Agency of the Month
Texas agency ventures outside the box to reach customers where they want to be reached
When Heather and Brandon Smyrl started Highpoint Insurance Group in Friendswood, Texas, in 2008, their goal was to create an agency where employees would be treated like family and allowed to have fun in an industry that is naturally stressful, Heather recalls proudly.
“At the time, we were strictly commercial, working primarily with construction-related or servicing contractors in the oil and gas sector. Our personalities mesh well with that group. I guess we’re a little redneck,” she laughs. Heather, who carries the Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) and Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designations, is not afraid to show clients her energetic and fun side, and she encourages her people to do the same.
Team members have opportunities—indeed, they’re encouraged—to move out of their comfort zone. Agency President Brandon, who has earned the Construction Risk and Insurance Specialist (CRIS) professional designation, explains it like this: “We use the phrase ‘pursuing discomfort’ around here. In our world, that basically involves all of us exploring new ways to drive customer success.
“It may sound crazy, but comfort is the casualty of growth,” he continues. “We strive to be innovative and elevate the success of our clients by constantly challenging ourselves far beyond our natural comfort zone. Believe it or not, we have learned how to have fun being uncomfortable.
“Vulnerability, humility, and authenticity have gone a long way with both our clients and our Highpoint family,” Brandon notes. “As much of a light-hearted atmosphere as we tend to embody inside our four walls, our clients have no doubt we take very seriously the responsibility and trust they put in us.”
Early on, clients were asked about what needs were not being met by Highpoint. “It wasn’t a big shock when they mentioned benefits and even personal lines,” Heather notes. “So we geared up, making sure that we could do it the right way, and were able to start offering benefits six years ago and personal lines four years ago.”
An awesome culture
Amid a focus on growing and serving clients in their chosen niche, Heather and Brandon from the start began to work on agency culture. “And that was before ‘culture’ was cool,” Heather recalls. “From when we opened our doors with 10 people, personal development has been a priority. As the agency’s chief experience officer, it was—and still is— part of my job to inspire, innovate and elevate.
“We were fortunate from day one to have a group of people with servant hearts, who wanted to help clients succeed,” she adds. “That made it relatively easy to bring the same customer-focused idea inside our own walls, with each person helping fellow employees develop and grow.”
The entire Highpoint team gets together every week for a status check. “And we’re not afraid to have difficult conversations about what’s working and what isn’t,” Heather explains. “There are no wrong ideas. We encourage collaboration and innovation.”
Acknowledging that the industry and the tools used to serve clients are constantly changing, Heather points out, “We have to constantly change. That means learning to use different tools, and that almost always makes people uncomfortable. But for our people, that’s an everyday occurrence, and they know how to deal with it; they know how to get out of their own way and move beyond the discomfort to become proficient at a new way of doing things.
“The result is that we have created an awesome culture, where people have a lot of fun doing what they love,” she adds. “That energy has been felt by our clients; they see that we’re different. Several of them have sent their HR person to our headquarters to see what we do differently so they can bring it back to their business. I’m really proud of that.”
Highpoint Manager of People, Places and Things Jackie Keys adds: “When visitors and employees walk in the door, it feels different. People look forward to coming in to work. They come in happy, and that permeates the atmosphere.”
A recent situation supports her contention. “I had to put together a submission for consideration as a best place to work,” she explains, “so I sent a message to all our staff for their input. They had so many good things to say, but one feeling was expressed by everyone here. They all said that it’s ‘family.’ That is truly what makes this place special.
“There definitely is a strong connection between us all,” Jackie adds. “This place matters to every one of us. That’s the feeling that you get when you walk in the door—it’s like you’re home.”
Meeting clients where they are
“People who know us recognize that we’re not afraid to jump into things,” Heather explains. “Early on, in addition to having a robust, interactive website, we were active on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. We would let our people go on social media during office hours, which was heresy at the time in many agencies. But that’s where our customers are and, for many of them, that’s where they see us. We were on YouTube when getting 1,000 hits was considered ‘viral.’
“We have to meet the buyer where the buyer is,” she continues. “That lesson hit home in a big way when we were talking to one of our largest clients. They had been referred to Brandon by another client. In the old days, a simple referral would have been enough. Not anymore. They explained that before they came to us, they Googled Highpoint and admitted they validated our credibility from our website and Facebook, and not just the referral.”
