Automated Telephone Systems

As companies get bigger and they have more customers, sometimes having the single receptionist answering and filtering calls becomes unrealistic. Can you imagine back in the day with operators in the basement transferring calls? I would assume with the minimum wage at $10.25 now, having operators would be very costly.

Automated answering system filters calls to different departments, which help elevate the calls that come in to one person. Today when I call insurance companies, the system offers two options to begin with: if the extension of the party is known, punch it immediately, or use their directory – both of which will connect the call directly. When that option has passed, you can choose different options to be directed to a specific department. They also usually offer an option to find out the mailing address and fax number, which can be a common question. Instead of tying up lines, or receptionist’s time, this option can be very valuable.

Sure some people are irritated by the long message of the automated answering system, and probably will always press 0 to be connected to an operator, but for those who don’t mind, will listen to the whole message and press the appropriate extension to be connected. We tried this feature for a month and we got too many complaints about it, and ended up that many of our clients just pressed 0 to be connected to our Director of First Impressions. This automated telephone service did not work too well for us during office hours, but for the after hour calls, it works well. This is where clients can find our employee’s extension via last name and leave a message in their mail box, or press 1 to be connected to our emergency afterhour’s satellite service. Any after hour claims get sent to our on-call employee’s Blackberry who then make arrangements for emergency services around the clock.

Insurance companies are also able to connect callers to different locations as if it was one location. We have three different locations with various employees across the three locations, and we wanted all three of our locations to be connected seamlessly. During office hours we have our Director of First Impressions who takes the calls, either to answer inquiries, take new claims or transfer calls.

Technology is advancing and last year our company purchased Nortel’s voice over IP, a phone system which uses the Internet to connect our telephone calls. It also allows us to connect and transfer calls to two other locations of ours as “one number”. When I say one number, it is because technically we have 12 lines. Callers can either use our toll-free or local number which connects to our head office, and it allows us to receive up to 12 simultaneous calls.

I know that insurance companies are able to transfer my calls to different offices, and for us to have three locations, this option is convenient. Prior to having voice over IP, to transfer calls to our other locations we had to direct them to the individual’s mailbox, which meant our employees could not directly take calls unless we gave our clients, insurance adjusters or brokers and agents their direct landline number. This looked unprofessional and just plain messy.

Another option we added to our voice over IP phones are our customized commercials which comes on air when we have to put clients on a brief hold. Instead of having dead air and having clients worried the call has been dropped (creating confusion), we have the commercial playing that gives our clients information about our company, including information such as our website address. This option also allows us to advertise our services and give quick information about our company while ensuring our callers that the call has not been dropped.

I really like the idea of utilizing technology (if it applies) to its full potential. But does that mean we lose a sense of personal interaction?

I think the voice over IP phones really helps us because it allows us to direct callers to our employees whose offices are at different locations without disruption. Having commercial come on air when callers are on hold prevents phone calls being dropped. Satellite services and use of Blackberries allows our administrative employees to leave the office at 5 pm but still operate for after hour emergency calls. These little things help us operate our business more efficiently and be available 24/7, but can the uses of technology go too far?

Do you have any examples of businesses using technology and you feeling like you are just one of the many?

Why Aren’t Canadians on Twitter?

I don’t know about you, but I am finding brokers/agents and insurance companies in Canada are not as active (or lack of presence) on Twitter as the American or European branches. I found some insurance companies on Twitter and I did some creeping…ahem, I mean researching, who these insurance companies and brokers/agents are following and who their followers are. I found that different branches of insurance companies are quite active. For example, Zurich’s individual branches in different parts of European countries and in the States have their own Twitter account, whereas right now, I cannot find a Canadian branch.

So why the lack of Canadian representation? Let us look at the numbers first.

Twitter has about 4 million users…perhaps now it is more. Studies show only 1.75% of Canadians has a Twitter account (which only translates to under 600,000 users). But did you know 4 million CANADIANS are active on Facebook?

