An Innovative Approach To Training and Onboarding Account Managers (Featuring Justin Goodman) – Episode 021
In this episode of “The Digital Broker,” Steve Anderson and Ryan Deeds speak with their guest, Justin Goodman of Goodman Insurance Services about how his agency responded to the challenge of onboarding, training, and retaining new staff by developing their own training platform – Total CSR.
By listening to this episode, you will learn:
- The issues involved in creating an in-house training program
- The problems and costs that smaller agency face when training and retaining top talent
- How this new way of training can reduce the costs and time it takes to onboard Account Managers
- How the Total CSR training program works and why it’s changing the landscape
A continual problem in the insurance industry, especially for smaller and boutique agencies is deciding whether to incur the higher costs of hiring expert-level staff vs. hiring individuals with lesser experience and incur the cost of training. Regardless of their decision, smaller agencies still face the challenge of providing staff a strong career-path and keeping larger organizations from poaching their talent.
Justin Goodman and his training platform, Total CSR offer what could be a different option. The Total CSR package is presented as an onboarding software platform with a new approach that allows a smaller commercial lines agency to train new employees significantly faster – and more affordable.
Who is Justin Goodman? (2:42)
Justin Goodman comes from a family with three generations in insurance sales. Although Justin began his sales career in the shipping supply industry, he soon returned to the family tradition of insurance, working first for an agency previously owned by his family, and then forming Goodman Insurance Services with his brother ten years ago. Goodman Insurance is a niche market agency, focusing on commercial lines for insuring trade subcontractors in California.
What prompted the decision to create an in-house training program for new hires? (4:18)
Through his experience working at a publicly-traded company, Justin found that larger companies have far more training resources than what can usually be mustered by smaller agencies. In establishing his own agency, Justin learned that his desire to hire staff with at least a decade of experience and niche market expertise of working with contractors conflicted with the budgetary ability. Bigger players, such as publicly-traded companies and large regional agencies can afford to pay a premium for needed expertise, which is often as much as 30 percent more than a boutique agency can pay. In addition, the difficulty and expense of hiring individuals with specialized market experience come with the worry that these desirable candidates will be lured away by larger firms with more appealing opportunities within only a few years.
The recognition of the budget and retention issues made it clear that training needed to be done within the agency. Implementation of in-house training can be a problem in itself because very few staff will have the experience or desire to train properly.
An additional problem often overlooked is being able to recruit young candidates from the millennial demographic. Agencies are often not prepared for the different view in which many millennials approach their careers, especially with many having a penchant for frequent job changes.
Previously the Goodman Agency had focused on recruiting individuals who had a great deal of experience within the industry, but only a limited amount of knowledge. When they changed their hiring focus to training within the agency, the agency concluded that they could either hire an average candidate who would stay with the agency for a long time or they could hire an outstanding candidate who would almost certainly move on to another position within a few years. A common problem for agencies with revenues under 25 or 30 million dollars is that they often lack the ability to provide career pathing for that outstanding player who ultimately chooses to leave the agency.
What was the conceptual genesis for what ultimately became the Total CSR platform? (8:00)
The concept which led to the development of Total CSR came from the realization that training new millennial hires was working well but also required a great deal of time and expense. The industry standard for training an account manager is roughly two to three years. Part of the impetus behind Total CSR was the desire to create a different mindset. One that would change the mindset and allow for training new account managers and CSRs significantly faster than the existing two or three-year time frame.
It became obvious that the training could not be done faster without eliminating the reliance on a person spending the entire day physically performing training. A method was needed to remove the live person from the training equation while retaining an engaging and dynamic program that ensured that the trainee was actually learning. Too many programs involve participating in a tiresome online course where the trainee simply reads and scrolls through screens. An additional concern is that the individual must be trained quickly before they either lose focus on the training or lose interest in the industry. Coupled with this necessity to maintain interest and focus is the need to give millennials a clear vision of what they can become in the industry. The solution had to address a two-fold problem, – the “millennial syndrome”, coupled with the inability to engage and create acceptable career paths.
