December 13, 2023

Creative Collaboration for Strong Customer Relationships

Insights North America United States
Arch Voices

Meet Austin

Growing up, I wanted to be a writer. Approaching college, I wasn’t sure about writing as a lucrative profession, so I got my business degree in the most creative area I could think of — hospitality and tourism management.

After graduation, I began my career as a wedding planner and tapped into my creative side. After 10 years of brides and bouquets, I was ready to move in a new direction. This is when I had the opportunity for a fresh challenge at Arch RoamRight, Arch’s travel division.

Initially, I was one of only two Customer Service Representatives. I’ve been here for 10 years now. I lead my own team of five, and we interact with at least six other Arch departments.  After 10 years here, I can’t imagine ever leaving.

Great Skills Transfer Well

On the surface, wedding planning and travel insurance may seem different, but there is a lot of skill transfer. To be successful in wedding planning, I had to be inventive and skilled in dealing with emotionally charged situations. At RoamRight, buying customers are happily and responsibly purchasing insurance to protect their investment: a trip that they’re really looking forward to. When the insurance needs to be used, the tone and energy change because something unfortunate has happened. By nature, insurance covers events out of a person’s control, so the ability to talk to people with compassion while relaying important information is key.

I had the great fortune to work for two small businesses in the wedding industry, and I know the impact each person can make as part of an intimate team. Joining Arch, I saw that same energy and effort in building RoamRight. Being part of that journey exposed me to many areas, including what’s involved in releasing a new product, how we work with partners to grow the business and how everything works behind the scenes.

Connections and Conversations

My favorite part of my job is the interpersonal component.

In managing a team, the conversations within that group are designed not only to troubleshoot issues but to help them develop their own skills and become more self-sufficient in achieving their goals. Connecting with other department heads to find solutions for shared problems is particularly rewarding because everyone is responsive. They take ownership of their piece of the puzzle and contribute to others, which fuels our great relationships.

Travel insurance has changed a lot in the decade I’ve been in the industry. The biggest recent change occurred during the pandemic. Widespread tour cancellations and countries closing borders to travelers were not aspects that had been considered when underwriting policies. While policies have exclusions, we did not have a global pandemic exclusion in our travel insurance policy because, before 2020, it didn’t seem likely. No insurance company could afford to give everyone their money back for everything they had booked for an indefinite period. There were public expectations for travel insurance to do things it was never intended to do.

In March 2020, I was tied directly into the VPs of Business Development, Travel and was fortunate to be included in those daily huddles about the evolving pandemic response. Being at that table, instead of being reported to secondhand, was critical to understanding how my team and our work would be impacted. It also provided an opportunity to provide my real-time, front-line experience to key decision-makers, helping to ensure they had a well-rounded picture. That experience allowed me to empower and grow my team and significantly impact the work we were all doing. As a result, we were able to weather the pandemic challenges and continue to have our business grow and thrive.

I have not once considered returning to the wedding planning industry. I’m invested here and put down roots because I believe in what we do, and I know that it is important work. I love the corporate culture we have and how unique it is. We work very closely with the sales teams for Travel and Accident and Health, and there is great camaraderie and friendly competition in that partnership. We work together to grow the business, with the salesperson bringing in new opportunities and our team handling the internal growth of existing clients. Those combined efforts ultimately grow each territory’s production and the book to a new level.

Creative Challenges and Communication

Our team primarily works with travel agents and travel suppliers. We discuss retail products available “off the shelf” through a travel agent and custom products for tour operators, specifically designed for their trips and their travelers. There are lots of opportunities to be creatively challenged in this work. There are also lots of funny stories, like when someone took out a travel insurance policy for their cat as a traveling companion. When we spoke to the customer and explained that our policies were only for people, they explained that their cat, Mittens, was like a person to them. Of course, we ended up canceling and refunding Mittens’ policy. We actually get this request a lot for pets to be covered as a family member, but we have not included it in our policies to date.

When hiring, I look for outgoing individuals who are comfortable talking to people in different situations and can build relationships with travel advisors. This is so important for our work because it goes beyond just having them offer our product. It is about having agents confidently recommend us because they trust us to service their clients at the same high level they do. Hard skills and technical skills can be taught, but in our roles, the “soft skills” are equally, if not more, important. Ultimately our positions are a unique opportunity to work in an exciting field, support a dedicated book of business and work with a team while still retaining a lot of autonomy in the day-to-day. No two days are ever the same!

Austin Kirby

Manager, Account Services

Arch Insurance | Hunt Valley, MD

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