The agency also recently asked clients what they would do if they had to find another agency. “The answer invariably was they’d go to Google, Facebook and LinkedIn,” Heather explains. “Today, social media is the big thing, and we’re there. We know we will see something new replace what’s hot today, and we’ll try that—whatever it is—so we can stay ahead of the curve. But the bottom line is, you have to be everywhere.”
“Brandon and I are both very goal driven,” Heather explains, “and we have been able to reach or surpass our goals thanks to the efforts of what I consider to be one of the best staffs in the business. Our people are highly motivated.”
But that doesn’t stop management from adding a little incentive. “They deserve more because they always give more than expected,” Heather says. “When we hit our goal, everyone from the receptionist to the president gets an employer-paid trip. It takes all of us to make it work, so all should be rewarded.” Last year, the agency grew 28% and purchased 35 trips.
“We have enjoyed steady growth at a nice pace,” she continues. “The only hiccup was 2017 when we had to deal with Hurricane Harvey. We still managed to grow 10% that year. To keep track of our progress we have themed scoreboards that are specially designed by each team to track lead and lag measures. We make it a fun, team-building art project each year, and the scoreboards are the focal point of our monthly all-hands meetings.”
“A lot of times when I talk about us having fun, people seem to think it means that we aren’t taking our jobs seriously,” Heather explains. “Nothing could be further from the truth. You can’t have ulterior motives and succeed. We are focused on building trust and establishing effective communication with all our clients. What we are really about is bringing value to our clients—and also to our people—in a meaningful way.”
Part of that initiative involves creating a workplace environment that encourages personal growth. “This shows up in our unique approach to wellness,” Heather notes. “It’s not just about getting on the scale, but rather about a sense of well-being that comes from feeding the mind and the body. People see how much energy comes from moving, getting enough sleep, and eating the right foods. It fuels their fire. It’s a journey that is life changing, and our people all support each other in their efforts to find what makes them feel better and be healthier.
“Employees have been known to get up and dance at their desk when they have success—or even just when they feel like it,” she adds. “And we bring that same approach to our clients, establishing fundamental behaviors that will improve the health of their employees and increase their overall productivity and happiness at work.
“It’s just one more way we live out something Brandon is constantly saying: ‘We believe our clients are better with us than without us.’”
The unique value prop
“Although we were always focused on value,” Heather says, “our B-to-B encounters were consumer driven until a few years ago. We needed to change that to a value-added proposition. So I started to look around for somebody who offered a unique approach to doing business, as well as a way to teach people who came from outside the industry— which describes many of our people—how to think like an insurance expert.
“And then serendipity struck,” she adds. “An agency friend in Arkansas invited me to hear Scott Addis, who was presenting at his agency. I did the only reasonable thing and crashed the party.
“Scott showed us how to package what we were already doing and incorporate it into a formal structure that emphasized risk management and risk mitigation, with insurance as one solution to deal with risk concerns,” Heather recalls. “It was an eye-opener for me, so I immediately sent all of our new producers to his Beyond Insurance Global Network (BIGN) boot camps.”
The agency joined BIGN in 2017 and rebranded its process in 2018 based on what team members learned. “Today, we offer RISE365®—which stands for ‘Risk Improvement Strategies and Execution 365 days a year’—a diagnostic and consultative approach for uncovering and mitigating risk for growth-oriented businesses and their families,” Brandon explains. “And it starts with curiosity.
“Our people are trained to be consultative, to listen to clients and prospects and find out everything they can about the clients’ business or personal needs,” he notes. “Only then do we work with them to develop a risk management program that could include commercial insurance, employee benefits and personal insurance, along with other risk management tools and services. The goal: reduce the clients’ overall cost of risk while increasing their profits and protecting against possible loss.
“Our focus now is on making certain that we live up to the promises this new approach makes,” Brandon says. “It can’t ever be seen as ‘smoke and mirrors.’ We have many of the tools in place to make certain that doesn’t happen. We have to execute effectively, and I’m certain we will.
Heather adds, “We have great people who are committed to seeing that this succeeds.”
Rough Notes is proud to recognize this fast-growing agency as our Agency of the Month. It is on target to exceed $10 million in revenue in 2020—an impressive accomplishment.