How to Focus on Making Communication Stronger Between Employees and Clients

Your clients and employees have both been adjusting to doing business differently.

Those interactions have been more unique and varied than you could have ever imagined.

Because now there's little certainty around how and where they will take place.

It's possible the limits of that flexibility will be tested in a way there's no getting out of.

Jana Foster, Owner of Nevada Insurance Agency, talks about how far her agency has stretched to keep everyone involved.

Joey Giangola: Jana Foster, how are you doing today?

Jana Foster: Good, thank you. How are you?

Joey Giangola: I'm doing all right. I need to know this before we really get into anything serious, and what was the last time that you tried something, you were really excited to try something new and it just did not turn out the way you expected?

Jana Foster: Oh, wow. I think that's, these days, I feel like I've tried several different things in the last year that I've learned a lot about. Something that didn't work out as well as I thought it was going to, I mean, that's my whole life, right?

Joey Giangola: [crosstalk 00:00:40].

Jana Foster: No, I mean, yeah, I definitely have been trying new things in this remote life, I guess, that I normally probably wouldn't. And just for me, taking time and finally just having that time to do something else has been amazing. I've been reading a lot more. I've been listening to more podcasts that are not insurance related. Of course, I still get yours in there. I think I told you, I love your podcast because it's short and sweet and it's always something that's somewhat fun and obviously super relatable for me.

But yeah, I think reading, just spending more time just being in the moment for me has, I mean, I guess that's been a success for me, but not something that hasn't worked out, but I think just being forced to do that has been an interesting, I guess, part of this remote/quarantine world that we're living in, because normally if I wasn't forced to do that, I'm kind of a busy body.

Joey Giangola: Well, the check's in the mail, Jan, I appreciate that very much. But for me, on the failure front, it's pretty easy. It usually starts somewhere in the kitchen. I'm usually excited to try something new and I'm like, "Oh, this looks easy. I'm going to do it." And then it just, it's a terrible train wreck of a disaster and nobody's eating it and then I just have to reflect on my self-esteem for quite a while.

But you kind of went into where I wanted to go, talking about the agency life. Is there something that maybe stands out from what you have had to try to do, you've been forced into over the last, I mean, everybody's dealing with it across all industries, but is there something that really has stood out to you in terms of that sort of, one, there's being forced into doing something, and there's also being excited to do it. Is there something that, maybe let's go through those questions, is there something that you were wanting to try, but you had the everybody staying at home gave you the opportunity to really dive into that? Gave you the permission to give it a shot and maybe erase the fears of whatever you might've had around it?

Jana Foster: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think for us, we have 20 employees, we have two locations. One in Carson City here in Northern Nevada and then one in Reno, which is half an hour away or so. And I think for us going remote, at first, it was really scary because it was something that we hadn't ever thought of doing. And so we ended up going relatively quickly into that format as everybody had to. And I think for us, just having the platform of Zoom or whatever it was, those meetings, I think it took away a lot of... Our meetings were almost more efficient in that way, because we knew that we had this chunk of time, it was like everyone was busy, everyone was doing their own thing.

So I feel like our producer meetings have been a little bit more efficient. Our meetings with our customer service representatives have been more efficient. Our reviews have been better online for whatever reason. It's kind of strange, but I feel like people are so comfortable maybe in their own homes, or if they have their dog on their lap or they can be petting their cat or something just about being at home for some of our employees was really comforting. And I will say this, it's interesting because a lot of our employees went into remote and loved it. And now we are getting to, in Nevada, we're getting to the point where we can start opening back up again. We've made the decision to open up next month. And it's funny, the employees that really wanted to work remote are like, "Oh yes, I'm so happy we're coming back into the office."

And I'm like, I've been shocked by that. It's just interesting to me how that dynamic has changed and how I think going back into the office, we'll appreciate that a little bit more, being able to just have those "water cooler" conversations or whatever you want to call them. I think is an important part of the culture of your agency and just getting to know the people that work for you and the people that you're working with.

