Why New and Risky Contractors Need a Better Insurance Experience
Laura Allen, southeast region vice president, talks about the challenges and opportunities you face targeting small and midsize contractors.
It's easy to get distracted by what you think is missing from your agency.
It's even easier to allow those distractions to turn into excuses that justify maintaining the status quo.
When in reality, there's an entire dimension of maximization you haven't accessed inside your current tools.
But how beneficial would it be to develop super abilities with fairly common technology?
Toni Jones, vice president of Transportation Marketing at Palomar Insurance, talks about how she makes the most out of everyday situations.
Joey Giangola: Toni Jones, how you doing today?
Toni Jones: I'm well. How are you?
Joey Giangola: Toni, I'm doing okay. I'm doing okay. Before we really get into anything too serious, I kind of want to know this first, and if you had the opportunity to maybe change or remove any social interaction that has become commonplace, is there something that you would say, "Yeah, I'm good with that, and I think we could maybe do without"?
Toni Jones: I think we could do without the handshake. I could probably do without the hug from everyone. Other than that, I'm good. I like a fist bump.
Joey Giangola: Physical interaction. It's definitely optional. I think there maybe should be a sign that could be worn. For me, Toni, I think it's not responding to people when they're not having interest in conversation. I don't feel the need like, I could just not say something to you and I think that would be okay. But that's kind of treated as rude.
Toni Jones: Yeah, you're right.
Joey Giangola: But so much work in social settings. Toni, I want to move things over to the world of insurance, you've been in the game for quite a while and you've had your fair share of experiences. Is there something that you feel maybe has become unnecessary, redundant, or possibly outdated in your day-to-day?
Toni Jones: Goodness. What an open-ended question. Insurance itself is, there's all these new technologies available and a lot of people do not access them, including us. We don't use them as much as we should. We're starting to evolve and grow in that direction.
Joey Giangola: That's the kind of the thing is that we often find ourselves with duplicate data entry and things like that, and you feel like you're having, again, similar conversations over and over again. From that aspect, what do you think maybe less redundant, but is there something that you feel maybe you're having a hard time moving past in the agency that you can't seem to overcome? Is there something that you find challenging every day that is maybe not up to your standards?
Toni Jones: We have people who are very well established and they're very much ingrained in doing things a certain way. They feel like they want to get those signatures, they want to be there in person to present, which is great. A face-to-face interaction is definitely part of what makes insurance agents and the independent insurance agencies have value. I appreciate that. But sometimes, we are in a crunch time and we are like, "Let's get it done." And DocuSign is a great tool and similar services are great tools that are not necessarily used to their full capacity at my insurance agency. Also, being able to pay without a paper check, that seems to really bother some people. They want to write the check and hand it over or type the check, however they do it internally. The idea of putting ACH information into database or to a portal, to a website it's like, I've spoken Chinese to them. They're like, "What? Wait, what?"
Joey Giangola: You bring up a good point. I think even lying underneath all of that uncertainty for people sometimes is just, there's maybe a sense of losing the relationship in some way, shape, or form. That is somehow part of the value add of the services rendered, sort of thing. Again, it feels like it may come natural, but for other people that may be in similar positions where they're struggling to bring everybody along, there are other things that we can do. How do you get over that hump of saying, "Listen, that's not really what they want us to do," and how do you communicate the things that you think are more important?
Toni Jones: Honestly, I think it's a case-by-case basis with various insureds. I have some insureds who are on board to do any and everything. They're early adopters. If we're trying to implement some new services, I know who to go to. They will be the ones that will try it and they're okay if it doesn't work quite well, if it fails a little bit, or if there's some different things that need to be ironed out. I have other insureds who they want what's tried and true and they do not want to be guinea pigs in any way, shape, or form.
I have some insureds who only communicate by fax. Fax. It is 2023. They hand write and they fax it in, and they expect us to fax back to them. I have other insureds who only want to talk on the phone. I have some that will only accept paperwork by snail mail. There is an actual mailing process that goes back and forth. You have to start their paperwork process well in advance. Honestly, it just depends on who you're working with. You just have some insureds who are game to go for anything and you just have others who are, they're not. They don't even have smartphones. Some of them still have flip phones. You just never know what you're going to get.
Joey Giangola: Do you use any of that? That's the other thing that I find interesting, too. Do you use any of that in terms of the, we always look at qualifying a prospect in terms of their overall insurability. But do you ever qualify them based on their ability to do business with you in the way that you prefer?
Toni Jones: That would be a great idea. No, we do not. We don't. We don't disqualify anyone despite how technology unaware they may be. Although sometimes it is a hurdle that I find very difficult to overcome, but we still figure it out and we do it. No, we do not but I think that's a worthy idea. I do.
Joey Giangola: I'm just saying the fax machine may or may not have passed its prime and it might be time to go.
Toni Jones: At one time, we had individual fax numbers for each of our employees and it came to our inbox, our email inbox, of course. But now we've even eliminated that because it just wasn't used very often. Now, we have maybe two or three ways to fax to Palomar and they all still go to inboxes. But one person's kind of guarding the information and distributing it as needed. But I don't have many people that are like that, but I do have a few and they mean business about it. Don't email them. They have email addresses, but they do not check them.
