The Colby Insurance Group provides customers in Northern New England with independent, professional advice to protect their personal, family, or business assets—locally and globally.
How does a small, family-owned business compete successfully with the large corporate "direct" and "captive-agent" companies that spend billions of dollars in advertising? With personal, expert, and responsive service.
"People choose to put their insurance through us because they're our neighbors. They trust us to look out for their financial security," says Sharon Mickle, Director of Operations at Colby Insurance.
No call center
Instead of an impersonal call center, every Colby Insurance customer has a dedicated account manager to call on from Day 1. Colby's highly trained agents quickly become knowledgeable about the customer's situation—and can provide expert advice on the insurance options available to them.
In her role as Director of Operations, it's Mickle's job to make sure the agency's account managers have the information and tools they need to provide fast, friendly, service—and be able to put together the right insurance for the best price. Each is equipped with three live computer monitors: one with the agency's software, one with email, and another for insurance company websites.
But the system that is most critical, says Mickle, is the phone. "We are on the phone all day long. Customers demand that their account manager be available to them, and primarily that means over the telephone. Our phone system is our livelihood."
Advanced features—at an affordable price
Colby Insurance was an early user of low-cost VoIP phone services, but became dissatisfied with their first provider. "We knew there were newer features out there, but we couldn't get them," says Mickle. For example, their old phone system did not offer auto-attendant capabilities—or flexibility in the way calls were handled. "We were at a dead-end," she says.
After evaluating various alternatives, including a VoIP service offered by the local phone company, the agency decided to move to webFones PBX, a hosted VoIP system that delivers advanced call handling features—without the need to house and maintain complex equipment onsite.
"The price difference between webFones and the phone company's VoIP option was astronomical," says Mickle. "We couldn't even consider looking at what the phone company had to offer. Good VoIP business phone service doesn't have to be expensive. WebFones proves that."
One of the things that Colby Insurance wanted to be able to do with its phone system was enable customers to go directly to their individual account manager's extension without first having to speak to the receptionist. "It was something our customers had frequently requested," says Mickle.
With webFones PBX, it was easy to set up the system to offer callers the choice. "Now customers can opt to punch in an extension," says Mickle. "Since implementing this feature, we've found that more than 50 percent of our incoming calls go directly to an extension."
Not only are customers happier, the agency's receptionist is more productive. "With half as many calls to answer, our receptionist has more time to accomplish her other duties," says Mickle.
The webFones PBX system also made it easy for Colby Insurance to be available to its customers around the clock. After business hours, the system automatically switches to a recorded menu of options. In the event of an emergency, the customer can quickly select that option and the call is forwarded directly to an owner's cell phone. "It works perfectly," says Mickle.
Because webFones PBX is a hosted business phone system, Colby Insurance can operate from multiple and changing locations—while presenting a consistent, unified image to its customers. After Colby Insurance acquired two small agencies in Northern New England, for example, webFones PBX was able to immediately support extensions in the remote office locations. "Our locations 30 miles away were handled just as though they were down the hall," says Mickle. As new employees moved into the main office and the remote facilities were closed, webFones PBX helped keep the moves transparent to customers.
The webFones PBX system also makes it easy for Colby Insurance to give its account managers the flexibility to work from home, while seamlessly presenting the same professional call experience to customers—just as if agents were in the office. Currently, two agents work from home two days a week and are supported through the webFones PBX "find me" feature, which transparently routes calls that come into their office extension to their home phone. "The forwarding is pre-set through the webFones website, which means it only has to be set up once—and then it's automatic," says Mickle. "If something comes up, say an account manager is not going to be working from home as scheduled, it's very simple to go on the website and shut off the forwarding for that day. It's something the account managers can do themselves."
Voicemail to email
The staff at Colby Insurance are enthusiastic users of the webFones PBX voicemail-to-email feature, which sends digital voicemail sound files and the caller's ID as an email attachment. "Everybody loves retrieving voicemail from email," says Mickle, "myself included."
As the operations manager responsible for efficient workflows, Mickle literally counts button-pushing and mouse clicks. "Email is much faster," she says. "If you use a phone to check and retrieve voicemails, you end up pushing a lot of buttons. Our account managers already have their email open. With just two clicks, they can hear a message. It's also much faster to forward a voicemail to someone else via email than it is forward a voicemail with a phone."
Mickle also finds the call logs on the webFones PBX website useful to see what calls have been missed, made, and received. "I use the call history log to retrieve phone numbers or gather information for account managers," says Mickle. "You can access a missed call phone number through the website much more quickly and easily than you can using a phone. After all, a phone is just hardware, but VoIP is software, so why not use it with other software applications, such as email, to make your job easier?"
Responsive service & support
Mickle says she wishes she had more time to learn about all the features and functions available through the webFones website. Multi-level menus on the site enable authorized users to "pre-set" call-routing and other options. A company's settings are securely accessed using a standard web browser—and can be easily modified anywhere, anytime to adjust to changing conditions; for example, to post a recorded message regarding a weather-related delay.
"Over the years, webFones has continually added capabilities and upgraded the website to make it user friendly," says Mickle. "I do access the website to turn pre-set functions on or off, depending on attendance in the office and other situations. It would also be easy enough to do the pre-sets myself, too, if we had a need to do them more frequently. But it's easier for me to call webFones and say, ‘Can we do this?' The webFones service is so responsive that we get the requested function at our fingertips—usually within minutes."
"Every capability we've asked for, webFones has been able to provide," adds Mickle. "What's more, I've found that webFones usually has several ways of getting to the same end result." For example, instead of using the "find me" call-forwarding feature to ring an agent's home phone, the account managers who work at home could physically carry their office phones home and plug them in to access webFones PBX services from there, just as if they were in the office. "Having a choice about how to do something is a terrific advantage," says Mickle, "because what works best for one of my account managers, might not necessarily work best for another."
The quality of the service and support that Colby Insurance has received from webFones really stands out, says Mickle. "With some of our office equipment suppliers, when we call for help, they say: ‘The user manuals are online, good luck!' But with webFones we always get fast, expert, service that is personalized to meet our needs."
"webFones understands that I really don't need another technology to learn," she says. "We're here to sell insurance, not spend our time managing a phone system so we can sell insurance."