From taping up football players to solving insurance customers’ inquiries, Carrie Santonastaso has always been ready to lend a hand.
The former high school and college athletic trainer entered the insurance world as a part-time file clerk in 1998 for MGA Gillingham & Associates, before moving on to underwrite gun, boat and horse coverage for the company.
Today, Santonastaso serves as vice president of customer service at Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY), where her days treating athletes’ aches and pains have translated into valuable experiences as she leads her own team of insurance professionals.
“A lot of the skills I honed then make me a good leader today because I am able to resolve issues and better watch out for things,” the 18-year industry veteran says of her shift in focus from sports medicine to insurance.
Santonastaso oversees PHLY’s multichannel contact center, accounts receivable and premium processing—among other responsibilities—at a time when carriers face growing pressure to provide real-time services to customers, similar to banking and retail. As such, 2016 marks the first year at PHLY where chat and email interaction with customers has increased while traditional telephone communication has declined, she said.
“Technology is fabulous, but only if it is enhancing relationships with customers,” she added, arguing that technology and automation exist mainly to empower employees.
Santonastaso is excited by a number of technological advancements in customer experience; mainly agent portals and personalized incoming service requests. The emerging tech prioritizes tasks for front-line employees and provides supporting background information about a problem before speaking with a policyholder.
Upon her arrival to the company in the late 1990s, Santonastaso set personal objectives around three central ideas: employee engagement and advocacy, adding value to the company—both top- and bottom-line—and taking necessary risks to improve customer experience. Santonastaso created PHLY’s Voice of the Customer survey program in 2011. The consumer feedback program is now a core piece of how the insurer measures success, according to the company. She’s also grown PHLY’s underwriting products from four to 10 during her tenure.
Currently, Santonastaso is revamping the organizational structure of her unit to ensure responsiveness across all teams is consistent, she said. Her team is also working to provide electronic signatures to customers, for better convenience.
“My MGA background gives me versatility and makes me uniquely qualified to tackle underwriting and IT system concerns,” said Santonastaso. “MGAs operate as mini insurance carriers. At a big carrier, human resources and other departments are separate. In an MGA dynamic, it’s not so siloed.”
PHLY is in the midst of a potential decade-long project to replace all its legacy systems called SPIRE. The goal is to more easily integrate rating, policy issuance and billing, Santonastaso, who is a member of the project’s steering committee, says. She also leads the creation of PHLY’s new billing system, scheduled to roll out at the end of the year.
SPIRE began in 2014 and will take an estimated six to 10 years to complete, according to the insurer.
Santonastaso also created PHLY’s High Potential Employee Program within its customer service department in 2014. The initiative prepares employees for future leadership roles through a curriculum she preps. More than 25% of participants have received promotions during their time in the program.
“We wanted to fill in gaps in performance and offer more than just the technical experience employees were gaining on the floor” with the program, she says.
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