Joey Giangola: What do you think it is about, like you said, you're trying to move the agency in a direction where maybe some of these things aren't as big of a deal. What is it that's on your horizon? Where are you looking to get to? What is the next step for you in terms of, "Boy, if I could do this," or "Boy, if I could do that," what is something that really has caught your attention?
Toni Jones: We've been using teams, Microsoft Teams. We started implementing that a few years back. I found that it has been very, very useful in being able to track what people are doing, be able to track tasks, even just information that we receive from multiple brokers and insurance carriers that we work with directly. Having a lot of just resources that are easily retrievable while on the go, because we're a remote office, we're hybrid. We work four days at home, one day in the office, so everyone's everywhere. Teams allows us to really consolidate all of our information and data and it's really easy for me. They love to come at me, ask me questions. I'm like, "Just check Teams. I got it. Just look in Teams, and here it is." It is quicker for me to be able to respond to people. It makes my job a lot simpler. I think it's easier for them to be able to just get that information at the drop of a dime. It's tight there.
That's one thing that we've really been pushing, something that I want to get implemented within our agency and I need to figure out the best way to do it. There are a lot of different resources available, but we really need a centralized prospecting database. I know there's Salesforce, there's a lot of different things available, but we do have those well-established producers who are not probably going to be very diligent about putting things in the system. Information is only as good as what you put in. What you get out of it is what you put in it. We've tried these things before and they have failed. But I just feel like there has to be some sort of solution. But right now, I do transportation, I do trucking primarily, and we have probably 15 producers that are doing trucking within our agency. There could be a lot of overlap. There can be a lot of prospecting of same or similar accounts, connected accounts, and that's something that I feel we are looking for a solution for that, and we haven't yet found the right one. But that's something I'm adamantly and eagerly attempting to locate.
Joey Giangola: There's definitely a lot there. Toni. Before we move off of the whole Teams thing and feel like you have something that you can maybe add just a super Teams hack that like, "Hey, here's a good tip for organizing in a way that you probably aren't using."
Toni Jones: We have multiple different Teams groups depending on what you're doing. I have a transportation group that consists of my marketers, my CSRs, my producers. We have commercial, personalized. We have the various groups. Within that group, I have chats established for different groups so we can quickly go run things back and forth between one another when we can't get each other on the phone. Plus it's always there as a record of what's been said so people can go back in and look at what has been a question before. Then, we use our files and we have it set up by applications, by carrier, miscellaneous information.
Palomar need to know just a lot of different files and groups and folders and renewal lists, even. We put our renewals in there and we have them organized by who's going to be marketing what. We identify all that stuff where you can just pull it up to see what's what and what's going on. The wiki is great for little tidbits that you need to be able to tell somebody and there's not really a place that you would file it because there's not a file, but just like a need-to-know. Do you want to know how to calculate somebody's age in Excel really quickly because you're doing an Excel list? I just got the formula right there. You just click it in there. How to use our Epay, how to collect that from insured or prospects, just all sorts of little tools are in the wiki. We also have our tasks, which we use with our assistants and we upload tasks into it.
It's called the Tasks and Planner. I think it's a Microsoft one. We just use the basic. But when you send that to them, they get an email saying that that's out there. Then they can go and assign it to themselves. Because we have two transportation assistants specifically and I assign it to both. They both know it's out there. Whoever gets to it first, they assign it to themselves, they say it's in progress, they put little notes telling you what's going on, what the status is. I'm very much into Teams. I hired a new marketer last month and she came on board. She said, "We use teams." She said, "But we did not use Teams the way that you use Teams." She said, "I love this". She's like, "Everything's just right there." And it is, because I don't print a lot of paper. I use what technology has bestowed upon me. I don't have to print a lot of things to make things be effective and efficient, and people love it. It's very useful.
Joey Giangola: Even just the email reduction alone has probably been a life changer, I would imagine.
Toni Jones: Yeah, yeah.
Joey Giangola: Yeah, that's definitely I would say more than most people are using Teams anywhere, be my guess, just to say for my unofficial poll here, I would say that you probably are in the top 1% of Teams usage there. You said a lot of interesting things, one about information. It's hard to get good information out if you don't put good information in. I think we would be surprised or maybe shocked at how high up you could go in the insurance world and still find it built on with duct tape and string, and Excel files everywhere. At what point do you think, this might be a little existential, but at what point do you think that we would benefit from a little more organization? Because like you said, somebody that does to have things kind of buttoned up. How much do you think we're leaving on the table, even just in your own case with the transportation accounts that you're not currently properly tying together?
Toni Jones: Oh, a ton. A ton. Just from an organization perspective, having a good list of everything, knowing what your processes and procedures are and being able to implement them, in that way you can help to cross-train additional people on staff, better train new hires, I think is just critical. You're right, it's not something that we are necessarily the strongest at in our industry, but it's something that we should work toward.
