Being an account manager used to be fun. They played a bigger part in the negotiation process: meeting with clients and carriers, getting to know the insured, honing and using finesse and other stimulating skills.
That’s a far cry from the account manager lifestyle today. From the moment they enter their office, which they’ll never leave before the day is up, account managers are inundated by a stream of tedious, disparate tasks and overwhelmed by the pressure to get them all done in one day. The work is frequently mundane and unexciting, but there’s no sitting back and slouching: a single error could hurt the agency’s bottom line—or worse, trigger a lawsuit.
You would think there’d be some glory at the end of this struggle, but there isn’t. Producers get all the credit for bringing home the bacon. Nobody congratulates the account manager for cooking it.
And if something goes wrong, it is seldom the producers who get called to the carpet. Guess who does?
The anxiety. The drudgery. The thanklessness of it all. Wouldn’t this burn out just about anybody? Account managers must deal with it every day, with only a feeling of failure to look forward to when they realize they didn’t get everything done.
Ironically, technology contributed to the devolution of the account manager role. The acceleration in tasks that tech brings has come with the expectation that everything must get done sooner. Due to their proximity to technical tasks, account managers have been hit hardest by this pressure.
It is time to reverse the trend, to give account managers a break and start to take them more seriously—not only because it is the right thing to do, but because even the most selfless and loyal of them will eventually succumb to burnout and begin to wonder if things are better at another agency.
Yes, it’s easier to replace account managers than it is to replace your star producers, but it’s becoming harder to find and keep any employees in the insurance industry. If you don’t treat your account managers well, somebody else will.
At the same time, the agencies aren’t the cruel, heartless villains in this story. The truth is, work moves faster than operations sometimes, and somebody’s going to bear the brunt. Sure, who wouldn’t want to hire more of them in order to lighten the load, but how many people can you hire before it affects profitability?
The account managers we know don’t really mind being workhorses, and they’re good at it, too; they just don’t like being ignored and undervalued. Here are four ways to combat account manager burnout:
1) Let your account managers know that you will give them a fair hearing if something unexpected happens. They’ll be relieved and it will show in the pace and quality of their work. Anyone who’s passionate about a job wants to take the time to do it the right way, but account managers are frequently denied this basic privilege.
Consumed by the terror of making a mistake, and aware that they will be without an advocate if that happens, many account managers give in to paranoia and do their jobs with extreme caution. This may seem like a good thing, but at some point, it becomes redundant and slows operations down.
2) Listen to your account manager’s gauge on reality. Account managers see things other people don’t. While everybody’s toasting the producer who brought in a big account, the account manager is quietly computing everything that could go wrong with processing it: insufficient staff, policy complexity or outstanding issues with the client’s previous agency.
In their commendable zeal to make clients happy, producers are known to make grandiose promises that are simply irreconcilable with the reality of proper coverage. When account managers point this out, they are accused of being bad team players and impeding the sales process.
Enough. Listen to your account managers. It might just save your business.
3) Refine your operational structure so that the things that fall through the cracks don’t keep landing on the account manager’s desk. Much of the time, inappropriate delineation of duties across the agency results in account managers getting stuck doing the jobs nobody wants, knows or has the time to do.
Take the time to figure out your operational flowchart and distribute responsibility. Strive for operational excellence.
4) Start treating your account managers like people, not sheep. Years of routine have entrenched the belief that account managers somehow enjoy toiling endlessly over stressful and tedious work with no reward or recognition in sight.
Like everybody else, account managers require incentives, growth opportunities and career advancement. There is more to the job than just checking off boxes. Figure out what your account managers’ secret strengths are and create a development path based on them.
In the meantime, a little more fun on the job could go a long way. Put your account managers on the road a little more. Get them to meet their insured. It might be the spark that relights the fire at the office.
Ken Wohl is head of marketing at Indio Technologies.