So, it's been interesting for sure. I think that we will be... We're happy that we've learned so much about our employees as well, just how they've been dealing with that, this different platform and this different life. And we've definitely had some COVID cases that we've gone through, so that's been really scary too. Two of our employees have actually had it, so really hit close to home and I mean, it was scary for them. So yeah, it's just been interesting, I'll say that.

Joey Giangola: Well, you know what I mean? I guess we shouldn't dismiss children carrying around the blanket all the time. I mean, there's something to having that a piece of comfort with you. Do you think, I guess, maybe I've never thought about it until you've said it this way, but do you think that we will now be better equipped to be more flexible in how we operate and just in the way that we pay attention to how people respond in different situations? And maybe I'm going to offer this particular renewal, just the option to do it at home, or I really got to get this guy in because I feel like they're going to be a little more responsive to it, has that gleaned any sort of insights and responses to how you interact with your clients?

Jana Foster: Absolutely. I think in the very beginning, when we shut down in March, our one agency, the Carson City office and that's the office that I'm in, we're in a really central location in the city and we would have people, I mean, we've been around since 1935, not to age myself, but... So we have a lot of clients that like to come in and make their payments and do the 20 minute chitchat with their agent, or whatever it is. And that's great, we've always loved that, we've always been here for it. But I think for our clients, it's shown them a little bit of like, "Oh, I can live with making my payment online or just calling my agent and making the payment over the phone."

So our clients have definitely been receptive to the fact that we're trying to do our part and keep Nevada safe and things like that. So they've definitely learned a lot. We've learned a lot about our clients and we know too, I think we... I just talked about it in an article that I did, it's like, I like to provide my staff with the tools that they like to be provided with. If they want to talk on a chat platform, if they want to text, if they want to do all these different tech things, that's great. And then we have another generational gap that still like to do things a certain way. They are constantly picking up the phone all day. And so if that works for them, that's what we do for them.

And I feel like the same is for our clients. If they'd like to come in and make a payment, we're happy to accommodate that when we can. And we're happy to do the, maybe not 20 minutes of chit chat, but we're happy to shoot the breeze with them for a minute too. So I think just giving my employees and also giving my clients options and that freedom of choice of how they would like to do business, I think has been important for us. And we've come to a lot of that realization in the last year. Forced realization, I guess, but it is what it is.

Joey Giangola: I have a serious question to follow up on that, because you said a lot of really smart things, but first, I can't have you say Carson City one more time without talking about the movie Con Air, because that's the only place I've ever heard that city before. Please, you have to have seen the movie, I hope.

Jana Foster: That's our claim to fame. Yeah, for sure.

Joey Giangola: I've never been, but it's the one thing, I saw it as a kid and it's just like, when I hear Carson City, that's just John Malcovich and Nicholas Cage talking about going to Carson City.

Jana Foster: Yeah. No, it's so funny. It's funny because I feel like in the Big I world, people are like, "Oh, that girl's from Nevada." And a lot of it has been like, "That girl's from Nevada. Oh, so you're from Vegas?" It's like, "No, I'm not from Vegas." I take offense to that. We call Vegas the Devil's Playground and up north is God's Country, so huge difference as far as that goes. But yes, if you remember in fifth grade, Carson City is the capital of Nevada.

Joey Giangola: I didn't remember that, but thank you for reminding me. But-

Jana Foster: You're welcome.

Joey Giangola: But on a more serious note, so you talked about that, maybe, adaptability and for the longest time, workplace in general was sort of like my way or the highway sort of thing. And that's gradually been changing over the last couple, I would say decade or so. I mean, has that accelerated that process? I mean, in the way that you look at it now of saying, "I feel like I have an idea of how I want to run the agency, but at the same time, I kind of really have to be open to anything at this point and really listening to what might fit my employees best."

