Competition in the employee benefits space is fierce. Winning new business while retaining existing clients requires you and your team to deliver “A” level service throughout the year.
Even herculean efforts by top teams can be undermined by “errors”. Whether an outright mistake or simply a misstep in execution, these lapses create a lack of confidence that can cost you business and damage your reputation in the marketplace.
A damaged reputation can create a downward spiral that not only kills growth but causes top employees to leave, and makes it harder to secure referrals or references, attract new talent, strategic business partners, or investors.
With so much on the line, why haven’t brokers been able to clean up these unforced errors for good?
One of the challenges in cleaning up painful errors is that brokers often only identify a small portion of the errors their team is committing.
To correct your team’s errors permanently, the first step is to identify and better understand what type of errors they are committing. Most errors can be categorized one of two ways:
- Errors of commission — (the wrong answers, numbers, or actions) are easy to recognize. Yet, they repeat themselves due to the fix being as one off as the process that caused the error.
- Errors of omission — (things you didn’t do that you probably should have) often go unnoticed within a brokerage firm: even if it causes a client to leave you.
For both types of errors, it takes self-reflection and a detailed process to make permanent corrections, elevate your game, and stop repeating the same mistakes. Let’s dig in to how to identify and reduce errors of commission and omission across your organization.
Why Do So Many Errors Go Unnoticed?
One of the challenges firms face in cleaning up errors is that brokers often only identify a small portion of the errors their team is committing.
Why? Because most people will do anything to avoid conflict.
It is much easier for an employer to tell you they moved to another broker because of a “relationship” the new broker had with senior management. Or a client might say “we really appreciated your efforts, and it was a tough call; but, we decided to move ‘in a different direction’ after conducting a mandated market study of the brokerage marketplace.”
What they really mean is, “You fell short and we would rather not say that to your face and risk conflict.”
This is not uncommon and leaves you feeling frustrated that you are not getting the whole story … because often, you’re not.
But, unless you make a blatant error, it’s not always easy for an employer to explain that they feel you may have:
- Dropped the ball.
- Didn’t have the proper vision.
- No longer instill confidence based on things you didn’t do, or solutions you didn’t present, which they saw from your competitors.
Assuming you have a decent personal relationship with your client, it’s easier, and they feel “kinder”, to gloss over your shortcomings to spare themselves a much more difficult conversation.
When you lose a client like this, you don’t get any actionable insight on how to prevent it from happening again.
Errors of Commission — Easy to Identify and Often Catastrophic
An error of commission is when a broker provides incorrect information, advice, or services to a client. This type of error can have significant consequences, as it may lead to clients making decisions based on inaccurate information or recommendations.
As you can imagine, delivering fundamentally incorrect information that a client relies on can end a relationship pretty abruptly.
Financial errors are the things brokers’ nightmares are made of largely because they are tough to undo. Presenting the wrong projected cost to the HR and executive teams can put you in a tough spot.
Common errors of commission include:
- Incorrect excel formulas, caused many times from dragging cells or formulas.
- Copy/paste mistakes from using templates carried forward from prior years.
- A consultant, insurer, or client looking at the wrong version in a series of back-and-forth exchanges.
- Time pressures which cause stress, and rushing from task to task without that extra time you normally take to eyeball all of your work to see if it all “makes sense.”
- Human error or lack of an enforceable or ill-defined peer review process.
Most of the items above fall into the wobbly wheel analogy where brokers recognize, yet ignore, many of their areas of vulnerability in the same way a motorist notices and ignores a slightly wobbly wheel.
At 30-40 miles an hour which is the speed most drive around town, a wobbly wheel on a car is barely noticeable and tends to be ignored. At 60 MPH you may notice a shake and rattle, but it’s not until you are stressed and in a hurry that you decide to drive 75 on the highway when the wheel flies off the car.
How to Reduce Manageable Errors of Commission
Lock It Down
First, build or leverage a locked-down way to calculate financial results. Do the same calculations the same way for every account every year. Commit to standards rather than trying to build spreadsheets that combine multiple calculations in one place.
Excel is a powerful tool, but linking together templates and dragging formulas over multiple years with different consultants touching these files often doesn’t end well. Even once you clean up the error you caught in one file, a new issue is bound to pop up somewhere else.