How was the product tested? (10:35)
The initial testing of the product was through the training of four account managers before the product was put into a platform scenario. Through this early training, it was determined that too much focus had been put on the coverage side. Six months after training, the account managers were surveyed and asked to grade their training in relation to the applicability to their daily job responsibilities. The grading of the training averaged between a D and a D minus. Clearly, a new approach was needed.
In light of the feedback, the content was then re-tooled and incorporated into a platform for trainees to use. The platform was also made available to other agencies in a series of beta tests to verify that it was actually delivering the desired results – that is, actually offering a solution versus the illusion of a solution.
What is Total CSR and how does it work? (11:50)
Total CSR is intended to be a practical insurance onboarding solution for commercial lines agencies. The program creates an environment and a seven-step process where an individual who is inexperienced in insurance can be trained within six or seven weeks. At the completion of training, they will be able to competently perform the duties of a commercial lines CSR.
What kind of individual is hired? (12:15)
The hiring process has been revamped. The individual is not hired based on their knowledge of the industry but on their perceived capability. Factors used in hiring include intelligence, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking skills.
The premise of Total CSR challenges the existing industry expectation that it needs to take a long time to train someone as well as the skepticism that someone can be made productive in a short time. To combat the skeptics, the analogy has been made to a once long-held belief that no runner could ever break the four-minute mile. However, once Roger Bannister actually succeeded in running the mile in under four minutes, the perception was shattered and now over 1400 people claim that accomplishment. It can be argued that the same perception exists in the insurance industry but no one has really dared to try to train people faster until now.
The Total CSR approach is to accomplish faster training by re-creating the environment that the Account Manager will experience within their own agency by using real-world situations. During the training, they will work with loss runs for all lines of coverage, be involved with ACORD forms, work on submissions similar to what a producer would give them, as well as gain understanding of final audits and policy checks. Total CSR exposes the trainee to all of the exercises needed when undertaking the role of an Account Manager.
Explain how you deliver the learning management system of CSR? (13:50)
The program is formatted into different modules based on lines of coverage. At the beginning of each module, there is a discussion of all of the key coverage pieces. The trainee will learn and retain the necessary information in order to manage an account within a particular line of coverage, such as Workers Compensation. This training covers everything that is covered in other educational modules offered through the market, but Total CSR’s method is highly interactive. The trainee cannot move forward in the program unless they successfully complete frequently presented quizzes. The participant must answer at least 90 percent of the questions correctly to proceed. This method of review and testing is a significant help in the retention of knowledge.
Upon completion of the coverage portion, the program moves into the more practical aspects. Total CSR immerses the student into concepts such as what a renewal cycle looks like – breaking down the components of the renewal cycle and detailing the specific job responsibilities. In addition, the training offers related activities to aid in knowledge retention.
The program moves into presenting scenarios that will be experienced when servicing accounts, such as understanding remuneration, knowing what is and is not included, understanding how a final audit works and what is required, as well as illustrating common mistakes. In this manner, the program presents actual issues that the employee will confront as early as their first day of work.
Admittedly, because of timing, not all possible scenarios that can occur are exemplified in the seven-week time frame, but the program does prepare the student for when they occur.
How does Total CSR prepare the student for the nuances of their particular agency? (16:50)
During the design of the program, the question arose of whether the program should be built around a particular AMS platform. The recommendation of the educational experts was ultimately not to build around a specific platform but to build around the basics. In this manner, it would make sure that the trainee knew the particulars tasks that they would be taking on, such as being able to complete an ACORD form. Once they know how to complete the actual work, they can bridge the gap to the particular agency management software (AMS) that is being used. The Total CSR program was designed to allow the trainee to understand and visualize the end product. The results have shown that the most successful agencies have a process and procedures handbook (both printed and on video) to acclimate new employees to their particular agency. In this manner, it is much easier for the agency to place that person successfully into their role. As an agency, they are expected to teach the staff member the particulars of the agency software being used. The Total CSR platform serves as a “boot camp” and “single source of truth” which provides a universal training versus the “osmotic learning” that occurs by having trainees sit and watch other employees. Often, that type of training creates bad habits without anyone even realizing.
