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The way to bring your customers close to you is to bring yourself close to your customers.
This is a foundational principle that guide my activities and advice as a customer service consultant. It compels me to bring my consulting clients to where they need to be in the close-to-the-customer era in which we all compete (even if, with some of them, I have to get them there kicking and screaming).
To get close to a customer, it helps to live and breathe the realities, challenges, and aspirations of that customer’s industry. In the case of Reliance Partners, a commercial insurance agency that specializes in the transportation and logistics industry, they’ve turned this into nearly an obsession. For starters, the ten-year-old company has headquartered itself in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Why Chattanooga? Well, it helps that Chattanooga, nicknamed “The Scenic City,” is a special enough place to live that it’s the only locale to ever have been given the unique title of “The Best Town Ever” by Outsideafter it won Outside’s “Best Town” award twice. This is certainly a plus when hoping to attract and sustain an energetic workforce. Furthermore, the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem (including some of the world’s fastest internet speeds, clocking in at 10 gigabits) and downtown Innovation District have made Chattanooga a startup magnet.
But the true point of being here for Reliance Partners is that it allows the company to dive right into its “close to the customer” approach to customer service. Chattanooga is the heart of Freight Alley—a heavily-trafficked freight corridor spanning the Atlanta-Birmingham-Chattanooga area, with some 80% of all the nation’s freight travels through Chattanooga on its way to its final destination.
Beyond choice of location, Reliance Partners “strives in every way to achieve extreme closeness via its knowledge of and sensitivity to the needs of the transportation and logistics industry,” says Laura Ann Howell, the Reliance COO (who also proudly refers to herself as “Employee #11). Reliance’s success and growth, she says, are because “we know trucking, we know freight, which allows us to go beyond simply offering sales and service as if our clients just operated in one of a number of industries that we service interchangeably.” The Reliance leadership team is comprised of former transportation industry executives and founders of trucking companies, she tells me, “allowing us to empathize with the risk management challenges in this industry on a personal level–and to write and service policies that address these risks in the way we’d want them addressed ourselves.”
Micah Solomon: Can you share a bit of your customer service philosophy ?
Laura Ann Howell, COO, Reliance Partners: We would never have gotten to where we are without our clients’ trust. Our agents take on the mantle of a business partner with a single goal in mind: to help our clients and their businesses grow. Part of this is understanding that one essential of customer service is response time. It such a key for our clients. In addition to their expertise that they can contribute in the transportation space, our customer service team is built on speed. We understand that our clients have real-time issues, and we meet their needs by providing real time solutions and advice. We are working to be the most efficient, the most optimal. For operational excellence, but also so that our clients are serviced at speed. Technology lends its hand to our efforts here. For example, we needed a platform for rapid scalability and we found it through Nextiva. Particularly helpful about the Nextiva platform is its embedded analytics, which is essential to our effort.
If customers come back year after year because they’ve benefited from our way of doing business, then we’ve won—that means we’ve provided an irreplaceable experience for our clients, whether they’re owner-operators or national-level carriers.
As an upstart in a traditional industry, what else, do you feel, makes Reliance Partners different?
Our internal culture and the view we take of employees brings us to the cutting edge in an aging industry. In an approach that is unusual in the insurance industry, we’ve zeroed in on culture (a byproduct of diversity) as a defining characteristic of our brand.We are a company that uses culture and diversity not as a quota, but as a strategic advantage. With more than 20 nationalities represented, 18 languages spoken, 51 percent female and average age of 32, Reliance is notably different than our competitors in an aging industry like insurance. With diversity in background comes diversity of thought, and we can be creative in our space to create the best employee and client experience when we promote innovation across all disciplines in our space.
What are some mistakes you see companies (competitors and even you!) making from time to time in serving or failing to serve customers?
Where a lot of insurance agencies fail is in mistaking customers for dollar signs rather than business partners, having a sole focus, in other words, on making sales instead of growing relationships. This is an easy mistake to make, but any company can learn to do it the right way: by taking on the mantle of a business partner versus just another vendor. This approach can be transformational for both the company and the customer.
June 3, 2019 at 12:36PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs