Canadian Underwriter

Customer service trends: The COVID grace period is over

May 19, 2021   by David Gambrill

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With the end of the pandemic now a distinct possibility, Canadians are expecting the property and casualty insurance industry to up its game in customer service, industry execs observed in a recent webinar.

“The move to digital [in March 2020] was so immediate and so abrupt that…it wasn’t done flawlessly,” Nathan LaFayette, chief insurance officer at CAA, said during the Reuters webinar Tuesday. “Because of the quick pivot to digital in the industry, customers had a lot of patience….If you answered the phone, if you were able to get digital copies [of insurance documents] out, if you were able to handle their inquiry…they were happy.

“I think what we’re seeing is that people’s patience is running out. That window of forgiveness is closing.”

When the World Health Organization first declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic in March 2020, governments across Canada ordered the closure of non-essential services that could not work from home. That sent Canadians — and the P&C industry — into a 14-month-long period of working remotely to help contain the spread of the virus.

Insurance is an essential service, but about 80% of the P&C industry is still working from home to prevent the spread of the virus, studies suggest.

At the outset of the pandemic, the traditional office model of P&C industry had to pivot quickly to a digital service delivery model. And, in the early going at least, Canadians were patient with the technical screw-ups associated with the shift to digital, industry executives suggested during the webinar, Insurance 2021: The Customer Behaviour Changes that will Stay.

“If it was clunky, if there was friction, if there were dropped calls, or bad service, or limited hours, all of that was forgiven, and it was forgiven quite quickly,” LaFayette said.

Supporting his observation, he cited “very high Net Promoter Scores” for CAA at the beginning of the pandemic, despite the fact that service levels were “not ideal,” as he put it.

Tatjana Lalkovic, chief information officer at Economical Insurance, said consumers have evolved during the pandemic and now expect a different kind of experience from the industry.

Expanding on LaFayette’s point, she said COVID has caused many Canadian consumers to reflect on what they value most. For example, she said, some people are re-thinking their careers and ruminating on what gives meaning to their lives. In this context, Lalkovic said, people are seeking “more meaningful interactions” with their insurers.

“Similar to what you were saying, Nathan…[customer] patience is not going to be there for simple interactions that should be automated and seamless. The focus on more quality conversations is going to really ramp up.”

To create more meaningful interactions with clients, the P&C industry will have to find ways to deliver “integrated experiences — value-added services beyond the core business proposition,” Lalkovic said.

“When I was in the banking industry, we always said, ‘People are not coming to the bank to buy a mortgage. They are coming to buy a home,’” Lalkovic said. “So how do you create an integrated experience in insurance beyond the core offering to make a customer’s life easier?”


Feature photo courtesy of

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