Marketing Agency of the Month
Zen and the art of customer maintenance
It's about relationships—always has been; always will be
By Dennis H. Pillsbury
So, let's talk about computers. They're in everything these days. They're in our phones. They're in our cars. They're in our furnaces. And, oftentimes, it seems like they're mostly in our way. When we want to talk to a human being, too often, there's a computer in the way. And that's exactly the wrong place for the computer to be, according to the people at Jones & Wenner Insurance Agency, Inc., Fairlawn, Ohio. For them, all technology is a tool that takes over mundane tasks so that every person at the agency can "use their skills and judgment to help clients rather than dealing with tasks that are better handled by our automated systems," Gordon Wenner, president and CEO, says.
"We've truly embraced technology," he continues, "because it allows us to attract really good people who want to spend their time developing relationships with our clients." And that commitment is evidenced by the fact that the agency replaces hardware every three years and because they're using the online platform, they are always on the latest version of AMS 360.
Finding great partners
"A lot of our success is the result of the partners we chose," notes Joyce Sigler, CISR, CPIW, DAE, CPIA, vice president-administration and corporate secretary. "In addition to teaming up with Vertafore for our agency management system, we also have a hybrid approach for customer access, using a combination Service 24/7 and CSR24 to give customers real time access to their accounts so they can get certificates or ID cards whenever they need them. Right now, about 60% to 70% of certificates are done by the customer, and nearly all the ID cards are produced by the customer. We also have two years of policies online for customers if they need to review current and past coverages. What is most important is that we allow customers to choose how they want these services delivered."
Needless to say, the agency is completely paperless unless a client wants a printout of a certificate or policy mailed to them and then that paper leaves the office quickly. "We are so comfortable with technology that we allow e-signatures, making it possible for transactions to be completely paperless if the customer wants it that way. And more and more of them do, as their comfort level increases," Sigler says.
The emphasis on partnerships stretches back to the philosophy established at the agency's founding in 1975 by Robert M. Jones and David Roughley, who were soon joined by Gordon Wenner. Today, Bob and Gordon are the current owners of the agency. "We try to have the fewest markets possible to reach our goals," Gordon explains. "This stems from our desire to serve only those commercial clients whose businesses and industries we know in depth—a practice founded on our belief that you can't be everything to everyone. When we sought out our company partners, we teamed up with those companies that provided the best service and coverage for those markets in which we chose to specialize."
A niche player
The niche areas of expertise include trucking and hauling and other kinds of transportation as well as certain business and professional classes that include arborists, and contractors. In addition, the agency also has developed an expertise in personal lines.
"This makes our agency an unusually accessible and knowledgeable source for business owners who want to know that their agents understand their work," Gordon points out. "We have picked our markets carefully and go after what they want," he continues. "Part of my responsibility is to meet with our company partners regularly and match our growth plans with theirs. This allows us to grow with every one of our companies, providing them with profitable business. In turn, our companies respond to our clients' needs quickly and efficiently, whether it be something as simple as a change in coverage or a large loss claim that requires prompt action so the client can get back in business quickly or the individual can return to their home."
While transportation was one of the agency's earliest specialties and remains one of its most important, it has expanded into numerous other areas; each time applying the same requirements for depth of knowledge and a strong partnership with an insurance company that understands and wants the business. "Knowledge, accessibility and timeliness are principles of how we do business," Gordon notes. "Our agents all live those principles with enthusiasm and expertise."
Speaking the customer's language
Vice President Sarah Wenner Bloomhuff, a producer who specializes in transportation, points out that "transportation, like most businesses, is a very tight-knit community. They all talk to each other and have their own unique vocabulary. One of our key advantages in this area is that we speak that language. We are active in their associations and meet with them on a regular basis. We understand their business and are able to help them with the numerous state and federal filings that are required. When they need information for those filings, they need it immediately. Our 24/7 service fits perfectly with those requirements."
"This results not only in an exceptionally high retention rate," says Robert Gehring III, AAI, vice president of marketing, "but also produces a steady stream of referrals as our clients tell their friends about us." Rob, who also specializes in transportation, continues: "We don't have to get on the phone and start cold-calling to fill up our pipeline. We're always dealing with warm leads that have come to us from our current clients."
A passion for excellence
"While we are very proud of the strides we have taken in technology," Rob continues, "the principal reason for our success is that we have the best staff in the world. They are highly trained. With the exception of our receptionist, all our people are licensed agents and can help any one of our clients. They know what's going on. It makes it so easy for me to sell a new prospect."
"We've really built something special here," Gordon adds proudly. He points out that a sine qua non in the business world is that mediocre people operating within a great system will outperform great people operating in a mediocre system. "We have the perfect blend—great people and a great system. And our clients and prospects see it every day. It starts when they contact us and speak to a real human being who, thanks to our system, can help them immediately.
"If the caller needs help with a claim, our system allows the receptionist to find out who the insurer is and transfer the client seamlessly to a claims professional at the company. And because we have chosen our companies, we know that the claim will be handled appropriately. Of course, we monitor all claims activity to make certain that is happening. We've had a lot of compliments from our clients."
"The real secret behind our success is the focus of our people," Gordon continues. "They really have the opportunity to help clients achieve their risk management goals every minute of their working day. But they also have the opportunity to have a good work/life balance because our system allows them to spend time with their families and friends. I don't want people working nights and weekends."
"Technology plays an important role in other ways as well," Sarah points out. "We place a strong emphasis on marketing ourselves on the Internet through blogs and other social media. But we don't ask our people to step out of their roles as risk management advisors and try to drive our social media effort."
Gordon adds: "When we do anything, we do it right or we don't do it. We always hire quality people to enhance our risk management services, and provide them with the highest quality tools. However, if we identify an area where we need help, we look for quality experts in that field.
"We outsource those aspects of our business that fall outside of our expertise," Gordon says. "We're insurance and risk management experts. That's what we do best. When we decided that we needed a strong Internet presence, we looked for a company that had strong expertise in that field. We purposely outsource a variety of functions so our people can concentrate on what they do best.
"For example, we recently hired Kleidon & Associates to be the marketing firm for our agency. They handle our marketing and public relations and make certain we have a strong Internet presence that is ongoing and changing regularly. Again, it goes back to our philosophy of partnering with the best.
"We were concerned that we were missing opportunities in the Gen X and Gen Y marketplace. We had never had a formal marketing plan and were growing without one, but we realized that we needed a better effort to reach the next generations. Our choice came after an extensive search for a company that provided the same kind of expertise and effort in marketing and PR that we provide in risk management. They updated our Web site and all our marketing materials and then helped us develop a program to get our name out on a consistent basis in all the various media currently available. They have a schedule for regular updates of our Web site and social media content and they push us to provide them with the needed information."
Gordon sums up: "It's really a very simple philosophy. Find the best people and the best tools and do what you do best. That's helped us grow every year since our founding and resulted in loyal clients who view us as partners for their business and personal lives. It's very satisfying and rewarding for me and for the people who work here."
And that shows up in the care they show not just to their clients but to their community as well. All the employees are active in their communities, churches, chambers of commerce, charitable organizations and boards, high school scholarship boards (including providing scholarships), various youth organizations and other community services.
Jones & Wenner is a perfect example of an agency that provides the old-fashioned services that have been the hallmark of the independent agency system, enhanced by new technology and methods of communication that allow employees to focus on customer relationships. It is for this excellent blend of old and new that we are proud to salute the agency as the Rough Notes Marketing Agency of the Month.