In more than 30 years of working with hundreds of P&C companies and thousands of agencies, we’ve heard countless stories of good intentions gone bad when it comes to handling claims.
Companies don't plan for adjusters to gum up the works. But if the emphasis placed on customer experience is insufficient, or the organization relies on hiring to the exclusion of training, problems can grow.
A vivid example comes from one of our own consultants, a former independent agent whose home sustained major hurricane damage. The storm ripped off a major portion of the roof, rain flooded the house, ceilings collapsed, and there was water damage, mold and more. The total claim ran over $60,000.
“The company I represented was well known for their claims service,” the insurance consultant reported. “Claims was their lead brand message, they had a blue ribbon guarantee. I was actually eager to meet my adjuster and become a great testimonial for the company I represented. I felt really comfortable and confident.”
Most claimants are not so optimistic.
“I’ll never forget it,” our man continues. “There I am in the house, stuff hanging out of the ceiling and the walls, it's a mess. As the adjuster walks in I smile and share that we are with the same company, to establish some rapport and get things off on the right foot. I extend my hand. She ignores it. The conversation is strained. She's not engaging, not even cordial.
As we get into the details, it gets worse. I’m wrong on everything, she's right on everything. I start wondering if this is what my own customers have to deal with. At one point I refer to damaged ductwork as obvious water damage, to which she replies in an imperious tone, ‘Well that's not obvious to me.’ By this point my claims experience was as much of a disaster as the house.”
The consultant had enough knowledge, plus a stakeholder advantage, to call and get a new adjuster. Most customers don't have the wherewithal to do that. Their only recourse is to become intransigent, demanding, non-responsive or litigious. And then take to social media and rant about their experience.
The fact that the claims experience is often the only evidence the consumer market has of company quality and reputation ought to be enough to make it an operational and training priority. But even sub-optimal customer experience does more than undermine the company brand: It sabotages settlement efficiency.
How to establish & maintain trust
Research repeatedly shows that the most persuasive and successful negotiations proceed not from power or cleverness, not even from expertise per se, but from something much simpler — and much harder: trust.
Here's the good news: Your adjusters’ ability to establish and maintain trust is largely in their control. But they need to take control of two important factors:
First impressions, and
Maintaining a comfort zone for their customer.
According to studies at Columbia Business School, first impressions are a critical cornerstone of trust. Without a good first impression, building trust and cooperation are essentially doomed. In experiments on breaches of trust in relationships, getting off on the wrong foot — in other words, when breaches occurred during initial interactions — was shown to have devastating long-term consequences.
Not only is it virtually impossible to build or recover trust and cooperation from bad first impressions, good first impressions are also easily undone.
Related: Create your own halo effect
“Impressions are somewhat fragile,” explains Columbia Business School professor Daniel Ames. “You’re more likely to have an impression get worse than better, and a negative behavior can readily undermine a positive one.”
So, just because an adjuster makes a good first impression, even establishes some rapport, they’ll need to work at maintaining the comfort zone they’ve established.
We can't legislate likability. Neither can we leave it up to the individual adjuster's natural skills or inclinations. And even the most charismatic and charming among us have bad days.
So how can we insure that adjusters build trust consistently, quickly and reliably? First and foremost by making sure they have tools and techniques that leverage the essential nature of the emotional brain.
Building trust begins with our first impressions. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Ever since real-time brain scanning allowed us to see where all manner of thought and activity reside, researchers have been astonished by the degree to which human decision-making depends on the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain.
Decisions — and the factors used to influence them — were always thought to be the province of logic and reason, functions found in the pre-frontal cortex (PFC).
This has huge implications for business communication. When we jump into a functional discussion without first establishing an emotional connection, we not only skip over the part of the brain where influence can happen, we engage the most amount of resistance and difficulty — in the analytical PFC. For mundane transactions that might be fine. For agreement building? Not so much.
If on the other hand we use a few simple but targeted tools like emotional triggers to engage the emotional brain, the gates of influence open and a trust foundation is laid.
An emotional trigger is a decision shortcut preferred by the emotional brain. The more we use emotional triggers, the more influential and persuasive we can be. It's not opinion, observation or best practices. It's science.
Because of neuroscience, we now know that establishing rapport and maintaining a comfort zone serve a more important purpose than just good manners or cultural conformity. It literally prepares the brain for influence, persuasion and trust.
5 essential trust builders for more efficient settlements
Activate the friendship trigger.
Similarity is the basis for friendship, and we need to find it in every engagement no matter how small. It's the basis for trust.
Simply telling a claimant that the goal is to pay their claim reduces stress and builds comfort.
Explain the process in simple terms.
Setting expectations and avoiding the use of industry jargon combine to get customers off the defensive and put them at ease.
Activate the authority trigger.
Second only to a human connection is the trustworthiness of expertise. Adjusters shouldn't shy away from referencing their credentials, but in a way that conveys customer benefit.
Keep asking questions.
Adjusters become more trusted and customers feel more involved and valued when they are asked for their input and opinion. Adjusters should pose questions even if they know the answer; it's the question that counts.
Russell P. Granger is CEO of Rising Tide Partners (formerly Insurance Learning Systems), a consulting and training firm specializing in customer communication.
Related: How much credibility do you have?