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When Sonnet Insurance diverged from traditional industry methods and launched a fully online self-serve business, the newcomer found itself in a position to change the standard of how insurance providers interact with customers.

“We were able to start from the very beginning with a vision focused on customer experience and do it differently,” says Carolyn Beatty, vice-president of customer experience at Sonnet.

“When you can deliver an experience that breaks down barriers that customers have felt in the past, or takes on accountability in areas where customers feel uncomfortable, you really are delivering a positive experience,” she says.

The Toronto-based home and auto insurance provider launched in 2016 in an environment where one in four Canadians were unsatisfied with their insurance providers, but 70 per cent renewed their policies without considering other options.

Sonnet won an array of awards right out the gate for its efforts to offer a higher standard of customer service through digital and telephone platforms.

The insurance company aims to offer “easy, transparent and customized” insurance quotes online in as little as five minutes by asking customers to answer a handful of questions, the responses to which generate three policies with customizable options. The process should be simple enough that the customer can avoid calling an agent with questions about complex processes and opaque legal jargon, Beatty says.

“Canadians are able to shop for, understand and buy insurance online without any interventions and no requirement to phone anyone, be asked additional questions or go through additional gates,” she notes.

Now in its fourth year, Sonnet is rapidly growing and one hundred per cent of its insurance policies are purchased online. As Canadians are increasingly adopting digital channels to make purchases, the company says it is helping consumers navigate its online platform to comfortably purchase insurance from home, work or places most convenient to them.

It operates a contact centre where company representatives are available to connect directly with customers over phone, live chat and email to provide guidance and dive deeper into custom needs.

“The customer service team helps build confidence with the customer,” Beatty says. “There are complexities with insurance that customers are navigating for the first time, so it’s important to have a human element there to help customers through that.”

Many companies are increasingly relying on digital channels and outsourcing to external call centres to address complex customer issues, according to Mark Colgate, professor of service excellence at the University of Victoria’s Gustavson School of Business.

Providing a dedicated, in-house service team requires a fair amount of resources, with call centre resources costing about five times the amount of email-only services, he says.

But outsourced call centres often cannot provide the same level of service as in-house employees, who are typically more invested in the company and more thoroughly understand its policies.

“For more routine interactions, outsourced call centres are okay,” Colgate says. “The challenge is when there are relatively complex issues ... That’s when customers realize that they’re probably not speaking to someone from the company because they can’t answer that question and then they have to pass them off to someone else inside the company.”

And as people are talking less and doing more online, the importance of human interaction between a company and its customers is “magnified in terms of its importance” for those looking to resolve bigger issues, Colgate says.

“When you have an issue, waiting on the phone for 45 minutes to talk to someone can be incredibly frustrating,” he says. “The companies that are managing it best are the ones that are high touch, so a customer waits only 30 seconds to speak to a representative.”

This is part of what differentiates Sonnet from its competitors, Beatty says, adding that the insurance provider recruits employees with a track record in customer service and offers them training and certification as insurance agents. The contact centre employees are integrated with the product department, allowing the teams to share information and learn how to improve.

The company’s approach is a distinctly multi-faceted one: By combining human skill with smart technology, Sonnet ensures that customer queries on insurance buying – from the straightforward to the complex – get answered swiftly.

“It’s about the quality of the contact you’ve had with the customer,” Beatty says. “The customer service awards that we’ve won even in our early years are a testament to how we’ve really changed the paradigm around service.”

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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