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In my previous blog post, I began to outline the essential elements of the first call to the insured; I listed a) a proper introduction, b) gathering good contact info, c) connect with them by listening, and d) explain rights and duties. This next point is so important that I’ll devote this entire blog post to just this one element of the first call:

e) Set expectations about time-frames. Under promise and over deliver! Every state has strict guidelines how claims must be handled, including deadlines such as the maximum amount of time between when a claim is filed and when the insurance company must begin an investigation of it. Every state that I’m aware of also has a provision for an extension of the normal claims-handling deadlines during a declared catastrophe. Moreover, when you land in a CAT and you’re handed a large stack of claims, there can be lots of impediments to immediately inspecting every property. I’ve experienced phone lines down, cell phones out, trees across roads, bridges out, power-lines across roads, evacuated areas, National Guard restricted areas and more. Between extended deadlines, massive amounts of claims and other unforeseen impediments, sometimes it’s going to take a while to inspect every loss.

The normal tendency when people are anxious for you to visit their loss ASAP is to want to please them by promising to see them sooner than you can really guarantee – this is a big mistake, in my opinion. My experience is that if you even imply to someone you’ll be out to see them in a week, but you’re late by one day, they’re PO’d and they’ve already called their agent, the insurance company, the insurance commissioner, the governor, their senator, and the President of the United States of America to complain. You’re a monster. This has several bad effects:

  • First, they’re mad and it will be hard to deal with them.
  • Second, in their mind you don’t do what you say, so they don’t trust you anymore and it’s harder to be in control of the claims process.
  • Third, if they are able to kick up enough of a fuss it’ll tick off the insurance carrier, who will look for someone to blame and they’ll blame the claims company you’re working for. That claims company will figure out who the adjuster is (that’s you), and they’ll get all over your Storm Manager. You do NOT want this! If your Storm Manager catches hell because of you, you will not be his/her favorite person, and this is bad.
  • Fourth, you’ll be in a constant state of stress, running around trying to meet everyone’s disappointed expectations, causing so much pressure that you’ll eventually explode.

So – instead of buckling to the pressure to be a “nice guy” – do everyone a favor and under promise; if you think it will be two weeks till you can get out to inspect a loss, tell him/her three or even four weeks! This way, if all hell breaks loose you’re covered. However, what usually happens is that you are able to get out to visit the insured within two weeks, and now you’re a hero! Promising within four weeks and getting there in two weeks is under-promising and over-delivering.

Naturally, it is not uncommon for insureds to express “disappointment” with the delay. It is important to deal with this appropriately, or you can get into even more hot water than over-promising. If you’re rude and pushy, you’ll just push a person who’s already stressed from their loss and from lack of A/C over the edge and you’ll pay for it. Here are some tips to successful under-promising:

  • If a person is fine with your time-frame, thank them for their understanding and let them know you’ll be calling them before you inspect the loss.
  • Be sure to have made a connection in step “C” of the previous article on Time Management. If you’ve already won a friend, this is a much easier process.
  • Be confident and authoritative, but not rude. I find that, for the most part, people really want someone who knows what they’re doing to come in and take care of them. Remember; you’re the claims professional, not them. Furthermore, you do intend to take good care of them, so take control and drive the bus. If you don’t, they’ll be the driver and that is much less pleasant.
  • If a person is upset, my first tactic is to appeal to their sense of a shared disaster. “Ma’am, we’re in the middle of a national disaster. I promise I will handle your claim with the utmost care and as soon as possible, but I’ve got people living in tents in their front yards! I will be available by phone for any questions or concerns, and I will be contacting you as soon as I can to schedule my inspection.”
  • I put the insured to work. For instance, if they’ve got a Contents loss, they’ll be required per their policy to put together an inventory of the damaged/lost items. If they’ve got a leak in the roof, they’ll need to get it patched or tarped to prevent further water entry, etc. When I can show them that we’ll be working together and they’ve got stuff to do, this can make the pill easy to swallow.

If you are human, thoughtful and follow the above steps, I rarely find it difficult to get the insured to agree to my time-frame. However, things don’t always go as planned. I’d like to talk about two scenarios:

  1. Urgent issues – on your call with the insured, you find out that they are truly in a desperate, urgent situation. Perhaps the insured is an elderly person who has lost power due to the storm, requires power for a medical devise, and is confused and disoriented. Or perhaps the insured is a family with small children living in a now untenantable dwelling; they have limited use of English and don’t know what to do. Remember, at the beginning of this article I recommend calling everyone, exchanging contact info, setting expectations and then calling back to schedule. One of the reasons why I recommend this method is so I can identify these urgent, time-sensitive claims. These are going to be first on my schedule, if at all possible (I’ll talk more about strategies to work other claims in coordination with these in a later article).
  2. Difficult, ultra-grouchy, bossy, powerful and connected people – Sometimes as you’re on the initial call and for any number of reasons you just can’t click with the person. Or perhaps the person threatens to call his/her friend Senator Butcavich to complain. Whatever the reason, sometimes you get bad vibes about a person. I’ve learned a hard lesson about these folks; don’t try to fight them, and don’t try to push them around. They’ll cause you more trouble than it’s worth. Remember, you’re in the storm to “get ‘er done” and picking a fight will take up valuable time that you could have otherwise spent doing more claims (i.e. helping more people, making more money, and being more of a hero to the claims company you’re working for). Moreover, if that person causes “noise” that reaches your Storm Manager, claims company, carrier or anyone, it can get you on the wrong list. So – if you get the sense that the person needs to be handled with special care, put them on an expedited time schedule – get them out of your claims stack quickly!

The fruits of having the wisdom and guts to set difficult expectations up front are wonderful. It can change a high-stress job into a low(er)-stress, exciting, high-reward job. The claimant stays happy, you’re a hero when you arrive early, there’s no “noise” making it to your employers so they’re happy (provided you’re cranking out quality claims). Of course you’ve got to maintain good communications with the claimants while they wait, but it’s actually not difficult if you are reliable with your return calls.

I’ll look at the next steps in the next blog post, and remember – we cover all this stuff and more in our Adjusting 101 class.

Thanks for reading!

– Adam

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