In the return to “normal," agencies must tread carefully because a segment of the independent agent channel could get left behind—customer service representatives (CSRs).
In a weird way, the coronavirus pandemic did businesses a favor. It forced us to adopt new ways to connect and transact—and many of those new ways aren't going away.
There's hope we'll maintain much of the virtual way of doing business, taking what worked and discarding what didn't. As a big driver of remote work, the pandemic has accelerated productivity while giving some workers the opportunity to realize a greater sense of wellness.
There's no denying the overwhelming urge to resume in-person meetings. However, in the return to “normal," we need to tread carefully because a segment of the independent agent channel could get left behind. Customer service representatives (CSRs) and other non-managerial staff have flourished during the pandemic by connecting with their counterparts across the country through virtual events. Now, we run the risk of leaving them behind when we resume in-person events.
For the last two years, the Accelerate conference of the Network of Vertafore Users (NetVU) was held virtually. A whole host of other meetups and roundtables also sprang up organically because of the excitement. No one benefited more than the CSRs, who normally wouldn't be able to attend an Accelerate conference due to budgetary and other restraints.
As an agency owner, I'm concerned that my CSRs will be left with few, if any, opportunities to connect with their peers as we start pulling down these virtual spaces. I can't afford for that to happen. Not only would it be a disservice to them, it would restrict our continuous improvement as an organization. It would default to the old ways of doing things, like returning to manual processes and limiting our use of digital tools—or taking our CSRs for granted.
There's a saying, “If you've met one independent agency, you've met one independent agency." Each agency is unique and that uniqueness may breed isolation and the tunnel vision that impedes progress. We look to user groups like NetVU for community, education and advocacy. We say there's “strength in members" because we help each other get the most from our systems.
If my network expanded during the pandemic, think how much a CSR's network expanded by taking advantage of virtual training and shop talk opportunities. As an industry, we can't afford to lose that gift.
It's a job seeker's market. Applicants are setting the agenda and demanding more from employers. If we're not listening to them and giving them a career development path that's easy and accessible, they're going to find it somewhere else.
For the CSRs of the world, that means not only being trained on how to use the digital tools in front of them but also how the entire agency ecosystem works and how to build skills to one day be an agency principal.
Whenever “normal" returns, we must heed the warning signs and do everything in our power to build an industry-wide community for CSRs and keep them engaged for the good of the independent agency channel.
Oliver Connor is principal and owner of Connor Insurance Agency in Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, and a member of the advisory board of the Network of Vertafore Users (NetVU).