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This blog is prepared by Square One's leadership team and is intended to give you a behind the scenes look at starting-up a new company in a very mature - and sometimes stodgy - industry. This isn't a blog about insurance, which would be pretty boring even for us insurance geeks.
Sticking to our knitting
During a strategy session last summer, we started batting around some ideas for future expansion. At the time business was steady, but we felt we had things pretty well in hand, and might be ready to take on some new challenges soon. Our board of directors response was pretty clear – great idea, but not now. They rightfully recognized that there was still huge opportunity for growth within our current market, which is home insurance, in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. Before taking on something new, we had to make sure we were the absolute best we could be, at selling and servicing home insurance. Fast forward a year, and boy was that advice bang on. Our quote and sale volumes have roughly quadrupled since that time, which has exposed three things:
- Some of our processes really weren’t as efficient as we thought. When those processes only represent a few person hours of effort each week, it maybe wasn’t worth optimizing. When you quadruple that however, the time really starts to add up fast. Plus, these inefficiencies often have other negative downstream implications, like customer service delays. Given that, we’ve spent a huge amount of resources over the past year streamlining our processes, and automating (through software) as many of them as we can. That said, we now are smart enough to recognize that we’re nowhere near done yet. It’s amazing how many of these seemingly mundane processes ultimately impact our customers’ experience. Our goal is to respond to all customer inquiries within minutes. The only cost effective way for us to do that is to: (a) aggregate all the various “activities” that need to be performed as part of our business, like responding to inbound phone calls, following up on emails, etc.; and, (b) implement a sophisticated queuing algorithm to ensure agents are focused on what’s most important. That should keep me busy coding for the next couple months.
- When we first launched, we could probably accommodate 80% of the homes in the provinces we serve. The other 20% were outside of the bounds of what we could write either because of their construction type, their location, etc. As of last summer, we’d expanded our product so that we could accommodate probably 90% of the market – albeit sometimes in a clunky way. 90% seemed pretty good at the time. However, now that our overall quoting volumes have increased, 10% ends up being a big number of those we can’t help. So over the past year, we’ve worked to greatly expand the number of scenarios that the system can automatically accommodate. The system is now smart enough to automatically adjust terms and conditions depending on the application. This has not only allowed us to accommodate many risks that previously we would have had to turn away, but it also frees up our agents time, because now these customers can get online quotes. We’ll probably never be able to accommodate every possible home insurance scenario, but we plan to continue working towards that goal over the coming years.
- It’s actually pretty difficult to find great employees! While we’ve been able to automate many aspects of our business, people are still critical in providing a great customer experience. At launch, we had a fantastic core group of employees (most of which we’d worked with at previous companies). In recent months, we’ve been scrambling to find the right people to add to the team. With the current low unemployment rate in Vancouver, it’s tough just finding smart, quality people with great communication skills. When you add the fact that we’re looking for someone that’s licensed to sell insurance, and ideally has solid experience, it becomes nearly impossible! Surprisingly, it seems that not many people grow up thinking they want to be an insurance agent! 😉 Because we’re a small team, each new hire is really important to us. So, we’ve intentionally taken our time ramping up the team and only extend a job offer if we’re all really confident that the person is the right fit. Unfortunately, that’s meant that we’ve actually had to throttle back on some of our marketing efforts over the past year. We simply didn’t have the staffing to keep up with demand (without creating long phone hold times, which we hate). I’m happy to announce that we really lucked out over the last couple months, and we’re very happy to welcome 4 great new licensed insurance agents to the team. Once they’re trained and licensed in all of our markets (not a quick endeavour), we should be ready to ramp up our marketing efforts again!
Long story short, we are greatly relieved that we had decided to continue our focus on just home insurance. Over the past year it’s kept us plenty busy, and we expect that for the next year it will as well. As long as we continue to come up with ideas that result in a better customer experience, and more amazing reviews, we won’t be changing our focus. We’d much rather be amazing at one thing, than mediocre at a bunch of things. So to all of our customers who have been asking when we’re going to start selling auto insurance, I guess the short answer is – great idea, but not now! 😉
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