Jana Foster: Absolutely. I mean, I feel like I go to... I mean, in my past life post-2020, I feel like I go to all these conventions and meet all these people and different agency owners, I mean, big and small, and they have these great ideas and I'm always just this sponge taking in all this information. Like, how can I take that and adapt it to my agency? Or all the time when I'm on these calls and listening to things, I'll be taking notes about how I could apply that to mine. And some of it comes to fruition, some of it's just like notes that I find a year later that I'm like, "Damn, that was a good idea. Why didn't I do that?" But at the end of the day, if it ends up not being used, I feel like it didn't work for us. It didn't click for us and it didn't work for the 20 of us here at our agency.

So I definitely feel like my way or the highway is interesting because we've kind of been talking about that as well. We have, within our agency, certain employees that do things a certain way. They've been doing it for this long, and this is how they like to do it. Is it efficient? Yes. Does it work for the agency? Yes. Are they making money? Yes. It's like, okay, that works for me. But at the same time, does that other employee have to model what this other employee is doing? And it's like, absolutely not. What they're doing is working, but it's working maybe just for them and maybe that platform or those tools don't necessarily work for you. And that's fine too. I'm all about just finding something that works for you and rolling with it. I mean, I don't think in insurance or really in anything, there's one golden key or one answer to how we can service our clients. But I think it's about finding a mix of things that work for you and what works for your agency.

Joey Giangola: Yeah. Assuming, I would imagine, the biggest challenge to that is turnover and having to rediscover a new set of tools and things for employees. I'm assuming most agencies, well a lot that I know, tend to hold onto people for a long time, but there are others that have quite a bit of a high turnover rate. And we have friends in the industry that preach process, process, and you're sort of creating this thing. I don't know. I guess, I don't know if there's really necessarily a question there, but something that I thought would be interesting to consider, I guess, what would that look like in your agency in terms of bringing new people in versus holding onto people you got?

Jana Foster: Yeah. So for us, I mean, we've been so lucky we've had my dad was, he retired five years ago and most of the people that we have on staff today were hired by my dad. I think actually everybody other than maybe a couple were hired by my dad. So they have this... So the little backstory, so the agency was owned by my dad. He bought it from a family friend. It's been in Nevada since 1935. So, longstanding history in Nevada, once my dad retired, my two brothers came into the business in 2000 when work comp was coming into the state. And then I joined 10 years later once I was out of college. And so it's now my two older brothers and myself own the business and we bought my dad out.

So for us and the agency and the employees that we have, they have a huge sense of family. They look at us and they loved my dad, he's a great guy. He'll often come back when we were doing lunches and stuff and pop in and have lunch with us. And so for us, it's all about a family, and sometimes that doesn't work, sometimes if somebody is not pulling their weight, we have to let them go. And it's really hard, but at the same time, I feel like... We had this conversation the other day, my brothers and I, and it's like, if you get let go by us, you've really done something wrong because we really drag it out and we give you a lot of chances. So that's kind of where... And that's not a good thing. I mean, that's definitely something that we got from my dad and just being part of the family and things like that.

But no, I think turnover's really hard. We've been lucky enough to not have a huge thing of turnover happening in our agency over the past, I'll say 10 to 15 years, so that's been great. But what we are coming up on is, because we have people that my dad had hired, we have some people that are coming up on retirement age. So, that is interesting, that's kind of where we are right now and trying to figure out, how do we fill that? Do we fill it internally? And then hire somebody on to take that other position that would now be open? So, that's definitely our next obstacle that we need to climb over is, what do we do about these people who are so beloved by their clients? I mean, we have this girl, she's been with us for over 30 years and she calls the client, she knows their dog's name, their birthdays. I mean, how do you replace that? So, that's a tough spot for us, for sure. And I'll let you know how it goes.

Joey Giangola: Well, I was going to say, we're going to have that one clip redacted from the internet for any new hires that you have coming in, so they don't know exactly how easy they have it is [inaudible 00:15:05]. But yeah, I mean, the other thing too, and I appreciate this Jana, is that you actually call your dad your dad. I don't know if you've ever met other people in the industry that will call their parents by their first name. That freaks me out. Like, listen, you know who they are. It's just very weird. I don't know. Anyways.