While the Vertical Fox platform is a great solution to provide consistency across the organization and locked-down calculations, a firm can build locked-down templates with some discipline and a time investment. The challenge with homegrown solutions is making sure no one corrupts the work by trying to stretch it to do something just a little bit extra in subsequent use cases.
Consistent Process for Iteration
Too many errors are caused by people working off of, or sharing, wrong versions. To eliminate these errors, commit to a process that is followed by everyone: 100% of the time.
- Have a clear and consistent labeling protocol. For example, “final” can’t be final until it’s signed off on by the carrier and client.
- Use a consistent naming mechanism and decide on how things will be date stamped so there is no room for misinterpretation. It’s not consistent until it’s written up and can be easily digested by a new employee joining the firm. Otherwise, you will have consistency until you have turnover; then, you are right back where you started.
- Use Shared files in programs like Teams or SharePoint so files can be worked on by multiple people at the same time.
With Vertical Fox, the most recent iteration is always displayed and there is only one version of the truth. Since clients and consultants are looking at the same data the chance of misunderstanding is dramatically reduced.
Pressure and Peer Review
The more pressure you are under, the less time you have for peer review. Unfortunately, that’s the time you need it most.
Almost every firm talks a pretty good game about their peer review process. In practice, many firms have none at all … and many of the most diligent firms only perform peer review some of the time. When you think of a multi-tab spreadsheet, what formulas should a peer reviewer check? It can be overwhelming.
If peer review was followed regularly, there wouldn’t be those dreaded calls to the carrier pleading for help to absorb some of the financial miscalculation.
Ideally, every firm would like to have peer review but they lack process and enforcement. Part of this is perception. Rather than receiving peer review as extra stress or work, bullet proof peer review should be liberating as it absolves consultants from worrying about costly errors.
At Vertical Fox, peer review can be enforced and signed off on. It’s also a much easier process, as you’re only checking values, not Excel formulas to see if they are correct.
Having locked-down formulas makes peer review easier and more effective. Asking for signoff and accountability of peer review will not only reduce errors but the worry about errors that didn’t happen.
Errors of Omission – the Leading Cause of Financial Pain for Most Brokers
An error of omission is simply not providing all of the ideas and services you should be or not executing on key deliverables in a timely and effective manner.
This can include a lack of a strategic plan, failure to follow processes that deliver the best results for your clients, delivering critical items late or in an incomplete fashion, not leveraging the correct internal resources to provide expertise, and more.
Errors of omission can be particularly challenging, because they may go unnoticed until there is a change in management, a broker RFP, or some other event that causes the client to step back and reassess. It’s in these instances that a broker can become exposed.
Brokers often placate themselves or management by saying there was not much they could have done to save a client. This is usually inaccurate.
Did your client really jump ship due to “unreasonable expectations” or a change in leadership? Or, were there errors of omission hiding below the surface?
Consider the following: you have great relationships that move to new companies. While you may acquire some of these as new clients, there are others that give their new broker a chance and end up staying with them. On the flip side, you probably have clients where management turns over that you retain despite new management having former broker relationships.
Identifying and addressing errors of omission is crucial for maintaining trust and your reputation with clients. Below are strategies to eliminate some of the errors of omission that can cause you to lose clients.
Demonstrate Consistent Vision
While a lack of a documented strategic plan can be your undoing in any year, it can draw extra attention during a change in relationships when a fresh set of eyes review the roadmap and strategic direction.
Explore a company’s goals, needs, and philosophical beliefs at least annually with a deep dive that isn’t just a formality. This process often gets skipped or glossed over without really digging into creative solutions to solve problems.
Further, the process in many firms relies heavily on the anecdotal experience of the consultant conducting the strategic planning session.
For better results, leverage the collective knowledge and best practices of the organization. This makes it easier to deliver consistently exceptional service without relying solely on any individual consultant’s experience.
The Vertical Fox platform provides a detailed client profile to help get at a client’s needs and a recommendations section that lists the goal, why it is recommended, and the potential impact. This helps consultants stay on track and provides written documentation in case they need to defend their actions at a later date.
