Champions come in all shapes and sizes.
They are praised for their accomplishments and awarded medals and trophies, and even endorsements. However, in June at the America's Claims Event in Charlotte, N.C., a different kind of champion was recognized.
Customer service is a priority for every insurance company, but some insurers are creating added value and taking their advocacy to new levels. Leading the effort is this year's Claims magazine Customer Champion award winner — Michelle Bjarnson of Generali Global Assistance (formerly CSA Travel Protection). Within the company, Bjarnson holds the title of Voice of the Customer.
Travel insurance provides customers with coverage for everything from emergency medical expenses to cancelled trips, lost luggage and more. Within Generali, Bjarnson makes sure that the customer's “voice” is heard throughout each step of the claim. She was instrumental in developing a dynamic system that provides representatives with actionable feedback on areas that need improvement and helps them to better understand how their actions and communications impact each customer.
Bjarnson has spent 32 years working in various facets of the insurance industry and has a depth of experience concerning travel insurance matched by few others. Her first job out of high school was with a temporary placement service, and her second assignment was with a third-party administrator that processed claims for multiple underwriters.
“They threw everything at me, filing, typing, taking loss reports, data entry, taking calls, etc.,” says Bjarnson. “It was a good fit and they decided they needed a full-time employee and offered me the job. I was so incredibly surprised and grateful. Shortly after, I was offered their subrogation position, which worked into a claims representative position handling auto claims.”
Myriad of claims
Before joining CSA Travel Protection/Generali Global Assistance, Bjarnson worked for a commercial lines carrier wh handling general liability, garage keeper's legal liability, commercial property and commercial auto coverage, including total loss evaluations and the disposal of salvage vehicles and different types of business equipment. The experiences taught her to handle a myriad of claims. And that is one of the aspects that continues to draw her to the industry.
She likes “the challenges brought on by constant change within the various lines along with building relationships with business partners, colleagues and clients.”
Bjarnson continues,” I love learning and helping others, and this industry provides a plethora of opportunities to do both. There is never a dull moment, and if you don't learn something new every day, something is wrong or you're not paying attention.”
Michelle Bjarnson was originally participated in the Lean/Six Sigma Methodology program as a claims senior technical specialist, but quickly found that a unique approach was needed, so she created a new role called the Voice of the Customer for the claims and customer service departments. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Meeting the challenges
In 2016, CSA Travel Protection began implementing the Lean/Six Sigma Methodology, which is designed to expand a team's performance, cut costs and improve the customer experience. Bjarnson was originally participated in the program as a claims senior technical specialist, but quickly found that a unique approach was needed, so she created a new role called the Voice of the Customer for the claims and customer service departments.
Within the company, Bjarnson is a customer's strongest advocate. “She has a calming voice and is respectful of her client's feelings,” says her supervisor. “She is always empathetic to their situation and is able to if not make them happy, [make sure] they understand the outcome. Michelle is proactive when it comes to meeting the expectations of her clients. She will not let something rest until she is satisfied that she has done everything she could to resolve any issue.”
(Michelle Bjarnson pictured at right.)
Her vast background prepared her for the challenges she encounters working in the insurance industry. “Change is always a challenge,” says Bjarnson, “but change can be a good thing. New systems and procedures; while difficult in the beginning, can be so rewarding and beneficial after the learning curve is over.”
Bjarnson says that the business continues to grow as more people become aware of travel insurance. “When I started here in February 2003, most people had never heard of travel insurance.”
She recognizes the opportunities that insurance provides. “The future is bright as we are expanding into so many other types of insurance and services across continents,” she adds. “The opportunities are endless and being the Voice of the Customer, I can guarantee our customers' insight, constructive criticism and complaints are heard and acted upon.”
Most memorable claim
Her most memorable claim was also her most difficult. “Two couples traveled to Africa to enjoy what could have been an incredible African safari. Instead, shortly after arrival, they were attacked by rebels carrying machetes and guns, leaving them seriously injured and needing our emergency assistance to get the medical care they needed while traveling abroad, followed by special arrangements to return home,” says Bjarnson. “I specifically handled the resulting claims after the return home. This one hit me really hard, but gave me such an incredible and rewarding opportunity to help, support and console those truly in need during such a tragic time.”
It's precisely this type of service and effort for which Bjarnson was recognized as the ACE/Claims Customer Champion. “I'm honored to have won this prestigious award, and proud to be called the Voice of the Customer. I love advocating for our business partners and consumers in the travel protection industry,” she says.
“Customer advocacy is such an important role that every company needs because you can see the rewards in your contributions at every level. That's more impactful and positive than I ever could have imagined possible.”
Patricia L. Harman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor-in-chief of Claims magazine.