these steps is to reach a client environment where routine tasks are minimized and a focus on meeting customer needs becomes first in our employees minds. They need time to build relationships with our prospects and clients to better understand their wants, concerns and desires.

We are headed in this direction and have had awesome success along the way. The client environment is the optimum level.  Routine processes are automated, time spent completing processes is significantly reduced, and clients increasingly avail themselves to self-service options on the agency website, social media channels or by phone.  Clients (or vendors) obtain proof of insurance coverage and auto ID cards on-line.  Changes are requested via the Internet and process centers, whether in the agency or at the carrier, are available for routine transactions. The agency role is relationship driven and consultative.  All staff members in the agency are focused on client sales first, and then service.

Mark Duffy – President, Duffy Insurance – Peabody, MA: Office culture is an important element of any successful business.  One of the many things we’ve worked on with Astonish and internally is promoting a culture that rewards good performance and coaches performance that needs improvement.

Too often, businesses expect employees to come to work each day, do what they are told to do, and do it well without offering any reward for doing an exceptional job, beyond the pre-determined compensation.  This is a lose-lose-lose.

The business-owner loses because they will never get employees to go above and beyond since there is no reward for doing so.  It’s a loss for the individual employees because they will never reach their potential if they are not motivated to push themselves.  And finally, it hurts co-workers because lack of motivation and poor attitude rubs off and can be seen in the entire culture of a work environment.

Now, on the flip side, a culture that rewards good performance, tracks and measures results, and coaches the team members is a win-win-win.  The employer wins because their employees work harder.  The employees win because they know where they stand and they know what they need to do to be rewarded.  Also, they know right away if they may be in the wrong position or even at the wrong company.  And finally the entire staff wins because now everyone is shooting for the same goal and there is a scoreboard that everyone can see.

The biggest change of the past five years has been a culture shift that encourages going the extra mile and ultimately benefits individual employees, the staff as a whole, and our business.

Carrie Galvez Reynolds – Agent/Owner, Alan Galvez Insurance – Bellefontaine, Ohio: I think culture can make or break an agency. Insurance agent’s main goal is to help people. If you don’t create a positive, “helping others” environment, you will fail. You also need to add a little fun into the mix. People are more prone to help if they’re having fun.

We’ve always tried to have a welcoming, personable and fun environment. I guess what’s changed is how visible we are in showing our culture to the world outside of our agency. Social media has been the catalyst for this visibility – witness our recent Customer Salute and the exploits of the Insurance Goddess.

Everett Lebherz – Owner, EVCO Insurance – San Francisco, CA: Agency culture is a big part of what keeps moral high amongst the members of our team. Each member is responsible for getting their job done quickly and accurately so that the procedure flow is smooth and consistent. If we all respect and trust each other to do our jobs correctly, the culture in the business will remain at a high level. Throwing in a few office lunches and outings enforce to the team that everything is working properly. The culture has changed dramatically year to year as new team members are being hired, new products offered, and changing procedures are updated. Couple that with huge growth in clientele and you have a happy and motivated team because the results are clear!

Will Penny – Owner, Penny Insurance Agency – Hendersonville, NC: Agency culture speaks directly to why we are here. Critical to the culture is that everyone is on the same page. Our agency culture has changed significantly over the past year when we were an almost purely service culture. No one matched the level of service we provided; however, our “service” was more reactive than proactive. That was great for retention but did nothing for increasing our book of business. Over the past year we have changed to a sales culture, recognizing that a big part of service is sales. Our clients have needs that as true service people we should have been proactively servicing by selling them the protection they needed.

Now everyone on our staff knows and believes that we are here to help people by selling them the insurance protection they need. Our culture recognizes that new sales are the life-blood of the agency and that truly servicing our clients means actively reviewing their situations and making sure every need is properly addressed.

Chris Sheppard – Vice President & Partner, Smith Buckley and Hunt – Brockton, MA: Our agency culture means everything to us.  Our employees are the eyes and ears of our agency and we rely on them to put a positive face forward to our clients and prospects.  If we don’t foster the right culture, that shows in our employees interactions with clients and prospects.  We have done a lot of work on our culture over the last several years.  We, like a lot of agencies, always thought of ourselves as mostly a service organization first and believe it’s our service that is what separates us from our competitors.  Unfortunately for us, every other agency says the same thing.  The big question we had to answer is: “How are we different, and what can we do to move our agency to the next level?”

The answer is to be laser-focused on who we want to do business with and to be a sales-focused business that provides excellent customer service.  We’ve invested in best in class tools to separate us from our competitors.  Everyone in the agency is in the same boat now and everyone understands what we are trying to achieve. Better alignment has been a major change in our culture.

Insurance agency culture can’t be defined concretely because it exists in people’s perceptions and is a byproduct of everything that represents an agency, from the wall décor to the way CSRs answer phone calls to work done in the community.

You’ve heard others answer the question, now we encourage you to define what culture means in your agency?

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