This is part 2 of a 4 part series
It’s no surprise that great customer service plays an important role in insurance claims. But for an adjuster to truly offer great customer service, he or she needs to think beyond the traditional claimant/adjuster dynamic that comes to mind. For this article, I wanted to look at a bigger picture view of customer service, and the role it plays in the claims industry.
After Dan and I started working together, we immediately noticed similarities regarding the importance we placed on customer service as consumers. Regardless of the product, getting great service was kind of a make-it or break-it deal for both of us. When we created AdjusterPro, our passion for good customer service permeated every aspect of our business plan. As customers, we wanted to be treated well. As business owners, we wanted to treat our customers in a way that we hope will exceed their expectations and create lasting business relationships.
I have always felt that offering excellent customer service is really the key to being a successful adjuster. Why? Let me start with a bit of career history and how I came to develop my thoughts about service in insurance adjusting. I started my career in ‘04 with a thrown-to-the-sharks type deployment after Hurricane Charley. Charley was a CAT 4 that slammed the gulf side of Florida (many of you remember it well, I’m sure.) I had zero experience in claims but was thrilled about my first deployment. After landing in Florida, my new storm manager handed me a huge stack of paper claims, chuckled “good luck,” and sent me on my way. I was definitely under-prepared, but my zeal (desperation?) to succeed outweighed my inexperience. Or so I hoped.
During the utter chaos of Charley, I realized I had three primary ‘customers’ that needed to be taken care of: the carrier, the IA Firm I was working for, and the policyholder. I quickly learned satisfying all three parties was crucial if I wanted to be successful long-term. But each of these ‘customers’ needs differed greatly, as did my interaction and communication with them. So how did I give all three parties, each of whom had a different goal, great customer service? It’s really pretty simple…I applied the Golden Rule.
TREAT OTHERS AS YOU’D LIKE TO BE TREATED
To me, this means offering respect, frankness, and competency at my job. It means over-communicating without burdening, and possessing a strong sense of integrity while remaining flexible. And lastly, it requires understanding each customer’s needs and goals. What did they expect from me? What was going to make them happy and/or successful? How could I, as a lone adjuster, help them reach their goals? Ultimately, what does great customer service look like to the carrier? The IA Firm? The policyholder? To figure out how to offer great service to my three ‘customers’, I took a step back and on a really simple level, put myself in their shoes.
The carrier’s goal is pretty simple. They write contracts to policyholders, expecting to make a profit over time. Carriers know they’ll pay for losses, so they need to keep customers long term to offset those payouts. Carriers need adjusters to protect their interests and bottom line. This does not mean trying to save money by denying the claim or paying as little as possible – that leads to a bigger mess and out of pocket costs for the insurance company. But carriers want to know their adjusters can execute the contract while keeping policyholders satisfied and therefore, loyal.
So if we consider the carrier our customer, how do we offer it great customer service as an adjuster? There are a multitude of things you can do, but I want to touch on a few of the most crucial and why they’re so important.
- Understand the Contract – Know who, why, when, and most importantly, what it pays. Be able to explain everything to the policyholder with empathy and confidence. If you don’t know the answer, don’t lie or fudge. Simply let the claimant know you’ll get back to them with the answer.
- Execute the Contract Fairly – The carrier wants the policyholder to walk away knowing they were treated fairly, even when the outcome wasn’t what they hoped.
- Be Professional & Courteous – Even when (especially when) the claimant isn’t receiving great news. At the end of the day, you represent the carrier first and foremost.
- Be Creative – If the carriers wanted a contract robot, they’d hire one. Claims adjusting still requires real-life humans to creatively and empathetically solve the millions of losses they see every year. I’ve always felt there’s an art to closing claims and keeping all parties satisfied. Adjusters are the masters of this art.
- Cover Your Behind, and Theirs – Any claim can end up in court, no matter how well executed so do everything by the book. The file, field notes, estimates, emails, photos, how and why you took action or made decisions…everything should be organized, legal, and transparent.
Understanding what the carrier needed helped me establish an action plan and concrete steps I could take to provide the best possible service to this ‘customer.’
THE IA FIRM
More and more, a large percentage of claims are being handled by independent adjusters through IA firms, rather than staff adjusters who work directly for the insurance carrier. Providing good customer service to IA firm means applying the same principle as above; understanding the firm’s goals, and more specifically, what the IA manager needs from his or her adjusters to be successful.
The IA firm has a contract with the carrier to handle their claims. They won that contract by making some big promises about how the carrier would be better off hiring them instead of their competition or handling the claims themselves. The firm’s goal is to deliver on their promises to the carrier and the adjusters are on the front lines of making that happen.
So if I were an IA manager with a team of adjusters during a catastrophe, what am I looking for? Again putting myself in the IA manager’s shoes – I’d want adjusters whose work I trust.
There is a lot you can do to earn your manager’s trust…and a few things you’ll definitely want to avoid as well.
- Close Claims Fast – Managers have a ton of pressure from above to get claims closed. Period. Your efficiency helps them look good. And they want to look good.
