Knowledge Center

Knowledge Center Items Podcast Episode 52

Can Your Culture Handle People Who Aren't At Their Best?

Published on

Like it or not, most people don't wake up excited to talk to their insurance agent.

Building your agency's awareness around that simple fact can have a dramatic impact on those interactions.

When you're prepared for the worst it becomes easy to exceed expectations and deliver a positively unexpected experience.

The first step is not letting your staff think everyone likes insurance more than they do.

Bradley Flowers, Founder of Portal Insurance and Co-Host of the Insurance Guys Podcast, talks about how intentional his agency is approaching those conversations.

For more Change Insurance episodes, click here.

Full Episode Transcript

Joey Giangola: Mr. Bradley Flowers. How you doing today, sir?

Bradley Flowers: Great, Joey. How are you?

Joey Giangola: Right, I'm doing all right. I want to know this before we go anywhere. And it may be a strange question, but why not? What is one meal that you cannot help but over eat?

Bradley Flowers: Probably chips and salsa.

Joey Giangola: Is that really a meal though? That's more of a snack, I feel.

Bradley Flowers: Yeah. Let's just go with Mexican food. How about that? Always overeat.

Joey Giangola: All right. I'll take that.

Bradley Flowers: I'm also a fan of Thai. As soon as we get off this podcast, I'm going to go across the street and buy some Thai food. But I never really overeat with that.

Joey Giangola: Mexican food, I guess, is maybe an easy one to do. For me though, I find it challenging in two spots. It's either barbecue where you order by the pound or deep dish pizza, where you're delivered pizza by the pound. And for whatever reason, my brain just assumes pizza, you can eat the same amount of slices you would normally eat. That is not true. And it happens every time.

Bradley Flowers: Normally I overeat with pizza because it just has those properties in it that make you want to eat more of it. So, that's actually probably the actual answer. But I've kind of been on an anti-pizza, I'm not going to say crusade, but I found out about six months ago that I have an intolerance to dairy. So I've been trying to avoid dairy, which obviously means avoiding pizza. And so I haven't had a lot of pizza lately, which is why that one didn't pop in my head.

Joey Giangola: So I will say if you want to change your life and have a real pizza, you can go with the traditional no-cheese pizza, just pizza, dough and sauce. I don't know if you ever tried that. That's a whole nother world.

Bradley Flowers: I have it's okay. I don't love it, but I have done that. Typically what happens is our family or my wife's family will order pizzas and either A, they forget to order the no-cheese pizza or B, I fill like a whiny baby for asking them to order a special pizza just for me.

Joey Giangola: Well, I don't know how deep we want to get on this, but I think you got to go to a place that specifically has it on the menu. Like, it's got to be a pizza place that has a special kind of sauce. Maybe this is the Italian in me coming out, I get a little nuts about this. But maybe, I don't know. I don't know what your pizza situation is down there. But something to consider, if you really want to keep the carbs coming.

Bradley Flowers: I posted on Facebook. So our prior location, which we just moved offices, our prior location, we shared a building with a Little Caesars and I posted just for EdgeRank, I posted on Facebook to start a debate. Little Caesars or Dominoes, which one's better? And all of my New York friends just absolutely lost their cool to the post. Like, "You southerners. You have no idea what good pizza is."

Joey Giangola: I mean, listen, you can't always have a gourmet pizza nearby. Sometimes fast food pizza has to do. And in that debate, I think I remember seeing that. I think Little Caesars would win in my opinion.

Bradley Flowers: I think Little Caesars would win, as well. I'm not a Dominoes, I'm not a fan of the garlic crust at all. Little Caesars is absolutely delicious for the first five minutes it comes out of the oven. And then after that, you have to throw it away. So kind of like how the gremlins change at midnight, it turns into cardboard. Please don't sue me, Little Caesars.

Joey Giangola: So I want to know this then. Switching to something maybe a little more seriously, hopefully. You can take this one of two ways, whether it's in your own agency or where you see other agents in their agencies, where is a lot of over eating happening, where they're maybe not making the best choices and indulging in certain spots?

Bradley Flowers: I think shiny object syndrome, i.e. technology. Buying a piece of technology because it's cool or it's a fad or it's the latest and greatest thing without making sure that piece of technology solves a problem in their agency. And when you add a piece of technology to your agency, I think it should take away clicks, not add them.

And I have certainly been guilty of that, especially my first year. Because you go from kind of captive to independent, you want to try everything under the sun, right? I tweeted that recently, that we need less technology that does more in our agencies. And a lot of people take that statement as an anti-technology. I couldn't be further from anti-technology. I just think we need to think about how things flow and how it makes things easier for our people, rather than more difficult. Not only for myself, but I think a lot of other agencies, too, make that mistake.

