Don Jones

Tech | Career | Musings

For a long time, I was with a particular insurance company. Since I learned to drive, in fact. As I grew up, they got my renter’s insurance, then my homeowner’s insurance, then another car on the policy. I was pretty happy with their service, and the premiums, I felt, were reasonable.

Then I got to talking to a financial advisor who’ been in the insurance industry. “Ditch that rental car coverage,” he advised. “You’re basically paying for a rental car day per month; we loved those riders because they were almost pure profit. It’s cheaper just to put a little away for that in case you need it.” Okay, sensible opinion. “And you need to raise those coverages. The state minimums won’t cover liability in a real-world scenario, and whoever you hit can come after you for the rest.” Yikes. Well, to be fair, I’d never really looked at my policy since my early twenties, when I owned nothing and was trying to get as cheap a policy as possible. He recommended some more-sensible coverages for a grownup, and also suggested I look into an umbrella policy. “They’re cheap, and they provide an immense amount of coverage across both your home and your car.” We talked at length, and I decided to see what the coverage would cost.

It took my agent almost six weeks to get me a quote. Hello, trying to give you money, can you help out a little? After a family discussion and budget review, we decided on some expansions to our policies. Four weeks later we were still trying to get the agent to make the changes. Hi, me again, trying to give you more money? No?

I started to feel like my business was being taken for granted. I certainly wasn’t getting what I wanted in terms of service – not even a call back. Maybe it was time to shop around a bit.

I put together an RFP. Not kidding. I laid out every single policy item and limit we wanted, and sent out a huge packet to a dozen agents in my area. One got back to me, and his quote was literally half of what I’d been expecting to pay to the current company. Double yikes. He also had some suggestions for cutting back on unnecessary limits and riders and stuff. Anyway, suffice to say we formed a great working relationship and my old agent lost my business.

But I’m not here to bitch about my insurance agent, or to sell you on a particular company. Not at all. I’m not even going to swear that the above story is true, although it’s certainly plausible, and it definitely is at least based on a true story. What I’d like you to simply consider is that, when customers don’t get what they want, they’re often willing to tear up roots and move on. That’s actually bad for everyone: the customer has to go through a lot of hassle, the the business loses the business. The customer might wind up happier in the end, but in that situation it’s actually easier to retain the customer than it is to lose them, because most folks will avoid hassle if they can.

Now, let me retell the story a bit. I’ll be briefer, this time.

For a long time, I was with my IT department. Since I started at the company, in fact. I was pretty happy with their service, and the SLAs, I felt, were reasonable. Then I needed some additional services, like the ability to transfer some files to an external vendor.

It took my IT department almost two weeks to tell me that they couldn’t even provide a way for me to do that and still “comply with regulations,” whatever that means. I certainly wasn’t getting what I wanted in terms of service – not even a fast call back. Maybe it was time to shop around a bit.

I opened a Dropbox account. Yeah, it cost a few bucks, but they were quick, and I got my job done. Anyway, suffice to say we formed a great working relationship and my IT department lost my business. Now I don’t have any problem at all just going and getting what I need if they won’t provide it.

That’s where the “consumerization” of IT came from. Now look, I’m not criticizing IT for following the company rules. But you know IT is the one that gets blamed. We can finger-point at company policy all we want, but it doesn’t matter.

This is a huge problem. No, it isn’t entirely an IT problem. Actually, it’s barely even an IT problem at all; we could certainly implement whatever users needed, if we were funded and permitted. But we take the hate anyway, so it’s kind of our problem. We can do, basically, one of two things about it. We can continue to try and deflect the hate to “company policy,” which will rarely work because it simply isn’t a satisfying target for the hate.

Or we can start to agitate.

I feel that IT has, for far too long, been put in the position of corporate heavyweight. We have to enforce rules that we don’t like, know are senseless, and don’t originate from technical places at all. We’re the ones who know how to set permissions, and so we become the gatekeepers of permissions. That bugs me, because it isn’t technology. 

So instead of standing up to your users… become their advocate.

Ever see Disney-Pixar’s “The Incredibles?” Go watch the first modern-day scene, with Bob Parr is dealing with a little old lady at his insurance company. He looks furtively around, and says, “look, I can’t tell you to go fill out form XYZ and carry it up to so-and-so in order to bypass this and get your claim filled.” Wink, wink.

Do that. Start telling your users to open a ticket every time they need to transfer a file or whatever, and can’t, because IT isn’t allowed to give them that ability. Burn an hour on the ticket explaining the problem, every time. Agitate at planning meetings and other formal outlets. Propose a solution. That’s the important bit. “Look, we could do this, securely and in full compliance, if we just _____. It’d cost us ___, and Lord knows we’re burning that much just opening tickets for users right now.” Become the users’ champion.

Obviously, you don’t do this for silly things. Let’s keep the discussion sensible, right? But for legitimate services that the company just isn’t offering, and which users are going on their own and working around, propose a fix. Price it out. Protest in favor of it. That’s how we move IT forward. It’s certainly how we get our users on our side a little bit. And if the company is going to insist on putting us in the middleman role, well, then it can work both ways.

A proposal doesn’t need to be a full-on ITIL-compliant project, either. Do some research. Get some pricing. Propose. If someone says, “yeah, let’s dig into that,” then you can start treating it as a real thing – and start putting out the word that, “yeah, we’re finally working on it.” Progress!

I know it’s easier just to point to company policy, or another department, or whatever, and throw up your hands and say, “look, I just work here, too.” But I’ve always been a “see the problem, fix the problem” kind of person. Even if it makes me a bit unpopular in meetings (it does), I’d rather keep pushing the organization forward, solve needs, and make things more efficient and productive. Sometimes, that means pushing a bit at both sides.

One thought on “Why My Old Insurance Agent is a Lot Like an IT Department

  1. Don Jones says:

    I’ll pre-acknowledge what I feel is an inevitable (and understandable) counter-argument: I’ve tried to do this in the past but my company just doesn’t listen! So it isn’t worth it!

    Yeah, I’ve worked for companies like that. It sucks. If that’s you, then consider this article not written for you. I’m not suggesting that you’re slacking off; I totally get how discouraging it can be to work for a company that just ignores you.

    But there are other kinds of companies where it isn’t so much that management doesn’t want to listen, as they’re listening to so much they have trouble focusing. Getting on users’ sides and helping users champion a good cause (a GOOD one, mind you) can sometimes help management focus better, and get real problems solved.

    Sometimes, folks work at companies and THINK they’re “no listen” companies… but they just haven’t yet found the right way to present things so that management will listen. In those cases, championing users – and having evidence, in the form of help desk tickets (for example), might be another approach.

    Some of the larger companies I consult with really do seem like they won’t listen. I mean, 50,000 employees and it’s easy for an IT person to feel like a cog in the machine. But in several cases, some smart IT folks started championing good user problems, and wound up being promoted themselves, because they were improving the company overall. Last one I knew of was made into an IT Business Analyst thing of some kind. So, sometimes, it works out well.

    An IT pro at a company that won’t listen, I have (and can offer) nothing but sympathy. An IT pro who’s never bothered to find out if their company is a listener or not? Meh. No use.

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