- But Not Poorly – Having adjusters pump out massive volume does zero good if the claims are crap. Poorly written, or even worse, incorrectly adjusted claims are a massive drain on the system. Both end up taking more time and therefore, more money. Managers don’t want to constantly deal with an adjuster whose work always has to be bumped back for revisions, regardless of how quickly they initially process claims. Plus, if the adjusters aren’t performing efficiently and correctly, the firm won’t fulfill their promises to the carrier.
- Personalize Your Work – Be the ideal adjuster in the eyes of your manager. Each has their own set of quirks, preferences, and pet peeves. Learn them and take the time to attend to them. Whether it’s how often they want to hear from you or the organization of your claim file, tow the company (or manager’s) line. It’s not about becoming teacher’s pet, but when you give respect, you are a lot more likely to earn it in return.
- Be Available – I always had a ‘firm batphone’ where my manager could reach me 24/7. And when a manager asked me to do some extra, unpaid, pain-in-the-ass little job, I would say yes. In fact, ‘saying yes’ is the advice I have been giving to new adjusters for years. Good customer service often looks like being the kind of person another person wants to do business with so say yes and managers will continue to want to do business with you.
Good customer service often looks like being the kind of person another person wants to do business with.
At the end of the day, good customer service to your manager really means making their job easier and making them look good. This also plays into good customer service to the firm as a whole because it supports their ultimate goal to perform well for the carrier.
Finally, we get to providing good customer service to the policyholder, which is probably what most folks think of when talking about customer service in insurance claims. Putting myself in the shoes of the policyholder is the easiest because I am a policyholder. I’m sure you are as well. Most of us have no questions whatsoever about how we want to be treated or what the goal is – we want our loss to be fixed quickly and wholly.
When handling a claim, it’s important for adjusters to take a moment and remember what it’s like to be in the claimant’s shoes. The loss, whatever it is, probably wasn’t fun and they’re not looking forward to dealing with the insurance company. Most policyholders immediately worry about a few things when filing a claim. What happens now? Will it be a big hassle? Will their premiums will go up? Many worry about denial or low payments. Most haven’t read their policy carefully, so they’re already on edge. Since most claimants are unfamiliar with the process, they just want someone to take the lead and fix it – as quickly as possible. Policyholders have been paying premiums for the peace of mind that if something happens, they’ll be taken care of. So now here we are. Please take care of it.
While every situation is unique, it’s important to offer everyone the same excellent service.
- Quickly Establish Contact – A prompt, friendly, and informative call establishes trust and sets the stage for the entire claim.
- Listen to the Claimant – By listening and understanding the customer’s concerns, (even when they may not be relevant,) you establish yourself as the claimant’s advocate instead of their adversary.
- Take Control – After the initial contact, lead the claimant through the process in a way that puts them at ease and gives them assurance everything will be handled professionally and promptly.
- Set Clear Expectations – Make sure the policyholder knows how to reach you and understands your availability and response times.
- Under-Promise and Over-Deliver – This principle applies to everything: calls, emails, turn-around time, etc. When the customer has faith that you will do what you say you’ll do, they can relax and settle into the process.
- Think Long-Term – Adjusters are constantly juggling multiple claims, clients, settlements, appointments, etc. It can be tough to think in the long-term perspective of what happens with the claim after you’re long gone from the deployment. But taking care of all three categories of “customer” means considering the best interest of the customer in the long run, even if there are no immediate kudos to you directly.
Address the Difficult Thing First
There is one additional lesson I learned from a mentor that I’d like to spend some time on because I believe it is vital to offering excellent customer service in adjusting. As we all know, things don’t always go the way the customer wants. In our world, this might mean the claim needs to be denied or the payout is lower than the claimant expected. It happens all too often so it’s important to have the customer service skills to deal with these tough cases.
I was lucky to learn from some very successful veteran adjusters. One of my mentors taught me what I think is one of the most important lessons for any adjuster: address issues directly and immediately, and in-person if possible. It can truly make all the difference in the world.
Address issues directly and immediately, and in person if possible.
Take, for example, a hail claim I was assigned. The policy holder’s neighborhood was hit by a huge hail storm. Houses for miles were getting their roofs replaced by insurance companies however, after inspecting this home, I found no damage. Now, I know the claimant is expecting a large payout to replace his roof, so I’m not looking forward to telling him he won’t be getting a settlement. But good customer service, in this case, means addressing things head-on. No side-stepping. No avoiding. No sugarcoating. In situations like this, my mentor taught me the best thing to do was sit down with the claimant and candidly tell them “There is no hail damage on your roof. I bet you’re wondering why all of your neighbors are getting new roofs and you’re not.” She would then explain in simple terms the reality of the situation, showing them high-resolution pictures on her laptop while answering all of their questions with attention, sincerity, and empathy. It’s rarely easy, but this kind of honesty can help you win over the claimant in the long run, even when the message isn’t what they wanted to hear.
In closing, customer service in claims adjusting involves a big-picture perspective. To be a service-oriented adjuster, you should understand who each of your customers are, and what they need from you to succeed. Apply the golden rule with purpose, and you can serve each with personal service that will leave them surprised, delighted, and eager to work with you again.