Bad Work Habits and How to Break Them

I hope all my readers had a great 4th of July holiday.  I know that I enjoyed my three-day weekend very much.  Having that free time for a holiday that celebrates freedom got me to thinking about ways to create more free time to do the things I enjoy doing.  One of the ways to do so is to work more efficiently, so you can get done what needs to be done in less time.

Overcoming bad work habits will go a long way towards being able to work more efficiently.  I came across a recent article in the LifeHealthPro newsletter that discusses 10 such habits and ways to break them.  Some of the habits mentioned are a result of  technology advances (e.g., constantly checking e-mail, looking at your phone while talking to someone), while others have been around forever (i.e., meetings with no agenda, not delegating tasks, and especially, procrastination).  Others seemed to me to be more common courtesies that adversely affect the ability of others to do their work efficiently (i.e., being consistently late, making too much noise, constantly complaining).

Then there were those that I had not thought about as being bad work habits, multitasking and saying yes or no all the time.  It seems logical that someone who can do more than one task at a time would be more efficient, but according to the article, recent research has shown that when a person is multitasking they are not performing any of the tasks as well as they could if they focused on only one of the tasks at a time (after following many drivers who are talking on their mobile phones, I should have realized this).  Some of the recent research has even concluded that people who multitask on a frequent basis have lowered IQ’s and may even be damaging their brains.

While consistently saying no to every request at work seems like a bad idea on its face, saying yes all the time would seem to show a willingness to cooperate with and help out co-workers, i.e., be a team player.  However, as anyone who has never turned down a request for help can testify, doing so can quickly lead to work overload and a failure to meet expectations for all the things you have agreed to do.  When that failure involves a request from a customer, the downside to saying yes to every request becomes clear.

The article has helpful suggestions on how to break the bad habits it identifies and sets forth a four step process for breaking any bad habit:  Step 1: Write down the bad habit; Step 2: Write down what triggers the performance of the bad habit and how to avoid those triggers; Step 3:  Write a substitute action for every trigger and teach your brain by repeatedly performing the substitute action when the trigger occurs; and Step 4: Enlist an army of family and friends to help you by telling them what your bad habit is, how you’re going to change it, and giving them permission to point out when you engage in the bad habit.

As everyone who has ever tried to break a habit of any kind knows, it is a very difficult thing to do.  So start small and work on only one or two bad work habits at a time.  If you keep at it, you should begin to enjoy more free time as you become more efficient at work.


Where You Reside – Three Important Words for Homeowners

The importance of the phrase “where you reside” is probably well-known by those of my readers who solicit and sell personal lines policies.  It should also be something that is known by every person who has a homeowner’s insurance policy, as those three little words can mean the difference between coverage and no coverage for a loss to a home.  Why that is so is due to the definition of what structure is covered by a homeowner’s policy.  Although not universal, most homeowner’s policies, including the ISO HO-3 form, define what is covered by them as being the dwelling on the residence premises, which in turn are defined as the place “where you reside”, with “you” being the named insured or their spouse, if any.

In several states, including Georgia, the appellate courts have held that if the named insured or their spouse did not actually live in the structure on the residence premises specified in the policy at the time of the loss, there is no coverage for the loss.  This means that if you are renovating a home and not living there during the renovations or have just purchased a home but not yet moved in, a homeowner’s policy that contains the above definitions will not provide coverage for a loss that occurs during those time periods.  There are many other factual scenarios that could result in the same outcome (in the first Georgia case, there was a divorce and the named insured spouse had moved out of the home leaving her now ex-spouse there), all of which are explored in a white paper created by IIABA’s Virtual University staff in 2009.  This is perhaps the ultimate trap for the unwary, as far as homeowner’s policies are concerned.  It became such a focus of concern that IIABA created a webpage devoted to the problems raised by the words “where you reside” in such policies and how those problems could be addressed.

