From the August 2011 issue of Claims Magazine •Subscribe!

Speaking Of: With Suzette Grist, Director of Claims at Rankin Claims Services

Education is crucial for employees in any field, especially in the insurance industry. As millions of Millennials enter the workforce, it is essential that new hires be trained properly and that company veterans are able to continue their claims education to keep up with regulatory and other changes.

One woman with a great deal of experience in the training arena is Suzette Grist, the recently promoted director of claims of Rankin Claims Services. Claims Assistant Editor Catherine Couretas spoke with Grist about lessons learned over the years and how she has cultivated effective training methods to benefit those with whom she has worked.

Why is employee training so essential?

I find training to be the essence of what we do. No matter how long you have been working in insurance, things are always changing. I do not encounter many young property adjusters coming up through the ranks that have been trained the way I was being trained in my early years. They are more focused on the fast track these days. The environment has changed so much that we have almost forgotten why we are here, which is to be of service. We must keep in mind that we have a duty to people when they need it most.

What do training methods look like today in claims?

In today’s environment, the webinar has replaced face-to-face training. This is a more cost-effective option, but I question whether the participants fully understand the material being relayed. There can be technical delays, and some professionals may feel less engaged than when learning in a classroom setting, where there is much more feedback involved and perhaps a greater chance that information will be retained. Being able to ask questions and discuss how to employ new strategies is very useful, although webinars are still essential for claims professionals.

How do you address feedback from clients?

Every company is going to get positive and negative feedback, but you have to look for trends and notice patterns. Every time I have come across a situation involving negative feedback, miscommunication was at the center, along with certain customer expectations that were not met. It is not that our customers always come to us with unrealistic expectations. We must ask ourselves if we did a good job of explaining the claims process. Have we assigned a realistic time frame to the process? Did we explain coverages up front? However, no one should point fingers, as that is not an effective use of anyone’s time.

How do you reinforce a job well done?

I would of course congratulate him or her on a great job, and then ask what he or she thinks was done to make the policyholder or claimant happy. I also give employees positive reinforcement on a daily basis. Not all employees are looking for a medal, but they want to know that you appreciate what they are doing. Then, when you do have to talk about a performance issue, the employee knows you are not just ragging on them.

Another thing I do is praise proper grammar in letters. Nothing drives me crazier that getting work from an employee in “text speak.” We have gotten so accustomed to shorthand that we have forgotten what it means to deliver information in full sentences. An employee might initially look at me like I have two heads, but I am happy I did not have to rewrite that letter.

How do you handle frustrating situations in the office?

As a manager, I recognize how difficult it is to balance everything, from email to regular mail to getting closing ratios up and dealing with losses. There is so much going on that we tend to forget there are also humans to interact with. I do not sweat the small stuff, and I think that lends to a much more relaxed environment.

Additionally, managers must be able to adapt to what employees do. I like to give the advice of keeping an open mind. Not everybody is perfect nor do they do things the way you do. Adjusters are not at the same company for 20 years anymore. There are lay offs,  and professionals may be starting over in a new environment. It may be difficult to get used to, but when conflicts of this nature arise, it is important not to assign fault or point fingers.

What advice do you have for those who want to advance in their careers?

Do not let somebody tell you that you are not capable of doing something. Do not let that stop you from pushing forward. I got that a lot early on. When I came through the ranks of property insurance, there were not very many women. Also, learn to have a thick skin. There are many things that you must do in your job, and you simply cannot take everything personally.

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