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9 Tips for Attending Conferences

There are a lot of good reasons to attend an insurance industry conference: high-profile keynote speakers, in-depth educational sessions on emerging industry issues, exhibitors showcasing their products and networking opportunities galore. Those reasons are why as many as 40 million people attend industry conferences every year, according to Conference Hound. The conference/event industry is only getting bigger; the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects it to expand 44% by 2020. For our industry, one index of insurance conferences listed more than 100 events focused on some aspect of the industry that happened in 2016. That’s a lot of conferences!

The trouble is, you can’t do it all. Conferences present a lot of competing objectives–take a long lunch to continue networking, and you sacrificing key learning time, and catching an afternoon panel may mean missing an exhibitor’s demonstration. You’re stuck guessing what will be most beneficial. It’s a real challenge, especially if it’s your first time attending a conference.

See also: Are Conferences Still Worth the Effort?  

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t hit the ground running and get a lot out of your first insurance conference. With some preparation and follow-through, plus a little gumption during the conference itself, first-time conference attendees can maximize their experience and get significant value from the event.

Before the conference

  1. Find the right conference. With nearly 100 conferences for our industry, you have a lot of options, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all worth your time. The Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS) Annual Conference & Exhibition is a popular choice. Attendees get the chance to hear some of the top minds in the risk management and insurance industry. There are plenty of more specific options available, too, addressing topics ranging from windstorm insurance to trucking telematics. Attending a more targeted conference, such as one designed for underwriters, claims or another job function, may be more beneficial to your career development if you’re looking to specialize.
  2. Do your research. Once you’ve registered for the conference and have travel and accommodation logistics figured out, it’s time to start snooping. A little bit of preconference research can significantly improve your experience during the conference. Look up the speakers and topics of interest–you can sometimes even connect with presenters on social media before the conference. Outline a tentative schedule of the speakers you want to catch so that you can spend your time at the conference networking and learning rather than double-checking when the next session starts.
  3. Update your professional persona. Before you head to the conference, make sure that your business cards are up to date. Take a big stack of them–more than you think you’ll need–and commit to giving them all away. Also make sure that you update your LinkedIn profile. Most importantly: Prepare a few short elevator speeches for conversations you’re anxious to have. If you’re there to network, come up with a short introduction of yourself and your organization. If you’re there to learn about a certain topic, prepare specific questions you can ask speakers and subject matter experts.

During the conference

  1. Network, network, network. Conferences are designed for networking, but that isn’t everyone’s forte. A lot of us are uncomfortable meeting people in unfamiliar surroundings. But one of the most important benefits of attending conferences is the opportunity to hone your networking skills and try out those elevator speeches. Many find that they’re more comfortable networking if they expand their scope a little bit. Think of yourself as representing your whole organization–what connections could benefit your employer? It shifts the focus from promoting yourself and gives you a broader purpose.
  2. Use the app and the hashtag. More and more of the important conversations taking place at insurance conferences are held online. That said, in 2016 more than half of conference attendees were expected to download mobile conference apps. It’s a good way to organize your schedule and keep up with hashtags and updates on social media. (And it’s not a bad idea to check out the hashtag for conferences you aren’t able to attend.) Just don’t spend the whole conference buried in your phone–you’re there to meet and learn from other industry professionals. In fact, almost half of conference attendees recently surveyed said that the face-to-face interactions they had were more valuable than they were two years ago, and the Center for Exhibition Industry Research expects them to become even more valuable in the future.
  3. Get your money’s worth. There’s one thing many first-time conference-goers forget: They’re paying money to be at the conference. Whether you paid out of pocket, your company is footing the bill or you’re just offering your valuable time, you should work to get as much out of the conference as you can. If a speaker isn’t providing the information you want, ask questions. If you’re still not getting what you need, don’t be afraid to leave and find a session that’s a better fit. Fill your days with as much learning and activity as possible–attend every session you can, talk to as many people you can.

After the conference

  1. Maintain your connections. The biggest challenge after an insurance conference is maintaining the momentum and enthusiasm you had during it. Start by staying in touch with the connections you made. Send follow-up notes, emails and messages to networking contacts and speakers you met.
  2. Solidify your knowledge. You may have a left a keynote speaker’s presentation or a particularly strong session energized and ready to put your new knowledge or perspective to work, but that enthusiasm fades fast. Take the time to organize your notes each night of the conference, or read more on a particular topic so that you’re ready and excited to use the new information once you’re back to day-to-day operations.
  3. Demonstrate the value. Make sure that your employer sees that the time you spent away from your daily insurance gig was worthwhile. A specific thank-you email or follow-up is always good, but returning to work with a few practical ways to do your job better and improve your organization is even better.

See also: My Top Tips From EXEC InsurTech  

Have you mastered the art of insurance industry conferences? Give us your best tip in the comments section below.