I wonder why Canadians haven’t embraced Twitter like Facebook. Is there too much noise in the web 2.0 world? Or could it be that there are some redundancies? I mean, I could understand that since many things you do on Twitter can be done on Facebook and now LinkedIn. Then again, I find Facebook more of a social network for friends. I have seen Facebook page for businesses, but I find the popular ones are for spas or coffee shops like Starbucks. Since 77% of Canadians identify their broker as their insurance company, can insurance companies brand themselves well enough to open a Facebook fan page and have a large following?

But the main focus is Twitter because there are so many different articles online talking about the benefits for a company to be on Twitter. So why aren’t more Canadian insurance companies on it? Or could it be that insurance professionals who do have the time to tweet are older and not grasping the social media world?

Lastly, as Canadians, do we not value the web 2.0 world? As Canadians maybe having a company website is enough. Who knows.

Many social media experts talk about the value of Twitter…you see CEO from Zappos and, Starbucks on Twitter…quite actively too might I add. Zappos’ CEO tweets on different life quotes and maybe sales that might occur on their website whereas Starbucks uses Twitter to communicate with their customers – either press releases, public relation statements or even about upcoming specials.

I found an article onlineCan Twitter work for your insurance agency?

Here is an excerpt: “…  But the webinar I watched yesterday had some very interesting information!  Their statistics looked at about 1400 businesses, primarily B2C (business to consumer).  It showed that the businesses that used Twitter and regularly linked to their website obtained two times as many leads as those who did not.  Double!

The research also said that you needed at least 100 followers to start seeing a result but that the results diminished after 500 followers.  The key factor was developing a solid group that interacts with your brand and likes to read what you say.

So what does this mean for you?  Well it is some of the first proof that I’ve seen that Twitter can actually make a difference.  But it goes hand in hand with other marketing sources at the same time.  You can’t just tweet, you need to develop a small following and regularly send them to your blog or website to keep interest high.”

So there you have it folks. Twitter can make a difference in your business. I hope that in the next year or two more Canadian insurance related firms will sign up on Twitter. It is nice to follow and read up information about different insurance firms and or brokers/agents; however, many of the American based information/articles are not as relevant for Canadians.

Follow us on Twitter – SMRestoreYR

Google 411

I really wanted to share this with you all. At this point I think I should be paid to be a spokesperson for Google!

Google has some amazing features and one of them is Google 411. It is developed utilizing advanced voice recognition program to identify your inquiry (much like Bell’s Emily). You call 1-800-Goog-411 (1-800-466-4411) and tell them the business name, city and province, and it will find you the establishment and connect you to it directly. There is no charge. It’s FREE.

I was going through our company’s cell phone bill and many of our employees on the road sometimes require using 411. They use it and we’re charged $2 per call because they charge for the service and the service of texting you that number.  I know I’m being picky but at $2 per call you’re 5 cents away of being able to drink a grande pike at Starbucks!  Think about the savings. As a business, few calls a month to 411 made by each employee could add up to thousands of dollars a year. Why waste money on something when there is an equivalent, if not a better option, available to you for free?

Technology can break down, accidents and unfortunate events can occur at any time – basically what I’m saying is that crap happens. It can be an inconvenience to anyone, but many insurance professionals are in contact with several different vendors at any time. They are, especially adjusters, are on the road quite often. Sometimes a vendor needs to be reached, and if those events occur on the road, adjusters will be highly inconvenienced and it can affect their work day.  Instead of fretting, calling Google 411 and identifying the establishment, city and province, an individual can now make that important phone call.

What I really like about Google 411 is that it will directly connect you for free. I hate how 411 texts you the number and then you have to fetch it and call. Google 411 is a great option if you are driving and you own a blue-tooth headset. New laws prevent drivers using their cell phone for calls, texts or emails. Bless my cheap heart, but my biggest problem with 411 is the $2 fee, but other than that, 411 texts you the number you are inquiring about, and if you are driving, it will be problematic as driving laws prevent drivers from using their phone (don’t forget the hefty fee and the possibility your insurance premium going up. To read more about the law click here on this news article.  Google 411 eliminates it because they will connect you directly to the establishment of your choice.