After 10 years of IIABA’s working on ISO to remedy the above problems, ISO has finally agreed to issue two new endorsements for its homeowner policy forms, which will be effective in most states on October 1, 2015.  One of those endorsements is mandatory and one is optional.  The mandatory endorsement, for which no extra premium should be charged, changes the definition of the structure covered by the policy to one where the named insured and any spouse live “on the inception date of the policy period shown in the Declarations” for the policy.  As long as the named insured or any spouse are living in the structure on that date, any loss for which the policy provides coverage will not be denied if the named insured or any spouse are not living in the structure for any reason when the loss occurs.

While this change takes care of many of the coverage problems noted in the IIABA white paper, Including the situation addressed by the first Georgia case, it does not address what happens if the buyer of a home does not move into it by the inception date of the policy.  In that situation, the policy may not provide coverage even after the buyer moves in, since they were not living in the home on the inception date of their policy.  The optional endorsement that has been issued by ISO is meant to take care of this and similar situations.  For what will most likely be an extra premium, the “where you reside” language is removed from the definition of the covered structure for a stated period of time, which can be the entire policy period. (For an in-depth article on the new ISO endorsements and their background, click here.)

The IIABA will be holding a free webinar on July 8, 2015 from 3-4 p.m. EDT to explain the new ISO endorsements.  Unfortunately, its 1,000 capacity limit has been reached already.  However, the webinar will be recorded and a link to it will be available on the IIABA’s recorded webinars page shortly after July 8.

The Customer Experience Approach to Selling Insurance

In my post last week, I talked about the two presentations on selling insurance that were made at the IIAG’s Annual Convention.  Both presentations focused on how to create the right emotions in a customer or potential customer and both were examples of what can be called the customer experience approach to selling insurance.  This seems to be the hot topic of the moment, as earlier today, the Agents Council for Technology hosted a webinar titled, “The Customer Experience Journey.”  It focused on how agents can use technology to make the customer’s experience in dealing with your agency a positive one, by using it in a way that creates positive emotions in customers and potential customers.  Any interested readers who may have missed that webinar will probably be able to find a recording of it in the near future on the ACT website.

An article on how to use technology to enhance a customer’s experience with agencies appeared in a recent edition of ACT’s newsletter.  The author refers to a JD Power survey of insurance customers that revealed those customers who interacted with agents using “emerging technology” had the highest satisfaction rating of all the customers surveyed and were more likely to stay with, and refer others to, their agent even if they did not offer the cheapest premiums.  However, he made the point that the days of the “broadcast e-mail” were over.  Agents need to use technology to craft specific messages for specific segments of their customer or potential customer base, with the goal to make it look like each message was written with the customer to whom it is sent in mind.  Birthdays, anniversaries, renewal dates, claims, and other events can the subject of such messages, which should aim to create a positive emotion in the recipient by acknowledging their milestones or providing value in the form of relevant information or support at a time when it is needed.

The author also makes the point that it is crucial to integrate the technology used to contact the customer or potential customer with a live person at the agency, so that person will know when to contact, or expect to be contacted by the customer, and what the subject of that contact should be.  It’s all about relationships and while those can be prompted by the proper use of technology, they can only be firmly created by having a person at the agency who is prepared to interact with customers in a way that is relevant to them and their needs.

In a recent newsletter, Steve Anderson, explained how a program known as SlideShare can be used to provide relevant information to an agency’s customers or potential customers through LinkedIn or directly.  If an agency is looking for relevant content for its marketing activities that is visually interesting, SlideShare is a great source, especially since it is free.

IIAG Annual Convention – What You Missed

The weather was great and the programs just as good.  I didn’t arrive at the convention in time to hear the presentation on the insurance issues involved in ride sharing, but was told that it covered many of the same issues as I have discussed in my previous blog posts about that subject.  The Friday morning presentation by JoAnna Brandi was about how to turn current customers into loyal customers and thereby, increase an agency’s customer retention rate.  In it she touched on another subject that I have addressed in a previous blog posts; the need for an agency to have engaged employees to create engaged customers who will stay with the agency.  The Saturday morning presentation by Jeb Blount provided a good counterpoint to Ms. Brandi’s presentation, as it was about how to turn a prospect into a customer.