Whatever process you utilize, challenge the plan you put forth by asking yourself, “what if a new hostile management team member looked at our strategic plan and execution?”
Remember, great ideas in your head don’t count in the same way telling a client, “I was just about to call you back” doesn’t count. And don’t fool yourself, project plans that get recycled year after year are only slightly better than doing nothing at all.
Execute Strategies on Time
You can have the best strategy in the world, but if it is never executed (or executed late), it becomes a costly error that can be challenging to recover from.
For example: Missing key deliverables like financial forecasting and pre-renewal projections might slide by when plans run well. But, it can be catastrophic in a bad financial year when a client isn’t prepared well in advance of a potential cost increase that can materially impact their organization.
The Vertical Fox platform can be configured to provide financial forecasts right on a client’s dashboard making it nearly impossible for you to deliver projections “late”. It can also help speed up contribution modeling in case you find yourself running slightly behind schedule.
In addition to financial deadlines, communication, legislative, and administrative deadlines that tie into open enrollment are critical to hit.
Building and following a project plan is essential to keep your team and the client on the same page from an expectations standpoint. You can provide an exceptional strategy, negotiate a phenomenal deal but still end up in the debit column by not executing on time and causing your HR partners to deliver their work late to senior management and their employees.
Follow a Structured Negotiating Process
Not following and sharing a structured negotiation process that enables you to provide the best result for your client can cause clients to lose confidence.
The best process includes multiple steps to drive the best results:
- Provide consistent financial updates including a mid-year forecasting and planning meeting to review the renewal projection and vet cost mitigation strategies far in advance of the renewal.
- Obtain the renewal early and allow your team to provide an underwriting appeal to the incumbent prior to plan marketing.
- Leave enough time for final negotiations. Starting late creates a time crunch which causes the employer to lose bargaining power.
Missing any of these steps costs the employer money and can cause open enrollment stress.
The Vertical Fox platform can provide real-time underwriting analysis to help sensitivity test pre-renewal projections in collaborative sessions and help negotiate the best renewal on your client’s behalf. The platform also enables consultants to generate RFPs in under a minute and model contributions live saving time and helping achieve client objectives.
Find and Fix the Discrepancies – Even if You Didn’t Create Them
Almost every employer benefit program has some plan provision, contract term, eligibility definition, rate, billing, or contribution that isn’t correct. These “hidden issues” may have been caused by a prior broker, a carrier mistake, a client misunderstanding, or an error your team made.
Many of these issues can lay dormant for years before rising to the surface. When they do, these issues will cause you and your team duress and potentially strain your client relationship. While you may get a pass if a prior broker made an error and you just got hired, once you are on the job for a few years, all issues become yours.
The problem we see is that not many people really dig into the details of programs to uncover issues that day-to-day aren’t noticeable. These have the potential to become ticking time bombs.
Put together an audit process to make sure all the financial and plan provisions tie into billing, premium, and eligibility requirements to catch mistakes and correct them before they become issues.
Consultants can easily identify several discrepancies when populating Vertical Fox — as data that doesn’t tie together becomes obvious and needs to be reconciled before completing our process. Organizing data into any system acts as a mini audit that can put out a lot of fires before they start burning.
Fix Your Errors and Reap the Benefits
In the employee benefits brokerage industry, where reputation is paramount and growth is the ultimate goal, errors can be the hidden stumbling blocks that threaten both. We’ve explored the two primary categories of these errors: errors of commission and errors of omission.
To reduce manageable errors of commission, it’s essential to establish locked-down calculation methods, ensure consistency in your processes, and maintain a peer review system, which holds individuals accountable for accuracy.
To address errors of omission, brokers must demonstrate a consistent vision by thoroughly exploring their clients’ goals and needs, execute strategies on time to avoid costly delays, and follow a structured negotiating process to build and maintain trust.
By diligently addressing both errors of commission and omission, you can ensure that your clients receive the exceptional service they expect, and your business can thrive in a rapidly evolving industry.
Vertical Fox’s dynamic benefits management software can help your brokerage diligently address both errors of commission and omission. As a result, you can ensure that your clients receive the exceptional service they expect, and your business can thrive in a rapidly evolving industry.
Reach out today to learn more or schedule a demo.