Joey Giangola: Have you had maybe some success with a process like again, getting some adoption, some headway with processes in the agency that you feel may be proud of? Is there a secret, at least hurting the cats in some aspect?
Toni Jones: Oh gosh, not so much. Strong leadership is really critical. If you don't have a leader or a leadership team, a management team that is really focused on that and driving that home to the employees, it's never going to succeed. We have very much written out procedures manuals for the different segmentations because every department does things a little bit differently, but we have that written. It's written. All is documented. It helps us on an E&O side too as well. You have to have some sort of process in place that is systematic in order to prevent E&Os from occurring. That's the whole point of it.
We have a strong team that really pushes it. We actually have our own trainer. Her job is to train new employees, new hires, people that have been there long term, even just on how to do their jobs better, how they might be skipping our process. After a while, you get immune to one, two, three, four. You're just like, "I don't know. Let's just jump to four. I'm good with the rest of these things." Eventually, it catches up with you. Her job is to train and retrain, re-educate, hold lunch and learns, do all the things that are going to help us run smoother and be a better functioning agency overall, and she does a great job at that.
Joey Giangola: Real quick. Just maybe give me a scope on terms of the size of the agency overall, just in terms of how many people you got going there, different roles and sort of all that stuff.
Toni Jones: We have around a hundred employees. We're a family-owned agency and small relative, some of the larger bank-owned agencies. But when you think of a family-owned agency, a hundred employees is substantial. We have a lot of things going on. The bigger you are, I feel like the more important it is for you to have some very detailed things because everyone wants to do what they want to do.
Joey Giangola: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, a hundred is definitely on that larger side in terms of family agencies. Most people are dealing in the 20, 30 range. You definitely have quite a big operation there. I just want to get a little context in that. You mentioned also too on the E&O side of things and the strong processes. Doing a lot of transportation, I don't know if you've come across this as much as I have, but it does seem like transportation's that line of coverage that is very alluring. It's very seductive that people want to maybe dive into, but it's not for the faint of heart and for the sort of the weekend warrior, if you will. Would you have any tips for somebody that if they did want to get a little more serious about it, some of the best ways to start without making a mess of it?
Toni Jones: I would highly advise that you find a mentor who does do trucking and knows what they are doing and do not just jump out on that ledge on your own because you will fall to your death. It is a precarious niche. Once you get it, you got it, but you got to get it first. I would suggest reaching out to someone, go through your state big eye group, see who they can probably pair you with as a resource or as a mentor. They can probably help to guide you and find someone that does what you're looking to do, that you won't interfere in their territory. Because that's also the thing too. People don't want to necessarily train their competition. But there are a lot of people that are willing to be resources for you if you just ask. That would be my suggestion.
I would definitely read. There are lots, not lots, but there are a couple of different designations you can get that can help you. On the truck side, there's a trucking risk specialist designation through the Motor Carrier Insurance Education Foundation. There's the trip designation through IRMI. There's different things you can do that just help the basic knowledge, but to get on the ground floor and to know how to talk to a trucking account, which is a different beast than talking to a contractor. There's different lingo. There are things you need to know that you're just not going to know until you find someone to help you with that because they can sniff out someone who doesn't really know, someone that kind of knows, they can sniff you out really quickly.
They just ask a few questions and you're flummoxed or, "I don't even know what you mean by that." That would be my suggestion. Try to find someone who has an established book and that can be a resource for you and get them to just maybe let you tag along just to see how things go, how things work. That has worked for us. When we get new producers on board to do trucking and they've never done it before, we oftentimes do pair them with a more experienced producer and they can learn the ropes from them and it has helped almost everyone. It's a worthwhile thing. A buddy system never fails. It works for small children and it works in insurance which is filled with small children, right?
Joey Giangola: Possibly. Possibly. Toni, I've got three more questions for you.
Toni Jones: All right.
Joey Giangola: The first one is, what is one thing you hope you never forget?
Toni Jones: I hope I never, ever forget the smell of my children after a fresh bath and the feel of their hugs when they come. The hugs are the best. When they come and run up to you and hug you after a long day, like they haven't seen you in 10 to 20, but it's really just been eight hours, that's what I hope I never forget in my old age.
Joey Giangola: Now on the other side of that, what's one thing you still have yet to learn?
Toni Jones: Oh, God. So many things. I feel like I'm a master of none. Jack of all trades, a master of none. I feel like I know a little about a lot of things, and a lot about a little. I don't know everything. I want to be the best insurance professional that I can be on the career side. I want to be the best mother that I can be. I really need to figure out a work life balance, and that is something I struggle with daily. So that probably needs to be at the top of my figure out list. That's something I feel that I think often.
Joey Giangola: Don't be too out on yourself, Toni. Maybe this last question will help you out. Last question to you, Toni. If I were to hand you a magic wand of sorts to change, speed up, alter really any part of insurance, what's that thing, where is it going, and what's it doing?
Toni Jones: Insurance specifically. No. I just want the magic wand to allow me to have all the hours in the day, like just to stop time and do what I need to do, and then make time. That's what I need the wand to do. I want to control time and space.