Upon completion of the Total CSR training, the trainee begins training on agency-specific systems and processes. While attending the agency training, Total CSR reinforces what has been taught through a spaced repetition learning strategy. This strategy consists of six weeks of simultaneous follow-up work while the agency training is occurring. This method has resulted in an increase in retention of over 50 percent.
What current modules/lines of business are offered? (20:25)
The first module, General Education, covers insurance basics and completion of the ACORD 125 form. Other modules in the program include Workers Compensation, General Liability, Commercial Auto, Property, Inland Marine, and Excess/Umbrella coverage.
New modules are being developed and will continue to be added over the next six months. These current modules constitute the critical mass that first must be covered before launching other lines.
During the third quarter of 2018, Total CSR will be adding a module covering Soft Skills. This is not a coverage-focused component. This module will deal with phone etiquette, email correspondence basics, and how to deal with difficult clients. This module is expected to be available during September 2018. Soft skills are very important because involvement with the client has a direct effect on the customer experience as well as the value that is delivered.
A Personal Lines module will be introduced during the first quarter of 2019. There will also be additional commercial lines modules offered such as EPL and Professional Liability.
What has surprised you about hiring and training younger employees and what advice can be given in dealing with younger employees? (22:02)
In terms of advice to an agency owner, the biggest change necessary when dealing with younger staff is to change the approach of the agency to encompass the goal of doing what is best for the millennial and their career path. This change involves accepting that a millennial hire is a valuable person who needs training but also recognizes that the industry needs them. In order to encourage loyalty, the training and pathing need to be done with the best interests of the millennial in mind rather than the more short-term goal of what is perceived best for the agency.
Another bit of advice is not to immediately cut off discussion or consideration of an idea even if obvious that it won’t work. It is better to allow the millennial to flush out their idea rather than destroy their confidence. Sometimes it is better to allow the new employee to come up with ideas and potential solutions and work them through. Even if the idea will not work, it will resonate with them that they were allowed to pursue it.
A related piece of advice is to encourage new employees to research their own questions and bring them to management, rather than simply ask what should be done. More often than not, they find the correct answer and in the process, their confidence will greatly increase. This actually leads to the new employee helping to train subsequent new hires.
Trying to build an innovative agency is a difficult task. The people actually doing the work are critical components of the innovation. However, if their ideas are met with skepticism or rejection, they will stop advancing new ideas. Even if the idea won’t be successful, there is a learning experience and a greater impact in letting the employee figure that out for and by themselves.
What about the pricing of Total CSR? (26:30)
It can be expensive to either train a new employee or to transition an individual from being an assistant to being a CSR. Calculations show that on average, it costs about $10,000 for training. Total CSR is intended to change the way the insurance industry operates but for that to occur, mass adoption of the change is necessary. In light of that end, the product is very competitively priced. For a small agency training three people over the course of a year, the cost will average about $2,000. Larger agencies will be a little bit higher. Effectively, the average price per individual trained will be approximately $700. This is a significant saving over the $10,000 or more than it currently costs to train.
The intent behind Total CSR is to provide a program that most agencies can afford, thus leading to greater market penetration and mass adoption in the industry. It is recognized that this is a new program and that agencies are taking a bit of a risk. In order to reward those early partners, the early purchasers will get the new modules at no additional cost.
More information is available at the Total CSR website or by contacting Justin Goodman by email or phone at 949-769-3101. In addition, there is the option of booking a demo online at the website. For listeners of the Digital Broker podcast, there is a 15 percent discount available by using the discount code “digitalbroker15” when purchasing.