Is Your Surety Broker a Partner, or Just a Supplier? Service excellence from the perspective of a specialty

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“Customer service” is a sales pitch that risks sounding hollow through overuse. Any sales person looking for a sale will surely profess that their firm has “unparalleled” customer service. The irony lies in the fact that the sales person promising high levels of customer service often has little involvement in actually delivering the customer service that they so unabashedly speak of. This is especially true in the insurance brokerage business.

Competition in the construction industry today is at an all time high. This includes the professional services companies that serve the construction industry, including accountants, lawyers, and bonding/insurance providers. One of the many effects of increased competition is that acquiring new clients requires a pronounced focus and concerted effort on sales. But directing more resources to sales can mean that comparatively less resources and attention are directed to customer service.

The effects can be compounded when weak service leads to high client turnover, necessitating an even greater emphasis on sales. In this way, a sales culture and a culture of service excellence become at odds with each other. After all, how effectively can a business both serve its customers, how much value can it add to a client’s business, when the people responsible for this are spending much of their time also drumming up new sales and customers? Who’s taking care of existing customers while new leads are being pursued?

As far as the insurance and surety industry is concerned, a number of generalist insurance brokerages have made efforts to expand into the construction industry, even while established construction specialist brokerage firms – with decades of commitment and experience in the construction industry – work to maintain and build on their own portfolio of clients.

“Our singular focus on the construction industry gives us a level of expertise which is not commonly found in the insurance brokerage community, and puts us in a position to better understand and meet the unique needs of contractors”

— Greg Petrela, president, Petrela, Winter & Associates.

Most professional services businesses struggle with the same questions: How much of their collective resource to focus on sales (new customers), and how much to focus on service (existing customers). Petrela Winter & Associates (PWA) has taken a very clear route in this regard and it is one of the factors that differentiates it the most from its peers.

PWA is committed 100 per cent to the contracting space and it is backed by a reputation of being customer service focused. Rather than a sales culture, it is focused on value added service and consulting culture. Further, the name PWA is synonymous with construction excellence and a reputation built on hard work and integrity.

“It’s unusual for a regional broker, as we may be considered, to have a national presence. Part of that reach comes from referrals, part by reputation. Companies seek us out for our bonding and construction insurance expertise.”

— Collingwood Brown, surety bond specialist, Petrela, Winter & Associates.

While most insurance brokerages are staffed with salespeople who are paid to drive new business, PWA has no commissioned salespeople whatsoever and its team is paid to drive value for clients. PWA’s account executives are all technically sound, highly experienced professionals whose job is to attend to clients’ bond or insurance needs, finding ways to use PWA’s collective breadth of experience in the construction business to assist clients by adding value in any way possible.

The direct consequence of this model: PWA’s motivations are not divided, as brokers spend less time soliciting new business. Instead they field day to day calls from clients about managing risk, work behind the scenes to add value to bonding and insurance programs, offer interpretation on contract language, and strategize on how to take advantage of a new work opportunity or manage a dispute.

“We feel our focus on customer service differentiates us from the ‘sales army’ companies out there. We have our best people involved on a day to day basis with clients, and avoid diluting our focus and expertise on any other line of business apart from construction.”

— Roy Ferreira, vice president, Petrela, Winter & Associates.

And this is the essence of what PWA believes “customer service” really boils down to: Finding a way to impact its customers’ success as a partner, because that’s what determines its own success. Staying focused exclusively on the construction industry and constantly obsessing on how to add value to its clients’ businesses has led to the company’s best measure of success, the one that really counts: 37 years of highly satisfied customers and industry leading client retention.

Collingwood Brown is a surety bond specialist at Petrela, Winter & Associates. He can be reached at 416-488-2522 or cbrown@petrela.com.

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