What struck me the most about both the Friday and Saturday morning presentations was their focus on the importance of emotion.  For both speakers, creating the right emotional response in customers and potential customers was the most important factor in achieving the goal of obtaining a customer and then making that customer a loyal one, who will not choose another agency over yours, or having chosen your agency leave it, for a better price somewhere else.   In her presentation, Ms. Brandi made the point that every interaction with a customer will create a emotional response, either positive or negative.  In dealing with its customers, an agency should strive to create as many positive emotions as possible by doing the little things (remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and other events important to the customer), as well as the big things (handling a claim, getting needed coverage) in a way that at least meets, if not exceeds, the customer’s expectations.  When this is done consistently, a positive emotional bank account is created that enables the customer to overlook any negative emotions that may occur as a result of their interaction with the agency.  Proactively looking for ways to help the agency’s customers, providing solutions to their problems, and constantly asking for feedback on what can be done better are things that agencies can do to create positive emotions in their customers.

Mr. Blount’s presentation focused on what he called “Customer Experience Selling,” which he said was all about managing the emotions of the customer, as well as your own.  He made the point that most people act on emotion and then use logic to justify their action.  Thus, a producer should focus on the potential customer’s emotional needs first to establish a connection with the customer, which will make the customer more receptive to doing business with you.  The most important thing a producer can do to create this connection is to listen to what the customer has to say and respond appropriately to those things that the customer identifies as being most important to them.

In “Customer Experience Selling”, the customer does most of the talking, at least initially, which is contrary to how many producers approach a potential customer.  By really listening and responding appropriately to what the potential customer has to say, the producer will allow the customer to positively answer the five most important questions they have about any one trying to do business with them:  Do I like you?, Do you listen to me?, Do you make me feel important?, Do you understand me and my problem?, and Do I trust and believe you?  Once the potential customer is able to positively answer those five questions about you, they will be willing to buy insurance coverage from you, even if the price is more than what someone else may be able to offer.


Employee Smoking & Ride Share Updates

In last week’s post, I discussed the ability of an employer to fire an employee who began smoking cigarettes after they were hired.  A couple of weeks before that, I talked about ISO’s new motor vehicle insurance policy forms that addressed the use of a personal passenger vehicle for ride sharing through Uber and similar services.  Since then, I have watched a webinar that focused on what an employer could do about the former, as well as many other things their employees may be doing, which raised a question about the use of e-cigarettes by employees.  I have also discovered another reason your agency’s customers should think long and hard about whether they want to use their motor vehicle for ride sharing services.

The webinar was titled “Can My Company Ban That?” and discussed what employers could and could not do with respect to employees who had tattoos, body piercings, personal hygiene issues, engaged in conduct while not at work that was against the employer’s values, brought weapons to work, dated co-employees, or spoke a foreign language.  It also addressed what could be done to control the use of social media and cell phones by employees.  While the webinar was not specific to Georgia law, it provided a good overview of the general rules applicable to all the above subjects and is worth watching if you have any questions about them.

I thought it an interesting coincidence that one of the examples used to explain how the general rules worked involved the use of e-cigarettes by an employee of a small insurance agency.  The employee insisted they had a right to use them at work because it was not illegal.  As the readers of my blog post last week know, under Georgia law, that does not matter, as the employer has the right to ban any conduct at work and to fire an employee for engaging in conduct outside of work, as long as such conduct is not protected by law .  For those employers with less than 15 employees of any kind, that means they can pretty much do whatever they want about employee conduct both at and outside of work, as long as it does not interfere with an employee’s right to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment with other employees.  However, as noted in the webinar, there may well be practical reasons for an employer not to exercise this right to its full extent and for employers with 15 or more employees, there are legal reasons, as well.

As some of my readers may know, Georgia law specifies the reasons why a personal motor vehicle insurance policy can be cancelled.  (Click here for an article I wrote on that subject for the Dec Page magazine.)  One of those reasons is the use of the covered vehicle for “carrying passengers for hire or compensation.”  The same reason can be lawfully used to non-renew such a policy.  Any agent whose customer is using or thinking about using their personal vehicle to give rides through Uber or a similar service should make sure the customer is aware that their insurance policy on that vehicle can be cancelled if the insurance company finds out.  In areas where these services are offered, an agent may want to consider including a notice about that fact with each such policy issued.

