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In our latest customer story video, Westfield Group, a leading regional insurance and financial services company headquartered in Ohio, shares how it is engaging with its employees and independent agents for insight.

With about $2 billion in revenue and 2,400 employees nationwide, including 1,600 people in its home office, Westfield sells a variety of insurance products exclusively through a network of more than 1,200 independent agencies. Keeping employees engaged and attracting new talent is an urgent issue in an industry dominated by baby boomers on the verge of retirement. It’s equally important for Westfield to ensure its exclusive network of independent insurance brokers and agents across America feel important and well-informed.

Featured in the customer video is Amy Feeman, research professional at Westfield Group. With over nine years of experience working with Vision Critical, Amy is a veteran in using our customer intelligence platform.

In our Q&A below, Amy shares why engaging with both employees and independent agents is critical for Westfield and reveals how managing two very engaged insight communities has shaped her career.

What is your day to day like at Westfield Group?

I am in the customer and market insight department at Westfield. We sell our insurance products exclusively through independent agents. Those agents represent multiple carriers, not just Westfield, so we want them to recommend us to their customers whenever there’s a good fit.

We do a lot of “traditional” market research: things like surveys and focus groups, trying to bring the voice of the agents, employees and customers to the rest of the company and to help inform business strategies, business plans and corporate initiatives. We use our insight communities to get a more complete picture—not just from our customers’ perspective but also from our employees and agents.

My day to day involves a good mix of collaborating with internal clients as well as heads-down type of work. I meet with internal clients as well as my team about current or potential projects to make sure they have the insight they need to make better decisions. Of course, part of my day to day is managing our insight communities. I analyze project results, synthesize them and look for implications. In addition to writing reports, I make sure to share our findings with my internal clients as well as with our community members.

Tell us a little about your insight communities.

We launched our first insight community in 2007—the community is made up of more than 800 agents, representing all lines of business including personal (auto insurance, for instance) and commercial (anything from small businesses to larger market enterprises). They also come from various parts of their companies: some are customer service reps, while others are owners of agencies, and anywhere in between.

We use our agency insight community for a wide range of activities. If we’re going to launch a new product or thinking about going into new industries, we engage our agents to understand the impact of those actions to them. Engagement is important because our agents are the only distribution channel we have right now. We depend on our agents so much, so we consider them business partners and want to make sure we’re meeting their needs. We ask about how they feel about Westfield and get a pulse on how things are going. Agents in our insight community help us prioritize our investments, including the money we invest in automation.

Our second community, launched in 2011, is our employee community. We have about 1,000 members out of 2,400 employees. (We don’t make it mandatory for our employees to join.)

The great thing about having an employee insight community is that it gives everyone in our organization a voice. We have about 1,600 employees in our home office, while the rest are scattered throughout the country in various service offices. Our insight community is a way to bring everybody together and make sure we’re also hearing the feedback of the people who work outside our home office. It is a way to show people outside our home office that they do matter. We use our employee community for almost everything: anything from corporate initiatives to evaluating new software that our IT department rolls out. We even use it to figure out what should be on the menu of our cafeteria. Our insight community lets us ask our employees about anything that matters to them.

RELATED: Check out this video, recorded from the 2015 Customer Intelligence Summit, to learn more about Westfield’s employee community.

How has managing your insight communities influenced your personal career development?

I have become known as the voice of employees around the company. Some departments have me speak to their teams about how we’ve used our insight communities so they can see where we may be able to help them gain insight. At a recent all-employee meeting, our employee community was mentioned as the key way our company gets employee feedback. In addition, speaking at the Vision Critical's 2015 Customer Intelligence Summit was an incredible development opportunity.

What’s the best thing about your insight communities?

The members of course! They are so insightful and we have great response rates.  I so appreciate the time our members take to provide their thoughts.

What do you love about what you do?

I love having the “pulse” of our agents and employees and bringing back their voice to the rest of the company. I especially love when I see actions and decisions being made based on the insights our members have provided.

Also, I believe the changes we make based on insight from our community helps contribute to Westfield’s high level of employee engagement.

What business challenges do you solve with your insight communities?

We use our communities to obtain feedback and insight on virtually any topic, from corporate initiative change management to marketing communications, from the food we serve in our cafeteria to automation improvements. The insight our members provide touches the entire company.

Can you give an example of something that your research has helped impact from a business perspective?

Feedback from our agency insight community helped us refine the direction we wanted to take with cyber insurance, a product that is becoming more and more essential. Our agency insight community has also helped us prioritize what automation capabilities to focus our resources on.

From an employee perspective, our insight community has helped us determine the right amount of change management communication to employ during key corporate initiatives, which typically bring about a lot of change.

How does Vision Critical help you do what you need to do?

The technology is great, but even more important are the people. My success manager, Naomi, is always there to help me. She is proactive, responsive, and offers additional suggestions. This is true of everyone I have worked with at Vision Critical—they are always there to help.

Final thought

Our thanks to Amy for sharing her time with us. To learn more about Westfield’s story, check out the video below or check out this page. To learn how you can engage, retain and acquire new customers just like Westfield, watch a 4-minute demo of the Vision Critical's customer intelligence platform.

Note: A version of this article was first published in October 2015. This post has been updated with new information and more responses from Amy.

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Ellie Hutton

Ellie is passionate about our customers' experience, shining a spotlight on the success of our customers, and bringing the voice of the customer to our business. She’s been with Vision Critical since 2006, in research, marketing, sales enablement, customer success and CX teams. Ellie has over 20 years of experience in research and marketing, partnering with companies across many verticals to build brands, develop products, retain customers, evaluate communications, develop strategy, and facilitate change.
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