Canadian Underwriter

You can’t teach claims adjusters this skill

September 11, 2019   by Greg Meckbach, Associate Editor

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As the chief claims officer for Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company, Erin Fischer hears one question all the time.

“The Number 1 question I get is: Do you need to hire claims people who are technical experts?'” Fischer said Wednesday.

Although technical expertise is very important in claims, empathy is an essential ingredient, Fischer suggested during a presentation at Connected Insurance Canada, which wrapped up Wednesday.

“What you can’t teach people is how to connect with people,” Fischer said during the presentation, Why Talking To Your Customer is the Next Innovation in Claims.

“We actually try to find people who deliver empathy,” Fischer said of Wawanesa’s claims hiring practices. “Hire people who can deliver on customer experience skills.” Claims organizations do need other people in the organization with good technical skills at claims, but they need to balance that with people skills, according to Fischer.

Sometimes she is asked how applicants for claims positions should be interviewed. “It is not about how many files, what kind of precedent cases, what is your average talk time,” she said about possible interview questions to ask. “It’s not about those things. It’s about, “Tell me about a time that you helped a customer get through one of life’s biggest tragedies.'”

Connected Insurance Canada was produced by Insurance Nexus and held at the Marriott Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto.

Fischer delivered her presentation on the 18th anniversary of the hijacking Sept. 11, 2001 of four American airliners, which grounded most civilian air travel for days. To give an example of empathy, Fischer noted that thousands of Newfoundlanders let strangers stranded at Gander airport stay at their homes after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“Sympathy would have been ‘Hey, yes, sorry to hear about that, I guess sleeping on a plane is going to suck,'” Fischer said Wednesday. “Empathy is different. Empathy is about feeling with you. Sympathy is about feeling for you. There is a huge difference. In our our industry, we have to get empathy right.”

To illustrate how to treat customers and how not to treat customers, Fischer recounted two travelling experiences she had, each with a different airline.

Fischer revealed that she has a tendency to forget personal items on airplanes. One time she forgot to take her carry-on bag off from the overhead compartment and didn’t realize this until she exited the security zone.

“At that moment, I entered the abyss – the black hole – ‘You shall never find your suitcase ever again, Erin,'” she recounted. She went to speak to a human and was told to go online and go through a process. “Eight weeks later, after I replaced everything in my suitcase, I got an electronic note from [the airline] saying ‘Guess what, they found your suitcase and it’s only $100 to ship it back to you from Montreal.'”

She contrasted that with another incident in which she left her business card holder in an airplane cabin and did not even notice it was missing until the airline contacted her by phone, offering to ship it to her by courier. The following day, a customer service agent from the airline called her and reported the courier did not show up but would deliver the business card holder the next day, said Fischer.

“When our customer is in a first-party claim, the most important thing that I want somebody to do is connect with that customer in that moment.”

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3 Comments » for You can’t teach claims adjusters this skill
  1. Brij Goberdhan FIIC ACII says:

    There is one component missing from this story and that is the failure and or reluctance on the part of insurers to include the brokers in the ongoing settlement or investigation process. Some brokers have been warned to back off since they are not licensed adjusters but their value is discarded in a situation that could bring and keep their parties together long after the claim.

  2. Good Morning All: I so love this article – I take all that Erin Fischer stated, personally – thank you very much; so well and lived, written. I have been a Claims Advisor on a Brokers level for the past 45 years. While I continued with my claim related education and am a Registered Professional Adjuster, it is the people aspect of my job, that is near and dear to me, still after all of these years. When I first started out as a Claims Representative in one of the largest Brokerages in San Francisco, I felt that I needed to round out my expertise on an interpersonal level, and I took College Courses to become a Suicide Prevention Counselor and was on the hotline on weekends evenings. Why? – to teach me how to REALLY listen to people’s needs other than providing the technical side of my profession to our insureds. This is indeed not something that is being taught in the many claim related courses that I have taken – that component should reveal itself in the hiring process of new personnel, or, at least, be a part of a topic that can/should be discussed by management in in-house seminars. Lastly, I took this drastic step because my boss at that time took me aside one day and told me, you are a great Adjuster, you just need to nice it up a little bit. I DID – and my empathy certainly enhances my daily interactions, which, as all Claims People know, can be enormously stressful. I thank you Erin Fischer for having written this article !

  3. James says:

    Erin Fischer seems to be mixing up the terms sympathy and empathy;

    ***This quote in particular is incorrect***
    “Sympathy would have been ‘Hey, yes, sorry to hear about that, I guess sleeping on a plane is going to suck,’” Fischer said Wednesday. “Empathy is different. Empathy is about feeling with you. Sympathy is about feeling for you. There is a huge difference. In our our industry, we have to get empathy right.”

    MERRIAM WEBSTER, using citations from journalism and literature:

    ****”In general, ‘sympathy’ is when you share the feelings of another; ’empathy’ is when you understand the feelings of another but do not necessarily share them.”****

    The distinction Erin Fishcer seems to be making is more between politeness and rudeness (using the common slang “suck”, regardless of how pervasive it has become, is not generally advisable) rather than any substantive distinction.

    This doesn’t necessarily undercut the message of the article of course of taking time and effort to understand the needs of a customer rather than automating a process.

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