Joey Giangola: Well, that's a good point because I think the assumption people sometimes falsely make is that the technology was designed to make their lives easier, in some cases. When in theory it should be, but ultimately the design from the beginning could be flawed to like you said, add more clicks in a way that maybe they're not necessarily taking account of.

Bradley Flowers: Exactly. I mean, this side of the industry, the IA side of the industry, is at somewhat of a disadvantage to other sides of the industry because of the double entry, the triple entry, the quadruple entry. And if you ask me what's my 10-year goal, it's to figure out how to completely eliminate any kind of multiple entry for my employees and my team.

Joey Giangola: Well, I guess that was going to be one of my questions. What would be that solution? Is that maybe on the top of the list? What's at the top of your list of things, of clicks you're trying to remove?

Bradley Flowers: Honestly, I think we shouldn't have to enter things more than one time. And I think that for me, it's super important that these technology companies recognize that they can't be a one trick pony. They can't do everything for everybody. And be willing to say, okay, we recognize that X vendor does this piece better than us. So we're actually going to bring them in and build some sort of direct two-way integration, rather than try to build a flawed version of the same thing. You know what I mean?

Joey Giangola: Yeah. Two big things standing in the way there. One people want to think that they are capable in multiple areas. And then two, playing nice with others. Have you seen any good examples of where that has proven to be some solid partnerships, like where you actually see it working in practice?

Bradley Flowers: I think Agency Zoom is doing a really good job of it. Not to promote Agency Zoom, I'm a paying customer of theirs, not a partner or anything like that. I think they do a really good job of recognizing what they do well and then bringing in other folks around them.

There's a carrier that I'm big on called Openly. I don't know if you're familiar with Openly, they're the high-value homeowners carrier. They are doing, from a carrier standpoint, a really good job. And I see some indications that are trending in the way of those guys directly integrating with a lot of technology. So those are a few good examples.

And then without naming any names, I've seen some really bad examples recently as well. And it's one of those things too. It's an example I've given recently, is there's a comedian Bill Engvall who is really popular here in the Southeast. And he had this joke where his wife was pregnant, and he and his wife were going to these classes. And he missed every class except for one day. And that one day was epidural day. So the only word he knew was epidural. So when they're running in the hospital, he's yelling, "Epidural! Epidural! Epidural!"

And I think a lot of agents are doing that with integration. They're saying, "Integration! Integration! Integration!" without actually saying what they want. An integration for the sake of integration solves nothing.

Joey Giangola: Well, very true. And I think one, there's that integration piece. But then there's also understanding the capacity that you have to integrate and the attention going back to what you said. So I think that's another challenging point of, even if it did integrate, you only have so much capacity, whether it's with the carriers you have, can keep in your brain.

I think that's another piece that's lost on it. That there's only so much bandwidth that an agent has in terms of what they're going to keep in their mind to have that conversation. Where do you like to draw the line personally? And do you think it's as big of a problem as maybe I've alluded to?

Bradley Flowers: Say that question one more time. I'm sorry.

Joey Giangola: In terms of the overall capacity of just knowledge, partners, carriers, vendors, all of the things, right? Everybody, all of those people want to think that we've got this unlimited brain space to keep their ideas and stuff. Where do you draw the line for yourself? Again, I guess maybe this goes back to where we started in the over eating analogy, but how do you set parameters around that yourself, and then where do you think you see people get tripped up and just not really knowing [crosstalk] ?

Bradley Flowers: So for me, it's having a really good team around me and assigning certain things to those team members. So for example, one of my team members, Kenneth came to me this week and said, "Hey, we're having this problem where this thing isn't working." And I'm like, "Okay, great. Do me a favor, reach out to them and figure it out."

Or my other team member Lee says, "Hey, I'm not getting text messages. There's some kind of glitch." All right, chat in and explain. Rather than just all of that falling on myself, and them be willing to do that. It's not like I'm delegating and saying you do this and you do it. It's not that. It's everybody kind of being bought into the greater goal and understanding that we're all in this to solve problems together, not just myself. So that's a big part of it.

As far as where I see other agents get tripped up is back to the shiny object syndrome. You know, we're signing up with this company because they do this and they're cool and they're slick and they have a pipeline and dah, dah, dah. And that's not reference to any one company. I mean, there's a lot of great technologies out there. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon so fast, let's sit back and wait and see what happens. You know, let's talk to some users.