Google 411 was only available in the United States and now they have rolled the service over to Ontario, Ottawa, Montreal and other provinces across Canada. The ONLY downside of the service is that if you are looking for a small company or business, you may have some trouble. My feeling is that companies not registered with Google’s business directory will have difficulties being found on Google 411. But that’s okay, it’s still a new program in Canada and I know Google will expand its data quickly.

Now that you know, will you being using Google 411?

Here is a video about it:

Are You Prepared?

Health and safety may not sound like the most exciting thing for a business to invest money and time in (sure it’s something we should all be aware about, but it’s not as exciting as watching a hockey game on tv).  But it is vital that all employees have been educated and trained properly when they work in an environment where employees could be exposed to hazardous materials or dangerous equipment.

Ensuring your employees are educated and trained properly is a process of mitigating future risks for your company. Just like buying an insurance policy for future mishaps (aka shifting a risk), training your employees can help prevent vicarious liability to the employer.

Think of your employees as not just people who work for you, but as an investment. These are the front line workers who represent your company and perform duties, which help your business. There are  a number of schools which educate and train employees to perform their duties while taking precautions – IICRC, WHIMIS and First Aid and CPR to name a few.

ServiceMaster Restore York Region sends our employees to become IICRC, WHIMIS, Fork Lift, First Aid and CPR, etc to be certified. The company pays for the courses because we recognize that trained employees are better employees. We take health and safety seriously – as anyone should.

All of our locations have health and safety boards, which include vital information – from employees’ rights to safety information. All employees are aware where to meet in case we have to evacuate the building. We have an employee who is designated as the fire marshal for each of our locations. All locations also have first aid kits, eye wash stations and fire extinguishers in working order and undergo scheduled maintenance. All locations have the building outline posted indicating where the exits are, where equipment is placed and where potential hazards may lie (i.e., furnace). We have also prepared investigation and accident reports and evacuation kits that include emergency contact information for all of our employees. Employees who travel for work are provided with a first aid kit in their vehicles. These are just the basics.

Ensuring the safety of your employees is very important – we’re talking about people lives. But on the flip side of your business being prepared, it can help you save time and money. Unfortunate accidents can happen…from minor to major incidents. Once an accident happens there are so many logistics you have to plan. As a business you want to ensure that your employee is taken care of, but also that your regular business operations do not suffer. We often hear time is money, and in this case, very true. As management, you could be spending time on other projects but now you may be spending time finding replacements to fill the void of the employee temporarily, scheduling and attending meetings with WSIB and the Labour Board, and perhaps scheduling even doctor’s appointments for your employees. Prevention is key, and taking precaution can save you a lot of hassle.

Another important commitment everyone has to make is that although it is important to have a policy in place, it is another to follow it. We urge you not only to educate and train your employees, but as management, believe in the policy, not because it is mandated, but because you care.

The responsibility for employees’ health and safety are shared. All employees must be equally responsible for minimizing accidents, and when working, follow safe work practices and job procedures. Accidental loss can be controlled through good management in combination with active employee involvement. Safety is the direct responsibility of all managers, supervisors, employees, and contractors.

Are you prepared? Plenty of information is available online but I have listed a brief checklist to start you off with your health and safety preparation:

  • Investigation reports and accident records
  • Fire precautions and evacuation procedures
  • First aid
  • Safety inspections
  • Training program
  • Ensuring legal requirements are met
  • If necessary, personal protection equipment

Being Greener

In the topic of going green, I love the idea how many companies are going more paperless when it comes to conducting business. Not only does it save trees but it also saves office space and money.

Technology is getting cheaper and with open source, it is either free or almost free. Today some insurance companies are now allowing brokers and agents to download information from the insurer’s site in the form of a PDF file and e-mail the document to their clients. Everything can be filed electronically, and searching and opening a file could be as easy as a click of a mouse.

I think with the advancement of technology, there is no excuse why we could not make most things paperless. Many claims are now submitted via online communication portals. Emails are now considered “paper trail” and technology has now transcended to mobile phones. Access to  the internet has become easier than ever. So what’s the excuse?

