ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

Beating The Competition - Thrilling The Customers

Every so often I slip up and admit that I have something to do with "insurance" at social events. When this happened recently I was surprised by a different kind of story than I was used to hearing. Instead of complaining about delays, cancellations, and claims horror stories this is what I heard:

"You know, the most remarkable thing happened to me the other day! I was downtown shopping and my son left his new leather jacket on the front seat. When I returned fifteen minutes later the jacket was gone - and so was the front passenger window.

After filing a useless police report I returned home and called my insurance company. Since contacting an insurance company is like going to the dentist, I steeled myself for a battle. Instead, the phone was answered by a claim representative (once I got through the computer menu) who very politely took my information. When she had everything she needed, she asked whether I had a glass shop in mind or would like a recommendation. I took her recommended shop. She said she would contact them and they would be in touch with me shortly. She then transitioned to the homeowners claim for the jacket.

Before she could finish getting the information for the homeowners claim my call waiting signal alerted me to another call. Putting her on hold, I found myself speaking to an employee of the glass shop who told me that the claim representative faxed them the claim directly from her computer. She asked if I would like to come over to have the glass repaired now, she would get the appropriate part delivered to the local shop within the next half hour. When we hung up I was back on line with the claim representative who indicated that a check was being prepared and sent today for the cost of the jacket less my deductible.

Three hours after the "smash and grab" my window was repaired and I was at the store buying a "new", new jacket for my son."

Can you imagine the public relations that story garnered for the insurance company in question? More than a few people asked the story-teller for the name of the insurance agent and company. Unfortunately, the company was Prudential.

Could this story have been about your agency or the companies that you represent? The story and the positive public relations that was generated reminded me of the importance of thrilling the customers with service that you may engineer, but that they don't expect from insurance organizations.

We as an industry have gotten some pretty rotten publicity regarding our service. The bad news is that much of it is well earned. Surly or uncaring agency and company employees finding reasons why claims should be declined rather than how we can help our customers have justified most of the horror stories that we've heard. The good news is that this picture of expected service problems makes "thrilling" the customers that much easier for those of us who care to change the image.

Spend some time in a two pronged attack on claims service. First, review your procedures with your claims handlers. Eliminate everything that hinders fast claims service to the clients that are within your control. If you need to fill out forms that are time consuming, don't use your customers time to do so. If a claim is covered by the clients policy, don't be afraid to tell them so. Avoiding confirmation of coverage to allay E&O potential provides a safety valve for your agency, but will cast doubt on your expertise in the minds of your customers. Many agents will commit themselves on a claim if they personally are speaking to a customer, but refuse to permit their claims (or service) employees to do so as well. Why ? If we don't put competent, trained staff on claims are we making a serious mistake? Why does the client insure with your agency ? Is it to be impressed with a smooth, competent salesperson - or is it because they feel that any claim will be handled promptly, professionally and efficiently? You should have your most technically competent staff members handling claims for your clients. You should also strive with your companies to handle as many claims as possible to conclusion. This brings us to the second prong of your attack on claims practices.

Stock companies seem to be backing off the delegation of claims handling to their agents. Visit your company claims managers and ask them to give you maximum authority to process claims from beginning to end in your office. Get a direct number and permission to share it with your clients for any claims that must be referred to the company. Why do we have to take claims in our office and send it to the company for handling when the direct writers enjoy the benefit of managing a claims in a single call?

Claims is only one method available to us to "THRILL" customers but may be the most important and most visible method to our clients. Let's make sure that we hear this type of story about your claim service in the future.