One mistake I made with our management system was I didn't talk to any agents that were using it prior to signing up with it. Now I still would have signed up with them because they're a great company, they offer a great service. But I got really, really lucky in that regard. Before you sign up with a piece of technology or start using it in your agency, talk to three or four agents that are using it. See how it's going. Ask where the holes are, ask what it does well, and that sort of thing.

You know, we had a piece of technology recently that we were considering not using it because we had heard a couple of things. And I reached out to one of the users and they said, "Well, the things it doesn't do are this, this, and this." Well, the tool we were replacing it with didn't do those things either. So we're not losing anything.

Joey Giangola: What was the last or most maybe impactful time where you showed restraint on something that you felt like, boy, I'm glad we waited on that.

Bradley Flowers: Oh, I wish I would have known this question was coming. I could have come up with a really good answer. We almost pulled the trigger on going full HubSpot about three months ago. You know, and a lot of the listeners know, that once you go HubSpot you're with HubSpot. And we almost pulled the trigger because it could do a lot of the things we needed. But at the last minute I decided to hold off.

And now in the next few weeks, one of the vendors we use is debuting some of the same features, which were the exact features we needed out of HubSpot. So I'm kind of glad that we held off. That would have been, I'm not going to say it would be a $12,000 mistake, but I would have had to pay $12,000 more for something that my other vendor was working on.

Joey Giangola: Yeah, to that maybe back to the due diligence part of it, asking around before you're looking to maybe make that decision. Just poke around with who you're already doing business with and see what's coming.

Bradley Flowers: And don't be scared to be a squeaky wheel, you know? It's going to be shocking to everyone listening that knows me that I'm considered a squeaky wheel amongst my vendors and carriers. But don't be scared to reach out to your vendors and say, "Hey, it would be great if you guys would add X feature."

Not saying that anytime I've ever made that call, that it made a difference. But it may be a situation where, "You know, we've heard that about 50 other times in the last two months. We may need to start looking at that."

And here's the thing too, pay attention with your vendors and your carriers even. When you make a suggestion, do they listen? Even if they don't make those changes, are they listening? That's super important to me, super important. Are you hearing us out? Because if you're not willing to listen when I have a suggestion, even though I'm just one agent, that kind of tells me the overall direction you're going in.

Joey Giangola: I mean, it's nice to be heard even if they're pretending, right?

Bradley Flowers: Yeah exactly. Exactly.

Joey Giangola: Back on the agency side of things, I was kind of curious about this in terms of, if you could take something that you have felt you've had the agility to pull off, and again like you said, being a newer upstart agency that you've seen the benefit of, that maybe somebody that's been in business for quite a while, with those fresh eyes, is there something that you would like to just say, "Keep this in mind. Don't lose sight of this. It's been beneficial over the last year or whatever it is for me." Again, we've commonly referred to it as legacy, whatever, right? Insert X, Y, or Z. Is there something that really stands out to you that boy, I'm glad that we were able to jump around a little bit?

Bradley Flowers: As far as something we've done well, is what you're saying?

Joey Giangola: I mean, it could be poorly. It could be well. I mean, preferably well. But just something that, again, the freedom to be able to just move in whichever direction you need to, where you see other people's just kind of weighed down with legacy.

Bradley Flowers: There's two things. One, we utilize VAs very heavily and we've done a very, very good job of that. They allow us to move a lot faster, you know, speed boat versus the Titanic from a practical level. We've done a really good job with that. It's very easy to say, oh, that doesn't work or, oh, that's so different from what we're used to. So we do a really good job with that.

But one thing too, I'd like to say is focusing on culture. I talk to so many agents and a lot of them are producers or employees of an agency, not agency owners, that more times than not, they're disappointed because of the culture in their agencies. For me, when I was captive, because of a lot of situations that were my fault and out of my control, I sort of had the reputation that I was difficult to work for.

When I started Portal, not only because company culture is very important to not only the success of a business but the happiness of your employees, but I also wanted to prove people wrong that I was not difficult to work for. So I really focused on culture and hiring the right people. Made a lot of mistakes in the beginning, but we've gotten to a really good place now where we're hiring a lot of great people and we have some awesome folks here. And just focusing on culture first and telling people, hey look, the fastest way to get shown the door is to not play nice in the sandbox with everybody else, just for the sake of office politics. You know, being the bigger person. If there's an issue we need to address it. But just focusing heavily on the culture has made a massive difference, I think, in our agency.

