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From Surviving to Thriving: How One Agency Adjusted to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Serving the personal and commercial insurance needs of clients throughout the pandemic requires rethinking operations, adjusting communications and, above all, remaining flexible.
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from surviving to thriving: how one agency adjusted to the covid-19 pandemic

Located in New Braunfels, Texas, Comaltex Insurance, with a staff of 10, has continued to serve the personal and commercial insurance needs of clients throughout the pandemic.

With the advent of the shutdown, the first order of business for the agency was moving staff to work from home. “We contacted our technology vendors to implement changes to allow key personnel to accept calls remotely either via an IP phone or mobile app," says Kristine Eilers, operations manager at Comaltex. “We also assessed what mobile computer devices were available, either by personal ownership or corporate ownership, to allow people to work from home." 

Once the phone systems were set up and remote access capabilities assessed, the agency moved to provide devices to those without at-home computer access, leveraging their IT vendors for purchase. They also focused on increasing security features, especially on those using personal devices, to ensure the entire staff was well-equipped and safe from potential cybersecurity threats.

Comaltex was already prepared with technology like Formstack's Insuresign for seamless e-signatures, Zoom for virtual meetings, and telephone conferencing for client communications.

As the stay-at-home order was lifted, Eilers offered staff the option to return to the office safely. While a little less than half continued to work remotely, they have five employees who regularly work in the office while abiding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety guidelines. Though their office was not open to the public at the time of our interview, they have a re-opening plan to put in action depending on how COVID-19 cases trend.

“We have evolved from not allowing anyone inside the office to taking payments from customers who stop by and utilize a sanitizing service to keep the office safe," Eilers says. She and her team continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed to help foster better business while keeping their community safe.

After assessing the work-from-home infrastructure, Eilers and her team turned to communications. They needed to be clear with their clients and community on how they were proceeding and establish modes to keep in touch throughout the process.

“We communicated via Constant Contact marketing emails and Facebook," Eilers says. “And we always had a live person answering the phone during business hours." 

Comaltex also focused on keeping employees informed and connected. “We sent staff care packages of snacks and goodies and have continued to acknowledge birthdays and corporate anniversaries," Eilers says.

“Once some of the staff returned to the office, those in the office benefited from small celebrations like honoring National Donut Day with donuts distributed safely in-person," Eilers continued, “We also included those working remotely with deliveries made directly to their home."

Since the start of the pandemic, Comaltex has seen some changes. “Sales are down, but calls are up," Eilers says. “A number of our commercial clients are looking for ways to reduce costs while they ride the pandemic out and many personal lines customers are also looking for ways to save money."

Due to increased call volumes and service needs, Comaltex plans to make further adjustments. “We see the need for implementing a client portal, which is on our list of plans," Eilers says. “We see the need for more contact with our clients. We want them to know we care about them."

Amidst all the changes the agency was experiencing, Eilers and her team faced another change: an all-virtual agency management system transition with Strategic Insurance Software (SIS).

“Internally, the one big change we had to make was moving to a virtual training," says Jake Thaxton, Director of Client Services for SIS, “While the SIS team usually travels to an agency to do hands-on, in-person training, the SIS team needed to adjust to new restrictions and walk the Comaltex team through the transition online."

“We tried to pre-plan so that staff was already doing the online webinar training months in advance. We wanted them to have exposure to the system," Eilers says. “Maybe not to know everything, but to get the look and feel of it."

When asked what advice she'd give to other agency owners during these uncertain times, Eilers says, “I had a choir director who used to say 'Semper Gumby', meaning 'always flexible.' That's what we have to be in insurance most days, regardless of pandemic or catastrophe."

Sarah Deak has been contributing to the Strategic Insurance Software team since 2013, covering topics like agency perpetuation, workflow improvements, data security, and marketing. She has a background in small business, working with organizations to improve their online presence, and client engagement.

Thursday, January 14, 2021
Agency Operations & Best Practices