PwC’s U.S. CFO Pulse Survey, its sixth since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, found 54% of CFOs plan to make remote work a permanent option, 1/3rd plan to invest in better tech-driven products and services, and 63% plan to change their products and services as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. Agency owners face similar decisions as they continue to navigate how to handle shifting priorities, keeping customers and employees safe while looking out for their bottom line.
We talked with one SIS Partner agency about their initial response to the COVID-19 shutdown and how they’re adjusting to the new business as usual.
Comaltex Insurance, located in New Braunfels, TX, has a staff of around ten and serves the personal and commercial insurance needs of the greater New Braunfels area. We heard from Operations Manager Kristine Eilers about their agency’s initial and current COVID-19 response. And, we talked with SIS Director of Client Services, Jake Thaxton, who helped facilitate a fully-virtual management system transition for Comaltex amid the pandemic.
The Work from Home Transition
For Kristine, the first order of business was moving staff to work from home on the advent of the shutdown. “(We) contacted our technology vendors (to) implement changes to allow key personnel to accept calls remotely either via an IP phone or mobile app,” she said. “We also assessed what mobile computer devices were available, either by personal ownership or corporate ownership, to allow people to work from home.”
Once Kristine and her team had phone systems set and remote access capabilities assessed, they 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 their entire staff was well-equipped and safe from potential cyber-threats.
Comaltex was already prepared with tech like Formstack’s Insuresign for seamless esignatures, Zoom for virtual meetings, and telephone conferencing for client communications. Through it all, Kristine reminded her team that, “…some clients may be uncomfortable with the situation (of using online platforms) or experiencing anxiety.” She also made it clear, “…any additional costs they might incur because of working from home would be reimbursed (by the agency).”
Get to know more of our SIS Partner agencies by checking out our Client Stories
Moving Back to the Office
As the stay-at-home order was lifted, Kristine saw it was time to offer staff the option to return to the office safely. While a little less than half continue to work remotely, they have five employees who regularly work in the office while abiding by the CDC’s safety guidelines. Though their office is not open to the public at the moment, they have a re-open plan to put in action depending on how COVID cases trend.
“We have evolved from not allowing anyone inside the office to taking payments from customers who stop by and utilizing a sanitizing service to keep the office safe,” Kristine said. She and her team continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed to help foster better business while keeping their community safe.
Managing Communication and Care
After assessing their work-from-home infrastructure, Kristine and her team turned to communication as the next step. 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 emails and Facebook. (And) (w)e always had a live person answering the phone during business hours. Our outgoing messaging on the phone system assured people we were still available to them and cared about them,” Kristine said.
Comaltex also focused on keeping employees informed and connected. “(While operating remotely) (w)e sent staff care packages of snack and goodies and have continued to acknowledge birthdays and corporate anniversaries,” Kristine said. Once some of the staff returned to the office, those in-office benefited from small celebrations like honoring National Donut Day with donuts distributed safely in-person. Those working remotely we also included, with deliveries made directly to their home.
Learn about how to leverage marketing automation and an insurance CRM to up your customer outreach and communication
Innovation of Services
Since the start of the pandemic, Comaltex has seen some changes. “Sales are down, but calls are up,” Kristine said, “People want to know their options.” “Texas is still booming,” she continued, “Construction still continues strong. A number of (our) commercial clients are looking for ways to reduce costs while they ride (the pandemic) out. Many personal lines customers are looking for ways to save money.”
Due to increased call volumes and service needs, Comaltex plans to make adjustments. “We do see the need for implementing a client portal, which is on our list of plans,” Kristine said, “We…see the need for more contact with our clients. We want them to know we…care about them.”
Get tips on how to prepare for any disaster your agency faces on the SIS blog
Virtual Management System Transition
Amidst all the changes they were experiencing, Kristine and her team faced another: an all-virtual agency management system transition. “Internally, the one big change we had to make was instead of traveling to new agencies when they start, we have done this virtually…” said SIS Director of Client Services, Jake Thaxton. While the SIS team usually travels to an agency to do hands-on, in-person training, the team needed to adjust to new restrictions and walk the Comaltex team through the transition online.
“It wasn’t so bad, actually,” Kristine said, “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. Maybe not to know everything, but to get the look and feel of it.” Though they would have preferred in-person aid, the team was able to connect via email and phone calls to get the support they needed.
See how your agency can prepare for a management system transition here
Tackling Evolving Challenges with the Right Partner
When asked what advice she’d give to other agency owners during these uncertain times, Kristine replied, “I had a (choir) director who used to say ‘Semper Gumby’…meaning ‘always flexible.’ Frankly, that’s what we have to be in insurance most days, regardless of pandemic or catastrophe. We have to get the work done, but we can be flexible in how we get the work done. And be patient with yourselves – progress, not perfection, is the key.”
Great advice from a great SIS Partner agency member. We’re proud to serve agencies like Comaltex and keep our focus on remaining flexible to serve them the way they serve their clients.
When asked about how things changed for the SIS Partner Platform team after the pandemic, SIS Director of Client Services, Jake Thaxton, said, “We didn’t really change the way we service our clients. We still pick up the phone, call them back, and help them work through their issues…(O)ur clients are doing the same (for their customers).”