And right now we're hiring. We're a little bit short-handed and this is the longest we've gone needing to hire somebody and not hiring that person yet because we've got such a good thing going here and such a tight knit group of people that I don't want to bring the wrong person in here.

The last step to come to work for us as a team interview. It has to be unanimous with everybody, or we don't hire that person. Just, I think bringing them into some of the decision-making processes and feeling like it's true that they can help grow this agency and build it and are a part of it, I think it means a lot and goes a long way as far as buying into what we're trying to do.

Joey Giangola: Yeah. I was going to ask, did you have an instinct? When setting that culture was something that you thought, boy, I think this is going to be important? And did it ultimately end up being important? It sounds like a lot of it is focused on again, getting everybody's buy-in with situations. But is there something that you had an instinct to follow in terms of building that culture?

Bradley Flowers: I think transparency. I'm not going to say I had this big plan to be transparent, but I think transparency is super important. You know, closed door, ivory towers does not work anymore. And having an open door and literally and figuratively glass walls, I think goes a long way.

You know, every project I'm working on in here, everybody knows about for the most part. That to me is super important. Back to being heard, making employees feel heard and that sort of thing. That's kind of step one for me to getting people to buy into a vision.

And our overall mission is to empower our customers, whether that be saving them money and allowing them to afford dance lessons for their daughter or them paying more money with us, but they feel better protected, or just giving such a warm and fuzzy feeling that that customer feels the need to be warm and fuzzy to everyone else they deal with that day, whether it be the person that's taking their order at Starbucks or another customer of theirs.

Kind of the ethos of our culture is we understand that we are not the highlight of your day. There's no person, I mean, there probably is, but generally speaking, there's no person that wakes up, rubs their hands together and says, "Oh boy, I get to deal with my insurance agent today," right?

And so we understand that we're not necessarily getting people at their best. If anything, we're getting them at their worst. And I think when you can recognize that and empathize with people, I think it goes a long way from a customer experience standpoint. So the transparency in that is kind of step one. Because I think I've seen a lot of agents, and even myself in the past, you get that customer that's a little bit upset and you want to be defensive and give it back to them and that sort of thing. And that doesn't solve anything.

Joey Giangola: Definitely awareness to your overall client's state of mind is definitely something that goes maybe largely unnoticed. Bradley, I got three more questions for you. First one, pretty simply. What's one thing that you hope you never forget?

Bradley Flowers: Honestly, this is going to sound hokey, but how the insurance industry made me feel when we started. We started the Insurance Guys podcast and started building up some momentum and meeting people and that sort of thing. It was very welcoming. And to be honest with you, the community, when I was captive, the community of agents there probably kept me captive like a year longer than I should have been because I didn't want to lose those friendships and those relationships.

And I had no idea... Like the podcast happened at the perfect time, because basically, as soon as I was getting ready to quit Alfa where I worked, was kind of when the podcast started taking off and some speaking engagements started happening and you got to meet these people that you knew online, air quotes. And I had no idea there was a bigger community waiting for me on the other side. So, that's probably that.

Joey Giangola: Now on the other side of that, what's one thing you still have yet to learn?

Bradley Flowers: Probably how to effectively manage an independent agency from a process and procedures standpoint. Because we started this baby from scratch and it's kind of like building a house. You don't realize how many things you have to make a decision on until you have to make a decision on door knobs and bushes and floorboards and things like baseboards and things like that. So that's one thing that I'm really obsessed with. I understand that I kind of suck at it. And so probably that from a practicality standpoint.

Joey Giangola: My brother, last question to you, sir. If I were to hand you a magic wand of sorts to reshape, change, alter, speed up, improve really any area of insurance that you saw fit, what is that thing? Where's it going and what's it doing?

Bradley Flowers: Ooh, probably making every insurance carrier, every company focus on the customer first and working their way backwards rather than worrying about profits or exits or how many times earnings they're trading and things that. It's why Amazon's winning. It's why companies like Uber win. It's why Apple wins. It's because they're focused on that customer first, that end consumer experience and how they're making that customer feel and everything else falls in line after that.

I think there's too many companies in this industry that are worried about exiting or whatever. And there's nothing wrong with exiting, there's nothing wrong with selling your company. Super happy for some of my friends that have exited recently. But I think making it your goal to do that or making it your goal to even make money, not that profit's dirty or anything like that because without profit, none of this happens. But just focus on your customer. Be obsessed with your customer. Everything else is going to work itself out.

Joey Giangola: All right Brad. This has been fantastic, sir. I'm going to leave it right there.

Bradley Flowers: You always ask the best questions, man.

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