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RISMEDIA, December 19, 2009—If you’re looking for an example of how to mix technology and the human touch, look at Home Warranty of America (HWA). Using a careful blend of database technology, social media and video and agent engagement, HWA has successfully created a platform that gives the company the advantage when it comes to being quick to market with innovative new processes in-house and online, product development and customer service.

Here, President Marc Roth and Marketing Director Chris Kaucnik explain how they’ve created the systems they have, how they are engaging agents online and what they plan to do in the months ahead to continue on their successful track.

Stephanie Andre: Amongst the many things HWA offers is a highly intuitive database. Can you explain?

Marc Roth: When we set out to create our database, we thought, “what is our dream technology?” and we built the backbone for it. It gives us the flexibility to be proactive and reactive to create the tools for everyone we do business with—Realtors, title agents, consumer customers and vendors. It’s about quality and efficiency. We become more aware of what they want and can add it to the system without having to build from scratch.

An example of this is our claims online. I give the customer the same exact high-efficiency tool that I’ve given my internal people. It needs to be intuitive; you don’t want to have to focus on clumsy technology. So, we built a wizard that prompts my people to only offer the most relevant questions that gets the information to the vendor and consumer as quickly as possible. We then give the consumer the same tool as the customer service agent. If the consumer wants to self-serve, they will get the same exact questions.

SA: Can you explain some of the newer automation your system is using?

MR: Our system’s become so advanced that now everything is automated. The same claim form that goes to the vendor also goes to the consumer. There’s no mystery or confusion. We have a new algorithm that utilizes all the variables related to the claim—it can calculate who the most appropriate vendor is at all times. I don’t need one of my internal people to pick someone. The system knows who we’ve used before, based on prior vendor ratings, etc. Otherwise, if I had 20 vendors, how would a customer know who to pick?

SA: Besides database automation, HWA has been very active online and with social media—specifically in creating ‘Ollie the Orange Guy’ last year. Can you talk about the character’s origin? What effect has this had on your branding?

Chris Kaucnik: It’s been going really well. Realtors and consumers have embraced Ollie online and in our videos. The character’s made a big impact in our social media efforts. He takes questions and answers them on Facebook…it’s fun and engaging.

When I developed the Ollie character, I wanted to make it more of a differentiator for HWA and envelope our company’s spirit, which is young, growing, perky and innovative. Ollie fits that. We’ve gotten some great comments and we have thousands of views on YouTube for Ollie’s videos. We’ve even found that students are using our Ollie videos in their school projects, too.

Additionally, yes—Ollie is a great branding tool. He’s something beyond the typical.

SA: As you mentioned, the Ollie character is also very popular online and, more specifically, in social media. How is HWA engaging consumers in this arena?

CK: Our social media outreach has grown so quickly. We feel like we’ve really led the way and been an innovator with this type of branding in the home warranty industry.

Social media is perfect for taking the personality of a brand and bringing it online. We’ve grown so much in social media; we’ve even hired a media manager just to handle LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and more. We have close to 2,000 fans on Facebook. We have some incredible fans; they’re very engaged and we like engaging back with them.

We run a contest occasionally for Realtors and vendors called “Raise Your Fortunes Friday.” We ask them to send us their best or funniest sales stories. It’s funny stories that happen when they are showing properties and meeting with clients we are looking for. Realtors and other fans click to read these stories constantly, to see who wins; it’s a break from the constant real estate market drama. They start to better understand what kind of company we are, our brand, and we understand them better in order to serve them more effectively.

SA: HWA’s been immersed in video for more than a year with great success. What’s next?

CK: For consumers, we’re looking at more educational videos. We want to focus on longer videos that expand beyond home warranty coverage information and talk also about how to save energy, maintain their homes better and, of course, save money.

For Realtors, we will be revamping our sales videos over the next year. They serve a good educational purpose, but I’m foreseeing them becoming even more interactive. We’ll most likely survey our Realtor fans to really understand what they want to see and go from there.

SA: HWA is launching an iPhone app. Can you talk about it?

MR: About 12 years ago, I dreamed of having something like this. I remember having to take emergency service calls from customers while on vacation and being frustrated that I could not access the customer’s information from the database with the first-generation PDA. Now, not just us, but customers, agents and vendors will be able to log in from their phone to place orders, review contract details and much more. So you can imagine that when the marketing department said we could do it, we jumped on it.

CK: Realtors can now access our sales tools and videos, take a look at their orders or change their information with the application. Realtors can soon download the application with the Ollie logo directly from the Apple Store and it’s free.

SA: Can you tell me a bit about the Realtors Toolbox?

CK: We felt we had an obligation to develop something simple for Realtors to use 24/7, on their schedule, to do everything from making simple changes to a contract to marketing for referral business. They can get instant sales reports online through their toolbox too, and even use our custom-designed communications pieces with just a few clicks of their mouse. Their contact information is dynamically generated on the communication they select and that’s it. There is no uploading of lists. They’re ready to send it in an e-mail, place it on their blog or website, print it for open houses or any other use.

The toolbox also lets them order marketing materials for their office, recommend their favorite service contractors and download videos for their websites, blogs or to send to clients. They no longer have to be the sole educators on our home warranties; we’ve created the tools for them to use with just a click of their mouse.

SA: How can someone sign up to administer a team of Realtors?

CK: An office or team coordinator can sign up on our website to be a team administrator and handle all of the work for every Realtor in their office. They can set up warranties for every Realtor with just one password. Notifications go out automatically to each Realtor so they know the warranty was completed. It’s amazing; the administrator can do everything from order warranties and marketing materials to changing a contract’s status. They can use the system like the Realtor can. This new feature has made many of our offices and teams much more efficient.

SA: Like your competitors, HWA has a client follow-up system. Can you explain how yours differs?

MR: The agent wants help selling homes and we provide a simple, hands-off way for them to do that. Some systems they encounter require them to upload lists and have more complicated features. Ours is completely automatic. They don’t have to handle anything.

We put a lot of thought into our system and designed it to talk with our database and pull contact and other information out so that our client follow-up communications are customized by the agent and go directly to their clients on at least a quarterly basis. HWA uses technology to keep agents in front of their clients and in a positive, consistent way. We’re building their brand and ours at the same time.

All of this marketing is free to the agent. The client follow-up program begins automatically when they enter their first warranty. They can use the client contact program anytime and as often as they like by going to our website and accessing their toolbox. We’re adding new content to this program all the time, so they should use it often. There’s energy saving and home maintenance tips and more in the system, plus quick-tip postcards, too.

SA: What does the HWA database of the future look like?

MR: The best ideas usually come from our customers. One of the things we’re building right now is a dashboard that will allow consumers to see where they are at in all stages of the claim. Since we are already communicating with both the consumer and the vendor, and they are communicating with each other, we are working on simplifying the sharing of that information so that everyone is more accountable for quality results. We believe it will yield a win/win for all parties.

Customers get more control, less anxiety and quicker service. Vendors get easier and quicker approvals and payments. In turn, we expect circular results, which will attract better vendors, increase customer satisfaction, provide us with more repeat customers, which will provide vendors with future business, and so on.

The power’s in the information—none of it is a secret to us. The easier the tool, the more likely people will use it and get more benefits.

Everyone wants improvements instantly. If you listen and keep making positive changes, it provides benefits to all. That’s why we keep adding to the backbone. We are truly lucky and owe a great deal to our CTO Scott Ruby. If we didn’t build the system the right way the first time, we wouldn’t be able do all these cool things, let alone so quickly.

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