Smoking by Employees – What Are the Rules?

A couple of months ago, I had a call on the Free Legal Service Program that I run for the Independent Insurance Agents of Georgia from an agency owner who had recently hired an employee who decided after being hired to start smoking cigarettes.  The agency was a small one and none of its other employees smoked.  The other employees objected to the smell of tobacco on the newly hired employee, who would smoke before coming to work and on her lunch break.  The owner wanted to know what he could do.

In 2005, Georgia adopted the Georgia Smoke Free Air Act, which with a few exceptions banned the smoking of any tobacco product in any enclosed space, whether publicly or privately owned other than a personal residence.  Employers are required by the Act to tell every potential new employee of this ban when they submit an application for employment.  The Act does allow employers to create designated smoking areas for their employees that meet certain specified requirements, the most costly of which is the maintenance of an air handling system for the smoking area that is independent from the main air handling system that serves all other areas of the building and that expels all air within the smoking area directly to the outside.  No air from the smoking area can be recirculated through or infiltrate other parts of the building and a sign must be posted at every entrance to the smoking area warning others that smoking is permitted in that area.

The Georgia Smoke Free Air Act of 2005 does not require an employer to create designated smoking areas and in fact, permits the prohibition on smoking to be extended to areas outside of buildings that are under the control of the owner of the building.   There is also nothing in the Act that prohibits an employer from firing an employee for smoking outside of the workplace.  In the absence of any such prohibition, given Georgia’s strong “at will” employment policy, it appears that the agency owner who contacted me would be within his rights to fire the newly hired employee for smoking outside of the workplace.

However, if a Georgia employer has 15 or more employees, they are subject to the federal employment discrimination laws that impose some limitations on the reasons for which an employee can be fired.  Those limitations do not include the smoking of tobacco, but they do include other characteristics that could be used by an employee who was fired for smoking to create problems for the employer.  In any event, employers who do not want to hire persons who smoke tobacco should make that fact clear to all potential new employees and let all current employees know that such conduct will result in termination of employment.  If there is no such clear policy, an employee who is terminated for that reason will most likely be eligible to collect unemployment compensation.  In addition, any such policy should be consistently enforced.  If it is not and the employer is subject to the federal employment discrimination laws, the risk of liability exposure under those laws will increase as inconsistent enforcement of workplace policies is one of the main causes of claims under those laws and makes defending such claims much more difficult.

Each agency owner must decide what type of workplace they want to have, as far as the smoking of tobacco products by their employees is concerned.  Once that decision is made, the owner should clearly communicate the policy to all their current employees and any potential new employees.  If the policy adversely affects any current employees, they should be given a reasonable amount of time to comply with the new policy and maybe even offered help to quit smoking, if the policy calls for the termination of employment of any employee who smokes tobacco products outside of the workplace.


Items of Interest From the IIAG Commercial Lines Committee

I hope all my readers had a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend.  The weather in the Atlanta area was perfect, until late Monday afternoon when it started to rain.  By that time, I was ready to relax in front of the TV, so it was no problem for me.

Prior to the weekend, I attended the quarterly meeting of IIAG’s Commercial Lines committee.  One of the agenda items concerned whether the committee should create a forms and data bank to which IIAG members could look for general information about subjects that every agency has to deal with; privacy rules, electronic delivery of policies and notices, prevention of E&O claims, etc.

During the discussion of this agenda item, it was pointed out that IIABA has a website devoted to issues involving E&O claims.  That website has links to sample disclaimers for voice mail, telefax, e-mail, websites, social media sites, and proposals, sample checklists for commercial and personal lines customers, among others, and over 20 sample letters to customers about audits, claims, carrier downgrades and insolvency, and other subjects.  It also has information on best practices for the retention of records and the documentation of communications with customers and sample procedures for dealing with cancellations, claims, audits, and renewals, among others.