3 Ways to Overcome a Career Slump

No matter how successful you are, at some point, you’ll hit a career plateau — the point at which the chance of progressing at work diminishes and personal satisfaction plummets. In some cases, this means fewer opportunities for a promotion. Or maybe you’re just not feeling as challenged as you once were. Whatever the cause, career plateaus frustrate many budding insurance professionals, and rightfully so.
While career plateaus are a difficult place to find yourself, they’re more common than you might think. Only 48% of Americans are satisfied with their jobs, according to the latest numbers from The Conference Board. Stay perched on that plateau too long and you face burnout and decreased creativity and productivity. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy — if you’re checked out and not engaged, you might not deserve that next promotion after all.
If you’re stuck on a plateau, first use the opportunity to take a step back and evaluate how you got where you are — and determine where you want to end up. What career aspects will be most important to you in the next 10 years? Salary? Location? Title? Work/life balance? Once you have a clear path forward, push past the plateau and climb. Here are three steps to take next:
1. Pitch a new position. Often, the best way to get a promotion is to simply ask for it. Make sure you share your goals and ambitions with your supervisor so that you are considered when an opportunity arises. If you think you’re qualified for an open position, have a frank conversation about what you can do to land that promotion.
But there are other ways to expand your role and job satisfaction without a direct promotion. Lateral moves to another department or specialty can reignite your interest in the job while significantly broadening your skills and value to your organization. Never worked in claims? Talk to key decision makers about making a transition to a new role.
2. Augment your skill set. Gaining more skills and industry know-how is good, but earning formal designations that solidify that knowledge is even better. Consider this: 93% of insurance pros who earned the AINS designation said they saw an increase in job opportunities.
Still not convinced? More than 72% of people who have completed AINS received a promotion within two years of earning the designation. Expanding your professional knowledge gives you new skills to apply on the job, and it also shows you’re eager to take on more responsibility and advance your career.
3. Check in with your mentor. If you found success early in your career, chances are that you did so with the help and guidance of a mentor. If you’re now feeling stuck or stalled, it’s time to check back in with him or her; chances are that your mentor experienced — and overcame — similar hiccups. Tap into that knowledge to gain some insight on how to got your ambitions started again.
Mentors might also have some useful advice on where to focus your development efforts. They can pass on crucial institutional knowledge that will increase your value to your employer. Inc.com recently polled a dozen young entrepreneurs on the go-to questions they ask when they get a chance to sit down with their mentors. One that especially resonates if you’re stuck on a career plateau: “What would you do if you were me?”
Have you successfully overcome a career plateau? Share your story in the comments section below.

How to Find, Keep Good Service Reps

The best customer service representatives (CSRs) are a rare breed. Not only do the best understand the technical details, but they also have well-developed soft skills, including communication savvy, and grit. Because let’s face it, CSRs take their fair share of abuse. It’s not easy talking with customers all day, especially when those customers are often unhappy. Yet great CSRs can make or break your company’s image. Hanging on to CSRs who “get it” and are engaged in the essential job they perform is a must.

Experienced agents and brokers know that’s easier said than done. Fewer than two-thirds of customer service employees are engaged, according to the 2015 Employee Engagement Trends Report from Quantum Workplace. That’s a lower rate than for almost every other department, including human resources and sales. A study from Bain & Co. looked at Net Promoter Scores (in part, a measure of how likely employees are to recommend their job to qualified family members and friends) and found that customer service ranked dead last among 10 common business departments.

Retention rates for CSRs in insurance aren’t much better. Our industry had a 28% turnover rate for CSRs in 2015, according to data from ContactBabel. That’s slightly better than the average across industries, which hovers around 33%. Even Zappos, with its laser focus on customer service and employee culture, suffers a 20% annual turnover for CSRs.

The high cost of losing employees and hiring and training replacements is well-established. A CallMe! survey found that the average turnover cost for a CSR is $3,500 per person.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can take three specific steps to make sure you’re bringing in the right customer service reps—and keeping them.

1. Watch for resume red flags

Not everyone is cut out to be a CSR. In fact, the top reason CSRs quit is that they were “just the wrong type of person for the job,” according to the ContactBabel report. Refine your hiring process so you’re employing only the right type of people for the job—otherwise, they’ll never be engaged.

Watch for red flags in resumes, including a lot of short stints at past jobs, especially other customer service positions. Also, keep an eye out for experience that didn’t involve a lot of communication, such as in data entry, administration and so on. Give special attention to applicants with an interest in new technology and experience working with social media channels. And that cliché interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” can actually give you a good idea about whether a person’s career goals align with your customer service values.

Some agencies play one or two particularly unpleasant customer service calls to measure how a prospective CSR might react to the most difficult calls he may receive. Others role-play an interaction with a customer, headset and all. You want to make sure would-be CSRs know what they’re getting into. A little extra vetting during the hiring process pays off big-time in building an engaged team.

See also: A Practical Tool to Connect to Customers

2. Treat them right

Study after study has shown that if you want to boost CSR retention, you have to keep reps engaged. A little flexibility goes a long way in keeping people happy at work. Two-thirds of female CSRs are working mothers, meaning unexpected scheduling issues are going to come up. While the job itself requires CSRs to work set hours, finding ways to give CSRs the flexibility to find a suitable work/life balance will help them stay engaged.

CSRs also want a chance to advance their careers. The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) recently surveyed call centers on the top causes of CSR turnover. The most frequent source may surprise you: better opportunities inside the organization. But representatives don’t always see career opportunities within the call center itself. With CSR-to-supervisor ratios (known as span of control) averaging from 12:1 to 15:1, CSRs realize there’s a less than 10% chance they’ll ever be promoted to the level of their direct supervisor. That means you need to spell out the possibilities for advancement within the department. Consider adding titles—mentor, tech expert or shift supervisor, for example—so CSRs can increase their responsibility and compensation.

You can’t offer a promotion with a big cash bonus to every representative. But other small rewards, from a quick thank you to public praise for handling a particularly tough call, can make day-to-day work much more enjoyable.

See also: 3 Skills Needed for Customer Insight

3. Learn from departing reps

If you’re not picking the brains of CSRs who quit, you’re missing out on a valuable source of information that your competitors are taking advantage of. More than 80% of organizations conduct exit interviews with departing agents, according to ICMI. Make sure your exit interviews attempt to reveal specific things your call center can do differently to keep good CSRs on the job.

But you don’t have to wait until a CSR is headed out the door to figure out what she wants—instead, ask. A brief, informal survey about the perks they’d value most is an easy way to figure out where to focus your efforts. Armed with more information about the benefits and responsibilities CSRs prioritize, you’ll be better able to keep your best reps engaged and serving your customers.