A two-part series on what Arbella’s Customer Service Center offers its personal lines agents
The rise of customer service centers (CSCs) offered by Massachusetts insurers is a trend that has been only growing stronger over the past few years. Agency Checklists likens this trend to the revolution that occurred when agency billing first began being offered to independent agents in the 1960s. Like agency billing, CSCs have the potential to exponentially help agents create a professional and streamlined operation by allowing their own employees to grow their business while the carriers help to manage the accounts through service.
In 2012, Agency Checklists took a look at The Hanover’s newly enhanced CSC for its agents. In 2014, The Arbella Insurance Group began a similar operation for its personal lines agents. With over a year and a half under its belt, we queried the Quincy-based insurer on how the Arbella Service Center (ASC) came about. Kim Kennedy, Assistant Vice President of Operations at Arbella, provided valuable insight as to why their agents are enrolling.
Why is Arbella supporting its agents with a customer service center?
When the Massachusetts Private Passenger Auto Market became deregulated in 2007, the marketplace was flooded with competition. Independent agents learned quickly that retaining and growing their business would be a challenge. To help our agents balance sales with service, we recognized the need to offer enhanced service capabilities for their personal lines customers, while they focused on other value-added activities.
The Arbella Service Center (ASC) was created specifically for agents who:
- Understand the operational capacity their agency will gain to focus on revenue-generating activities like developing commercial lines business, conducting customer outreach, and sales and retention initiatives.
- See the economic value because business placed in service centers is traditionally more profitable over time with increased policies-in-force, better premium retention, account-rounding and improved loss ratios.
- Are challenged to find good talent and know the small fees associated with leveraging our full ASC capabilities and strong team beats the cost of hiring and training additional agency employees.
How long has the ASC been fully operational?
We launched officially in February of 2014. We are in our 21st month.
Could you tell us what went into the planning and testing of the service center before it became operational?
Planning began by holding focus groups with our agents to define our service and sales offerings. Along with their critical input, we designed our customer relationship management system and developed agency and insured communications strategies. Finding the right talent was essential, and we were fortunate to have an excellent pool of qualified employees who earned promotions to the ASC. We also hired externally to achieve a great blend of skills and knowledge on our ASC team. We built all of our processes and procedures in partnership with our underwriting, IT, compliance and legal departments, along with accounting and finance, and human resources. We launched with just one agency to pilot everything we had built and to validate that we had created a great experience for that agency and their customers before we enrolled the next agency.
What has been the overall success or rate of uptake of independent agents using the ASC?
By the end of 2015, we will have almost three dozen agencies enrolled in the Arbella Service Center. We exceeded our enrollment goals in both 2014 and 2015, and expect that to continue in 2016. We currently have many agents interested in joining our ASC in 2016, but we are very thoughtful about each and every enrollment to ensure that we are well staffed and will continue to deliver an excellent service experience.
How does Arbella market the service center to its independent agents?
Pre-launch, we held Agent Town Meetings and announced the new ASC. Our marketing territory managers were armed with collateral and talking points aimed at selling the ASC to the right agents. Since then participating agents have offered to be a reference for other interested agents. We believe that the best marketing of the Arbella Service Center is the positive word-of-mouth of our enrolled agents. Agents are also invited to come to Arbella to tour our Service Center and meet the team. We encourage them to sit alongside our staff, listen to calls, watch how we handle customer requests, and how we seize opportunities to educate insureds on policy coverages. Our visitors tell us they are impressed after experiencing our service delivery first-hand.
Does the ASC offer any enhanced servicing capabilities?
We understand what other carrier service centers offer their enrolled agents and policyholders, and most are very good. We aspire to be great, and we are very confident that what we do goes above and beyond in regards to the quality, variety, customization and thoroughness of our services. We actively solicit feedback from our enrolled agents, and we are constantly reacting to their ideas with enhancements to our offerings, which also makes us unique. We are local, agile partners, and our agents tell us that is really important.
How is the ASC staffed?
Our ASC account specialists are licensed agents with the skills and ability to service all of our enrolled agents’ MA personal lines customers, and we will start servicing CT personal lines customers for enrolled agents as of February 2016. In addition, we have operations associates who handle agent and customer electronic requests and transactions.
What kind of protection do agents who use the ASC have in terms of the pricing of services over time and guarantees?
We have annual contracts, and we charge service and sales fees that are in alignment with all we do for our agents and are competitive with other carrier service centers in our marketplace.
What key factors does the service center use to measure effective servicing of an agent’s accounts? What have been the greatest successes of the ASC in servicing those accounts?
We measure how quickly we pick up the phone and reply to e-mails, because we know responsiveness to our agents and their customers is key, and we especially focus on the quality of our interactions. We record all calls and then review the services we delivered to see what, if any improvements could be made for future callers. We actively solicit feedback from our enrolled agents and insureds on their experiences, and we’re happy to say we’ve received many thank you notes for our service delivery. We constantly track and measure the volume of activities we conduct for each of our enrolled agents, and provide monthly and quarterly scorecards to let our agents know how many insureds, agency representatives and third parties we assisted, and the results of our efforts; including coverage enhancements, new policies written, customers successfully moved to EFT payment, etc. And again, we track the key performance metrics of all enrolled books-of-business.
What are the advantages the Arbella Service Center offers independent agents that are superior to what the agent presently provides to their customer?
Some advantages include:
- Extended hours of operation; 7am-7pm Monday-Friday, and starting next month, Saturday hours of operation from 9am-1pm.
- Efficient, first call resolution; saving an agency representative from having to be the intermediary between their customer and Arbella.
- Phone call interpreter services; all languages and all dialects.
- E-service business solutions; including Esignature, Estamp and real-time document exchange.
- Business continuity.
Does Arbella offer any added incentives to independent agencies that transfer books of business to Arbella if they use the service center?
Some agents transferring books of business to Arbella have opted to enroll in our ASC, and with the same terms and conditions as other agents. They tell us they’re very happy with how our team has handled customer communications and other facets of their book transfer initiatives on their behalf, and with how we’ve serviced these new customers from the start.
Are there any types of books of business or agencies that cannot use the service center?
As part of any agent’s initial visit, we discuss why they are interested in joining our ASC, the books-of-business they would like to enroll, and our shared vision for how we will grow profitably together. It’s important that agencies join our ASC as a strategic business decision, so they capitalize on the work we’ll be doing for them and repurpose their staff’s time and energy on proactive revenue-generating and customer retention activities.
What is the protocol for independent agents joining and having their personal lines business handled by the service center?
We have a fantastic and easy onboarding program for our agents. We handle all of the technology, co-branded customer marketing materials, agency service preferences, and every detail leading up to our designated start date. We visit their office to appreciate their unique brand and culture, start building relationships between the agency and ASC team members, and train on how to get the full benefit out of our ASC. We have been told by several agents that our onboarding program has been seamless compared to other carrier service centers.
Does Arbella have a limit that is placed on the number of agencies or policies that it presently can handle in the ASC?
No, and we have plans to continue to grow each year. We understand the number of staff we need relative to the amount of business we’re servicing, and the great customer experience we want to deliver. We thoughtfully hire and train additional ASC team members in advance of growth, and we actively manage agent enrollment in a manner that allows us to maintain our service standards.
What commitment is there to keep the service center available to any agents that want to use it?
We know that our ASC is a critical part of our enrolled agents’ operating models and is an essential to helping achieve their business objectives. Arbella is completely committed to helping our agents win in this ever changing, competitive environment.
How can should an interested agent proceed?
The best way is to speak directly with their Arbella marketing territory manager.