Unfortunately, while anyone can visit the above website, the information and sample documents described above are only available to IIABA members.  A similar restriction exists for the forms I have developed for use by IIAG members.  Those forms include obtaining consent for the electronic delivery of policies and a suggested letter for use when a person has requested the issuance of an insurance certificate in violation of Georgia law.

On another subject, one of the committee members brought up a situation they were dealing with that could lead to problems for customers with both a general liability and umbrella policy, as well as the agent who is handling a claim under them.  The same insurance company issued both policies, but the language in them regarding when notice of a claim to the company must be given to avoid a denial of coverage was different.  The notice given to the company met the requirements of the general liability policy, but the company contended it did not meet the requirements of the umbrella policy, as under that policy the notice should have been given earlier.   This type of problem could apply to any two insurance policies that may provide coverage for the same risk and is yet another reason that the customer and the agent should carefully read both policies and make a note of any differences in them on this or any other subject.  The failure to do so could result in an uninsured loss by the customer and potentially, an E&O claim against the agent.

ISO’s New Ride Sharing Endorsements

In a post about a month ago, I summarized the new law passed by the Georgia legislature earlier this year that, as of January 1, 2016, will require Uber, Lyft, and other Transportation Network Companies to maintain specified levels of insurance on their drivers from the time they are logged onto the company’s network and available to accept passengers until the driver is logged off that network.  The new law imposes the insurance requirement on the Transportation Network Companies, but permits those requirements to be satisfied by either the company through a commercial lines insurance policy or their drivers through an endorsement or rider to the drivers’ personal lines motor vehicle policy, or a combination of the two.

I mentioned in my earlier post that the Insurance Services Office would be issuing a new motor vehicle policy form that covers the services provided by drivers for Transportation Network Companies.  A series of forms were issued by ISO on May 1, 2015, to be effective on October 1, 2015, subject to their adoption by each state’s insurance regulatory body.  In a well written article in the May 1, 2015 issue of the newsletter from IIABA’s Virtual University, Bill Wilson explained in detail what the new forms do and more importantly, don’t do.

Four new endorsements were issued by ISO, three for its personal auto policy and one for its personal umbrella policy.  The one for the personal umbrella policy is merely a modification of the existing exclusion for the use of a personal motor vehicle for carrying paying passengers.  The new language refers specifically to any period of time that the insured is logged into a “transportation network platform”, as a driver, whether or not there is a passenger in the vehicle.  Thus, there is no coverage under the ISO personal umbrella policy for the use of a motor vehicle to carry paying passengers or even for the time when no passengers are in the vehicle, but the insured is available to carry such passengers.

One of the endorsements for the personal auto policy has the same exclusion language as for the personal umbrella policy.  It applies to Part B medical coverage and Part D damage to motor vehicle coverage, as well as Part A liability coverage.  The other two endorsements offer coverage for the insured while he or she is logged onto a “transportation network platform”, but does not have a passenger in their motor vehicle.  One endorsement provides coverage up to the time a passenger enters the vehicle, while the other stops coverage when the insured accepts a request to carry a passenger.

Given the narrowness of the ISO endorsements, my earlier prediction that “there will most probably be personal lines insurance companies that begin to offer the type of coverage required by” Georgia’s new law doesn’t appear to have been a good one.  Instead, it looks like those who want to carry passengers for a Transportation Network Company will have to rely on the company to provide the required insurance coverage or buy their own commercial lines coverage, if the company does not do so.


Are Your Agency’s Employees Engaged? Part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the importance of having engaged employees.  I recently came across an article in a magazine devoted to human resource issues in the workplace that provided some important caveats to what I said in my blog post.  The title of the article is “8 Common Misperceptions About Employee Engagement That Can Seriously Harm Your Company.”

A couple of the misperceptions discussed in the article were already addressed in my blog post, the most important being the belief that it’s all about money.  The article listed five things that are most valued by employees, with flexible work arrangements and opportunities for training and other skill enhancement activities being two of the more important ones.  Three of the more interesting misperceptions to me were the belief that it is important to engage everyone, employees know what will engage them, and satisfied employees are engaged employees.

