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The Internet could be sabotaging your business

Terry Cavanaugh, CEO of Erie Insurance Terry Cavanaugh, CEO of Erie Insurance
Terry Cavanaugh, CEO of Erie Insurance Erie Insurance

The Fortune 500 Insider Network is our newest online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Terry Cavanaugh, CEO of Erie Insurance, has answered the question: What’s one quality that drives your company’s success?

When Erie Insurance’s cofounder H.O. Hirt stepped down in 1976 and passed the mantle to his son, Bill, he left a letter on the desk. That letter has been passed to every CEO since. Among the sage advice, one line is capitalized and underscored deliberately: “Never lose the human touch.”

I believe that certain products — like insurance — aren’t easily purchased on the Internet. Consumers are bound to have questions relating to coverage, security and what they’re actually getting for their money. Most customers want and need dialogue with a human being, and in Erie’s case, an insurance professional. They want to know that a company will be responsive to their needs, financially stable enough to pay their claim, and nimble enough to make exceptions to rules, if needed. When employees engage in this level of responsiveness, they build stronger relationships with consumers, which can transition first-time users of the product or service into regular customers.

That’s why we look for agents who aren’t simply going to be selling a commodity — we expect them to be dedicated to service. When the founders of Erie Insurance (ERIE) put their business model together in 1925, this is what they centered it on. They coined a motto — “Above all in service” — and made it the standard for how we treat our customers, our agents and each other. In fact, our first claims manager kept a phone by his bed so he could be on call whenever a customer needed him, and we follow these same service values today.

If a tornado comes through town at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, we want a team dedicated enough to be out on the street helping our customers to make sure they are taken care of. It’s this hands-on approach that continues to drive our success, which is why Hirt’s quote about the human touch still matters to us — and to our customers.

Read all answers to the Fortune 500 Insider question: What’s one quality that drives your company’s success?

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