I read a story about a lawyer showing his insurance card on his iPhone (they were with State Farm). I admit not everyone has a Blackberry, iPhone or another form of a smartphone, but there are enough people in Canada with such devices that we could potentially change the way people carry their auto insurance cards. Why couldn’t we change the industry and make it paperless and take advantage of what technology has to offer? E-health is emerging, and if our health care system can evolve to becoming all online and electronic, why can’t insurance?

I know some people fear that with electronics or technology it is  easy to lose information or fear piracy. But did you know you can purchase an external hard drive or purchase a secured online back-up? These are all relatively affordable and allow people to save thousands of dollars on paper and save trees at the same time.

What I love about Gmail for example, is that it has unlimited storage capacity and their internal search engine is AMAZING. You can search either by key words from subject line or body content, attached document name, or by person. There is no need to print out emails for paper trail or store it in a cabinet. Everything is available online. Technology is there, we just have to embrace it and use it.

With emergent technology such as the iPad (which I hope in the future it will evolve to function more as a tablet), insurance can really utilize this technology and cut down on paper. Everything can be done online and electronically allowing the industry to reduce the amount of paper we use and dispose of.

A change like this may take another 10 years before everyone is on board, but wouldn’t it be nice if we can accomplish this sooner? Government has yet to allow the insurance industry to issue electronic auto insurance cards, but if the option was available, it could potentially save thousands of trees.

Isn’t it better to move and adapt with technology than to fight it?

Making Our World Greener

ServiceMaster Restore York Region challenges you to help clean our planet!

Did you know that WWF-Canada has their annual Earth Hour where they ask everyone to turn off all lights for one hour? Only 52% of adult Canadians participated in the Earth Hour last year, so let’s help increase that statistic this year!

We at ServiceMaster Restore York Region will turn off all lights and ensure that all electronics that do not affect our business (i.e., computers, photocopier machines, etc) are powered down.

This year, Earth Hour is on March 27th at 8:30 pm EST. We would like to challenge you to make sure all lights and computers at your office are off. Make the best of it and turn off all the lights in your home as well for an hour. WWF-Canada offers suggestions on what you could do to pass the time.

Click on this link for six great ideas on how to make most of Earth Hour.

Continuing our pledge to be greener, we ask you to take part on Earth Day.

This year Earth Day is on April 22nd, 2010. We would like to ask you to do something, take a stand on how to make our planet a more sustainable place. There are so many ways we can all do to help contribute making our Earth clean.

ServiceMaster Restore York Region is committed to making our planet a greener place to be. We will be cleaning out the river banks behind our building and we are asking local businesses to take our challenge and clean up public places near their office building.

Gather people you know at work or friends, and either plant trees or clean up places like public parks, because every little bit helps.

Small actions compounded will make a huge impact on our planet. Together, let’s help reduce our carbon footprint.

Our Condolences

At 2:45 pm March 7th, 2010, a tragedy those of us in the insurance industry are only to familiar with, fire, struck, yet again with the death of a 12-year old Toronto girl, Britney Einboden, and her father, Ken Einboden aged 44.

Ken died after rushing back into the burning home, having just safely rescued his five-month-old daughter, in an attempt to save Britney.

Unfortunately, Ken apparently was overcome by smoke and eventually fire department personal discovered both father and daughter on the second floor of the rented home. Both were without vital signs and while emergency personal were able to revive Britney, Ken was declared dead a short time later.

Furthering the family’s tragedy, Britney also succumbed to her injuries the following day, Monday March 8th in hospital.

Compounding this situation, Ken had also recently lost his job and was at home taking care of his family while his wife, who was away from the residence at the time of the fire, is on maternity leave.

As happens to often in these tough economic times, the family did not have tenant’s insurance and the surviving wife/mother and young daughter are now left not only without a father/husband and sister, but homeless and destitute of any personal belongings, family treasure’s or memorabilia.

We at ServiceMaster Restore York Region are raising funds to help. All monies raised amongst our staff will be matched by the company and donated to the family. ServiceMaster Restore York Region encourages everyone in the insurance industry to do the same in both support of the survivor’s and in appreciation of the good fortune most of us enjoy today. Donations can be made at the Royal Bank at Jane and MacDonald Avenue. Chequing account number is 505 2394. Spread the word. Donate. Every bit helps.