Jana Foster: Well, no, I do have a funny story about that. So my dad was big in the Big I in Nevada. He was our chairman in Nevada. And so he... And I mean, you kind of have to know my dad to understand it, but he's larger than life personality and so I'm the baby, it's my two older brothers and me, and I'm the baby. And so the first convention that he and I went to, he was introducing me to people and he'd be like, "Oh, this is the baby." And people would be like, "Oh, okay. Does baby have a name?"

And so still to this day, one of our board of directors from Nevada, Mark Schwartz, and he's a good friend of ours, still just calls me the baby. So he'll be like, "We're waiting on the baby." And it's funny because when other people join the association, they're like, "Why does that guy call her the baby all the time? It's very weird." So I'm like, "Thanks, dad. That's great." So maybe I should call him Mike, but more importantly, I think he should just call me Jana when he introduces me and not the baby.

Joey Giangola: That's probably something worth reevaluating for sure.

Jana Foster: Yeah. For sure.

Joey Giangola: But I mean, what are you going to do?

Jana Foster: I don't take him out very often anymore, no.

Joey Giangola: Maybe a good thing. I did want to get back to this real quick though, Jana, you mentioned stealing or collecting, accumulating ideas from people that you interact with in the industry. Is there one that has stood out that you've been really excited about? Like your last great idea that you've kind of come across?

Jana Foster: This is something, and it's so simple and it seems so silly and I'm sure, because you're such a techie, you'll be like, "Oh my gosh. So lame." But it is the tiniest thing to me. I don't know. We had this speaker at our LETS event for a leadership conference and her name was Beth Z. Have you ever heard of her?

Joey Giangola: I have not. No.

Jana Foster: She calls herself, your nerdy best friend or your nerdy BFF or something like that. And she's great. She had all these tech cool little things that she did, and she introduced us to this app called Last Pass. Have you heard of that?

Joey Giangola: Oh, okay. Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Jana Foster: See, something so simple. You're like, "Whatever, that's so lame." But for me it was a game changer because oftentimes that's part of our problem. We'll have people out of the office and all these different logins and passcodes, just something easy to simplify my life. So I was very grateful for that little nugget that Beth Z gave me. But no, I think-

Joey Giangola: I'm actually...

Jana Foster: Go ahead.

Joey Giangola: Go ahead. No, actually, [inaudible] can use Last Pass because I've accidentally locked myself out of my Last Pass and I don't know how to get in. It's just like the most impenetrable thing ever. So it's just out of my life completely.

Jana Foster: See? If you needed to remember one password, that was absolutely the password that you needed to remember.

Joey Giangola: I honestly don't know how it happened, Jana. It's one of my most embarrassing techie moments, we'll say, but I've given up. It's been like three years. I just gave up. It's just out of my life.

Jana Foster: Not as bad as the guy that's locked up his Bitcoin. Have you heard about that?

Joey Giangola: I did hear about that. That's pretty impressive.

Jana Foster: Yeah. So I don't know how many chances he has left, but I'm really nervous for him. I hope that he gets that figured out, but no, I just think it's something so simple and it was something just so easy. Took me 10 minutes to get it all processed and just easy for my staff to be able to log into my accounts when I'm not around or vice versa. And I think it's just something easy and cool to do.

I will say, it has been less easy for me to pick up tools and tricks and cool things that other people are doing in their agencies just being in this platform. I feel like that was where I always would just have conversations with people, happy hour, cocktail hour, coffee breaks, stuff like that at all of our different things that we used to do when we would see people in person and be able to have a conversation. I just think it's so interesting how much we took that for granted. And now looking back on that, I'm like, "Man, there was so many great people in the room, and all that chatter was really worthwhile."

I think some of those MNAs started right there at cocktail hour or at a coffee break, just the conversation of that, for sure. So we've been talking a lot about, in the young agent realm, about perpetuation, because we feel like that's where a lot of the leadership is pushing towards kind of a perpetuation. So that's been our word for this year and moving forward and we've been doing a lot of work on that. And one of the big things is like, "Oh, you're looking towards perpetuation. Great. You should've started about five years ago. That's step number one." So, yeah.