The article makes the common sense point that it is impossible to get some employees who are disengaged to be engaged no matter how hard you try.  The employer’s efforts to engage employees should be mainly directed at those employees who are satisfactory or above average performers.  The article advises not to waste much time on the poor performers.  Instead, look to replace them with people who are more like your satisfactory or preferably, your above average performers.  Similarly, while you need to ask everyone what would make for a better work experience, you should pay closer attention to the responses of your satisfactory and above average performers than those of the poor performers.

However, the article advises not to accept at face value responses of employees to the question of what would make for a better work experience, especially if those responses are focused on perks.  Regardless of what employees may say, research has shown that the work itself must be meaningful and well-managed for employees to be truly engaged.  One strategy for handling requests for perks is to ask your employees what they would be willing to do to get them.  By doing so, there is no sense of entitlement to the perk.  Instead, the employees make a commitment to improve the business in some way for an improvement in the work experience.  This is one way to foster employee engagement.

But according to the article, the most important way to foster employee engagement is to have good managers and supervisors, which point was also made in the article that was referenced in my earlier blog post.  Having a good relationship with their supervisor was the single most important factor for engaged employees.  To create a good relationship, the supervisor must have a sincere interest in the personal well-being of the employees under their supervision.  Unless that interest exists and is apparent to those employees, nothing else the supervisor may do will create the same level of engagement that would otherwise exist.

The article ends with some suggestions for how to achieve an engaged workforce, which should be of interest to any employer.

What is a Covered Entity and Why Should You Care?

The term “Covered Entity” refers to those organizations that are subject to the information privacy provisions contained the Health Insurance Accountability and Portability Act (“HIPAA”) and its companion the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (“HITECH”).  HIPAA was enacted by Congress in 1996 and among other things, imposed requirements for how Protected Health Information (“PHI”) is to be handled by Covered Entities.  HITECH was enacted in 2009 and formally extended those requirements to “Business Associates” of a Covered Entity.

A Covered Entity is (i) a health plan, (ii) a health care information clearinghouse, or (iii)  a health care provider that transmits certain health related information electronically.  A “health plan” includes any insurance company, as well as a group health plan that has 50 or more participants or that is administered by someone other than the employer who established and maintains the plan.  A Business Associate includes anyone who ‘creates, receives, maintains, or transmits” PHI for “claims processing or administration”, among other reasons.  PHI is information about a person’s past or present mental or physical health, treatment provided to that person, or payments made for such treatment, which information reveals the identity of that person.

An independent insurance agency that sells individual or group health insurance is a Business Associate of the insurance company that issues the policy and probably has already seen agreements from those companies that it represents that are intended to comply with the privacy requirements imposed by HIPAA and HITECH.  What such an agency may not have realized is that it is also a Business Associate of each customer to whom it sold a group health insurance plan that falls within the definition of health plan set forth above.  HIPAA and HITECH require that each Covered Entity have a written agreement with each of its Business Associates that satisfies the requirements of those laws.  The penalties for the failure to have such agreements in place can be significant and the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) is focusing on this area in its enforcement efforts.  Both the Covered Entity and the Business Associate can be held liable for the failure to have the required written agreement in place.

The Agents Council for Technology has held a webinar on what HIPAA and HITECH mean for independent insurance agents, which goes into greater detail about the requirements imposed by those laws and the penalties for not satisfying those requirements.  HHS has a website devoted to HIPAA and HITECH, which has a sample Business Associates agreement that could be useful for those insurance agencies that do not yet have such agreements in place with their group health plan customers that meet the above criteria for coverage by those laws.

Here is yet another area where independent insurance agents can provide added value to their customers and at the same time protect themselves.  While they are at it, such agents should also determine if they need to have Business Associate agreements with other parties with which they do business, e,g,, companies that provide IT services to the agent the provision of which services would give them access to PHI stored on the agent’s computer system.