July 15, 2016 by Dara Banga
Communication and trust. They go hand in hand.
That’s especially true in the insurance business, where the trust of policyholders isn’t easily earned. Many people already have a natural mistrust of insurance companies, and when it comes time to file a claim, many policyholders go into the experience with suspicion and mistrust, unconvinced that their claims adjusters have their best interests at heart.
A quick online search reveals that “dealing with a claims adjuster” is a common topic. There are even former adjusters who confess on the Internet to unscrupulous practices.
Without the trust of the policyholder, the adjuster’s work is much more difficult, and the insurer-client relationship can be damaged.
Fortunately, there’s an inexpensive solution that helps build policyholder trust and create better claim outcomes: proactive communication. While it seems simple enough, I can tell you that proactive communication is a lost art that is often absent in claims customer service.
Follow these four tips to help you build more proactive claims communication practices
There’s no denying that first impressions mean a lot. But what about preemptive impressions? No business is immune from the perceptions and preconceptions of customers, but preconceptions about claims adjusters can damage a relationship with a policyholder before it even begins. That’s why an adjuster’s first point of contact with the policyholder is so crucial. You need to convey immediately that you take their claim seriously and have every intention of pursuing the matter until it’s resolved to the policyholder’s satisfaction.
One technique that can help is to provide adjusters with a written script to follow when they introduce themselves to policyholders either by phone or by email, and when they arrive onsite. The policyholder should know the adjuster is a third-party professional whose primary role is to make the insured whole again as quickly as possible.
The policyholder should also understand that thorough claim investigation and documentation is not only required by the insurer, it can greatly benefit the policyholder as well. Clearly explain the communication process and how the policyholder should route questions or additional information.
Consider providing the adjuster with a Frequently Asked Questions sheet to help answer questions the policyholder is likely to have. If a policyholder has negative preconceptions about an adjuster, the adjuster has a golden opportunity at every contact to change those preconceptions.
We all know how to listen. But listening visibly is a different set of skills. You can defuse a stressful situation quickly by learning a technique based in therapy and conflict resolution: active listening. While insurance adjusters are not therapists, they must realize they are dealing with people in the midst of personal loss and there are a lot of complicated emotions involved. The policyholder is no doubt feeling stressed and perhaps even angry, and it is the adjuster’s job to respond in a manner that tells the policyholder that his or her story matters.
That’s where active listening comes in handy. Active listening is all about building rapport, understanding, credibility, and trust. It’s about demonstrating that you are genuinely interested in what other people have to say, and about giving them a chance to share their story without interruption. For example, taking notes is a common interview technique, but it can regularly interrupt or put off the policyholder. Recording the conversation and taking notes later allows you to give your full attention to the other party while they are talking, and more carefully examine what the other party is saying. That shows the policyholder you are genuinely interested in their story, and it also leads to better fact gathering and better claim outcomes.
There are other techniques you can use, such as asking open-ended questions about someone’s experience, making eye contact, providing feedback, and regularly checking with the other person to see if you have understood them. These methods can go a long way in making the policyholder feel heard. And when they feel heard, they are more likely to share more of the truth.
Learning how to interview in a non-threatening manner can also help reveal these truths, as people are less likely to act defensively if they feel heard and respected. Giving a policyholder a safe environment in which to express their feelings can not only help you get the facts, it can reveal more than you might expect.
“One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness,” Nobel-prize winning playwright Harold Pinter once said. Not all information is given verbally. In fact, every time we interact with others, we are continuously giving and receiving wordless signals.
All of the policyholder’s nonverbal behaviors – the way they sit or stand, the gestures they make, how fast or how loud they speak, how closely they stand or sit to the adjuster, and how much eye contact they make – send strong signals. Even when they stop talking, they are still communicating nonverbally. And that communication can help you determine whether they are being honest with you, and whether they are amenable to your point of view. So learning to read this nonverbal language is a valuable skill for a claims adjuster to have in getting to the truth and providing a positive claim experience for the policyholder.
With so much mistrust of insurance companies out there, transparency should be the industry’s best friend. And in fact, there’s a statistical correlation between transparent service and loyal customers. It’s not enough to resolve claims with a satisfactory result – that won’t buy you loyalty from policyholders. If your claims process isn’t quick, convenient, and completely transparent, even satisfied policyholders might switch insurers after making a claim.
Policyholders want to know exactly what to expect at every step of the process, and claims adjusters can improve customer satisfaction by keeping them informed of the next steps in the process and timelines. In the end, satisfaction hinges on how reality lines up with the policyholder’s expectations. So, expectation-setting is a crucial claims adjusting role.
A final word
Effective communication is selfless and other-people focused; it enables, and does not inhibit, trust. And building trust is crucial for independent claims adjusting firms when they are interacting with policyholders at such a stressful time. As an industry, it’s up to us to continuously raise the service bar. Proactive, trust-building communication is a great place to start.
Dara Banga is President & Chief Adjusting Officer of DSB Claims
Insurance claims adjusters need the trust of their policyholders