Personal Approach or Tech Approach?
Despite drastically different customer service models, two brokerages show that at the centre of it all is the client.
Hyndman and Company Ltd.: Offering Customers a Human Touch
In Charlottetown, PEI at the corner of Queen and Dorchester Street sits one of the island’s oldest business concerns; it has been at this location since 1891.
Hyndman and Company is a four-storey-high red brick building with a gold sign painted in the window–established in 1872. Over the 137 years the company has experienced five generations and numerous staff changes but one thing that remains constant is the method of serving their customers.
The company is built on the value of face-to-face contact with clients. They don’t have a website and even the CEO doesn’t have voicemail.
Fred Hyndman, the CEO, says he intends to keep the customer service model his great-grandfather set in place over a century ago.
“We want a face to our service,” Hyndman says. “That’s what we’ve always been about and that’s what we intend to continue to do.”
Helen Hyndman, daughter, company shareholder and branch manager also intends to keep this customer service model. She believes the reason it works so well is because their brokerage is in a small town. Brokerages in larger towns or cities would possibly have a more difficult time servicing every client without offering voicemail because of the volume of clients they deal with. Small towns prefer having the human element, in fact Hyndman’s customers tell her how much they appreciate it.
“We like to have real people answer the phone here,” Hyndman says. “None of our CSRs (customer service representatives) have voicemail in this department. We quite often get comments on how happy [clients] are to hear a person on the other end of the line.”
“We like to have real people answer the phone here,” Hyndman says.
And while she does hope to integrate more technology into the company business she doesn’t ever want it to take the place of human interaction.
“We don’t have a website now,” Hyndman says. “The day will come when we do have one, where clients can go and receive a quote on their insurance. But in the end we would still like them to come in and meet with a CSR.”
Hyndman and Company adds value to their brokerage by only hiring passionate customer service representatives. They are given in-depth training by studying at the Insurance Institute of PEI, teleconference sessions with their broker software provider and meetings with Hyndman about the requirements of the CSR’s position. She says she’s been lucky to be able to hire experienced CSRs who truly care about their clients.
“[Clients] can tell if the person they are talking to may prefer to be somewhere else, doing something else,” Hyndman says. “We’ve been very fortunate that the people here like to help people.”
Hyndman says her branch builds lasting relationships with clients by providing superior service every day. This includes meeting their needs quickly and efficiently, having the knowledge to provide informed answers to clients’ questions and always greeting potential and existing clients with a smile and positive attitude. Her CSRs focus on each individual client and make sure they are provided with all the necessary information to make an educated decision for the appropriate insurance coverage. But she says the excellent service comes at a price that people aren’t always willing to pay.
“We have had clients who have left for lower premiums from non-service providers who have come back to us, because they felt they were getting better service here than they might have in dealing with one of the off-island companies,” Hyndman says.
Hyndman says she wants the brokerage to evolve with the technology available but she never wants technology to replace the human element. The only downside she sees to not having more technology is the possibility of not being able to better service potential clients who may want to shop for quotes online. This is something she plans to rectify in the near future; until then, the brokerage will continue to operate as it always has.
“People buy insurance but it’s not until a claim happens that they really get to see the product they’ve purchased and [when a claim happens] they need to know they can call and speak to someone who is on their side,” Hyndman says.
IBMG Canada: Using Technology to Service Clients
Normand Haas is the president and CEO of Insurance Brokers Marketing Group Canada (IBMG) in Toronto. He took control of the brokerage in August 2008. Haas’s vision was a brokerage that would service clients efficiently and promptly so he could expand his services.
After 35 years in the insurance industry, Haas decided to customize his own technology to make this goal possible. The customized broker management system (BMS) is on an Application Service Provider platform (ASP), a virtual platform that can be accessed anywhere in the world by producers and CSRs so long as they have an Internet connection. Haas has connected his telephony to his computers. Producers and customer service representatives talk to customers by answering the phone line on their computer; they talk through webphone headsets by using voice-over Internet protocol (VOIP).
“Our business is on the street, being connected with the community,” Haas says.
Haas can add infinite phone lines to his network from anywhere in the world. In fact, the person who organizes his back office, the hub of the corporation, is in PEI.
All of his producers and CSRs work out of any location they choose; most work from home. All they need is a computer with an Internet connection and a headset. Haas says allowing his producers to work at their own convenience allows them to connect with their customers more closely because they aren’t restricted to an office but can meet with their customers more freely.
“Our business is on the street, being connected with the community,” Haas says.
While meeting customers face to face is part of a producer’s job, the ASP platform helps producers and CSRs service more customers in a smaller amount of time. Haas views IBMG Canada as a custom boutique shop that seeks to exceed customer expectations. They help their clients through every step of purchasing insurance and each employee offers their clients advice, knowledge and experience. The virtual BMS allows IBMG Canada to be a paperless company, documents are scanned and e-mailed to producers and customers and while they don’t offer quotes or sell insurance directly on their website, www.IBMG.ca, they do offer customers advice through Webinars and e-mail blasts.
Calls at IBMG are always picked up on the first or second ring. Clients’ needs are cared for directly, efficiently and quickly. Haas says his clients appreciate the value they receive and are willing to pay for the level of service that is provided by IBMG.
“It’s a totally different platform and it helps us serve the customer all the time,” Haas says.
A combination of customer-centric service and a computer platform that has allowed him to connect to more people more often has helped Haas and his employees increase productivity by 40%.
Haas admits to answering the IBMG Canada phone line when at home during the weekends or evenings. He says this is the nature of the business world today. His competition can provide 24-hour service to clients and in order to compete and offer the best customer service possible he has to do the same. He says the downside to such a high-tech system is that he puts more work hours into a day.
“Last night I didn’t get home until 2 a.m. and I started at 8 a.m.,” Haas says. “It’s just the nature of the animal. Once you create that much activity, you have to complete the work. You can’t let it pile up. This is not a job for the faint of heart.”
© Copyright 2010 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the June 2010 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.