Joey Giangola: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. I mean, it's one of those things, if you haven't started, like they said, the best time to plant a tree was yesterday, sort of thing, but I mean, those people are just mean and they don't really understand the way the world works, but I guess it's a similar concept.

Jana Foster: Pessimists.

Joey Giangola: Jana, I've got three more questions for you. And first, very simply, what is one thing that you hope you never forget?

Jana Foster: Let's see. Wow. That's a tough one. I think for me, I think it's just really what I have said prior to this. I feel like in every aspect, I took advantage of the life that I had before this pandemic and just those connections that you make with people in and outside of the insurance world. I just hope I never forget that again, because I think that those moments were more important than you give them credit for being in that moment. So I hope I never forget what I've been feeling like for the past year being locked up in this house. It's been a good life lesson though, that's for sure.

Joey Giangola: I'm pretty excited for the first big get together after everything and we're all... I think that'll be pretty electric. So I think it'll be worth it on the backside, it'll be interesting what happens on the other side.

Jana Foster: Absolutely. Yeah.

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

Jana Foster: Oh gosh, these questions are hard. I thought you said this was going to be easy. I still have a lot to learn. My goodness. Interestingly enough, I feel like I... Well, I guess I'll just tell you this, because I think the cat's out of the bag, I just turned 40 this year and it's been an interesting ride for sure. But I just feel like I have so much to learn and one of the things that I catch myself constantly telling my kids these things, and then I think in the back of my mind like, "You should really do that too." It's kind of just being in the moment and also just not caring about what other people think in regards to business, in regards to personal life, just living your best life for you and really not caring what other people think.

I think that's so easy to say and even for someone like me, I'm pretty confident. I can walk into a room and kind of talk to anybody. I don't really have enemies or anything like that, not that I know of, maybe behind my back I do, but I think that's something that's really tough for me is I will care and stew over what other people's perception of me is. And I just don't think that's a great way to live. And I think it's, hopefully a lot of other people can relate to that, but I'm constantly telling my kids that too, "Who cares what they think? I mean, why would you care about that?" And then I'm thinking in my own mind like, "Wait, you just did that. You literally just did that." So hopefully that will be a lesson that I can learn in the next 10 years, let's say.

Joey Giangola: Don't put a time limit on it, Jana, it's probably for the best. The last question. If I were to hand you a magic wand of sorts to reshape, change, alter, make better in any way, shape, or form that you see fit this fine industry that we both share, what's that thing, where's it going, and what's it doing?

Jana Foster: Oh my goodness. I'd be interested to see more collaboration. I don't know how that would look or work, but just more collaboration within the independent agents of just best practices, ways of doing businesses, what's working for you? What can you share as an independent agent? I think a lot of times we get people in corporate America, not necessarily in the insurance industry, to come out and talk to us about motivational speaking and all these different things. And those are always really good, but I feel like, who's on the frontline of the independent agents and what are they doing? What are these agents, these standout agents and, I know the Big I's done a really good job of highlighting some of those agents in quarantine and showing us how they've worked into the remote situation and things like that.

But I think just more of that, more collaboration with people that are just doing an amazing job and how are you doing it? What markets are you going after? Are you a generalist? Do you like to just stick with a niche market? I think I would really like to see that, more collaboration. The diversity training stuff has been really awesome for me. I know that a lot of people are leaning into changing within themselves. And just because you grew up a certain way doesn't mean that that still has to be what you believe and how you live your life and how you raise your kids. So I think a lot of that is important too. Yeah. I don't know. We'll see, magic wand. I wish I did have one.

Joey Giangola: Jana, this has been fantastic. I'm going to leave it right there.

Jana Foster: That's it?

Joey Giangola: That's it

Jana Foster: Awesome. Well, it was so good to see you.