Every business desires growth, but chances are that, when plans for growth are executed, some of the company's character gets lost in the shuffle. Following a five-year run during which Frank Crystal & Co. tripled its revenues, its employees and its offices, the privately owned insurance brokerage firm in September 2006 announced new strategies to handle its growth while maintaining the client-centric approach that's been the lifeblood of the company since it was founded in 1933.
All indications are that the firm has the vital determination to avoid the sacrifices businesses often make in order to grow. It has approximately 400 employees in its New York headquarters and offices in Houston; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Coral Gables, Fla.; and Palm Beach, Fla. But top to bottom, Frank Crystal is still fixated on customer service.
A key component to the firm's new strategy to stay fixated on customer service was the August 2006 hiring of Ed Kiessling as executive managing director and head of the company's commercial insurance services group, a newly established unit comprised of the firm's commercial property/casualty, professional liability, aviation and surety business practices.
"What I was attracted to--and I've been in the industry for a while, so I've seen how different companies have been successful in the past--was the fact that it's a private company, which is really focused on customer service, frankly more so than any other company I've been associated with," said Kiessling, who had just spent six years as president of Commerce Insurance Services following 18 years with Alexander & Alexander and Aon.
He might be the "new guy," but Kiessling is already behind Frank Crystal 100 percent. For him, it was simple.
"They have a very strong mission statement, which is all about growth, customer service, integrity and getting results for clients," he said. "I find that a lot of companies, there's some sense that they have kind of lost their way; whereas, when you talk to people here, it's very crisp, it's very clear, and very, very focused on those things."
Customer service is at the top of the list, according to Kiessling. In fact, it is what has helped drive Frank Crystal's growth, while it appears to have taken a backseat elsewhere in the industry.
"In the industry as a whole, it seems that customer service is being broken into components, and many of those components are not in the same place anymore--some of them are on the other side of the world," he said.
To increase efficiency and save money in the long term, Kiessling said the answer is to invest in technology, not outsource client services. The commitment to a customer-centric approach paired with investment in digitizing files and processes will bring the answers clients are looking for while also growing the company, he said.
"We think that service model is very powerful and will become more powerful as time goes on relative to the direction that the rest of the industry is taking," he said.
"We're not saying we're old-fashioned and we're not going to look at this and change it. What we're saying is we think there's a technology answer to make us more efficient as we grow. Some people's response is, 'Well, let's send that off to other places.' We're not crazy about the idea of disconnecting the service chain like that."
It's almost hard not to have this one-track mind when everyone, from the company's top leadership to its 12 newest hires announced in December, has what Kiessling referred to as a "predisposition for customer service."
"The degree of customer focus is incredible," Kiessling said. "I'm talking about from (chairman and CEO) Jim Crystal and (president and COO) Mark Freitas on down. Mark Freitas said the other day, 'If Ed's working on a deal and I have to go out and get him lunch to get this thing done for the customer, that's my job. That's what I have to do.' You don't see many company presidents these days that have that kind of roll-up-your-sleeves, get-the-job-done-at-any-cost attitude. I've been really impressed by that."
So has Kiessling had to take up Freitas on his food delivery offer yet?
"That deal hasn't happened yet, but do I believe he would do it? Absolutely."
April 1, 2007
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