Filed Under:Agent Broker, Agency Management

Staking a claim: Agents' role in customer claims service

Claims handling can make or break an insurers’ reputation, especially during a catastrophe.

By Paul Morrissette, president, Chubb Insurance Solutions Agency Inc.

Unlike people in many other professions, those of us in the insurance business are also consumers of the products we distribute. On occasion, we experience a loss of some kind and have to file a claim. Of course, this is why we bought insurance in the first place—to transfer the risk of financial losses we otherwise do not want to absorb ourselves.

Keith McCombs, director of personal insurance at INSURICA Insurance Management Network, lives and works in Oklahoma City, so he knows a thing or two about tornadoes and catastrophe claims, particularly those filed by the agency’s affluent clientele. “When disasters happen, many insurers simply say ‘pick a number and get in line,’” he says. “That’s the last thing anyone wants to hear at a time of great stress and need.”

He’s right, of course, and yet the problem persists, accumulating into negative publicity that tars the entire industry. Asked why this is often the case, McCombs agrees that many carriers, particularly newer ones without adequate resources, are to blame. “They have to rely on the external, independent adjusters when a disaster hits,” he says. “Sometimes these adjusters lack empathy—it’s simply a business to them. They set up these command posts in the affected area and it’s like a zoo—pandemonium everywhere you look. It’s all very confusing to policyholders, who are in an emotional bind and need help and money.”

Obviously, an insurer’s resources are critical during such times of great duress. A carrier with definitive catastrophe response plans and the ability to “scale up” to meet the demands of customers during a significant event is critical.

Unfortunately, not all carriers have the capacity to provide a swift claims response. Those who can, however, employ creative solutions. For instance, some insurers deploy company claims professionals from across the country or around the globe to pitch in outside their regions when a catastrophe demands their involvement. Such people are cognizant of the company’s claims philosophy and trained in the handling of catastrophe claims—before a catastrophe strikes.

Policyholders see advertisements touting “24/7 Claims Service,” assuming this means that if they need assistance, they can get it at any time. This is not always the case. “24/7” may simply mean that call center personnel will take down the claims information over the phone, offering little guidance or assistance until the next business day. This lack of true “24/7” service only slows down the claims process and potentially worsens the extent of the loss.

Alternatively, perhaps the call center’s personnel are capable of recognizing the nature of the situation and, when a policyholder calls, not only is he or she is treated with empathy and respect but the call center personnel are able to provide access to an experienced adjuster who can begin answering questions, offering loss mitigation advise and other services, when they need it most, at the time of the loss instead of the next business day. That claimant is a customer for life.

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