Saturday, 14 September 2013

Your nightmare is my ho-hum

By the time an insurance claims handler has spent 5 years on the job, he or she has repeatedly seen and dealt with a variety of scenarios. Customers who are clearly legally at fault, yet who cannot accept it; third parties who accept responsibility at the scene of the accident and then can't be found; people who buy a car and think they can drive on the seller's policy without telling the insurance company; losses from lightning hitting a car or customers blithely driving their high-end sedans into (but seldom out of) waist-deep water.

The natural human response is to become blasé and matter of fact. When you figure you've heard and seen it all, it's really hard to see things the way the customer is seeing it. We forget that our 5000th claim, that we already see following the patterns laid down by the previous 4999, might easily be this customer's first such experience. One result is that it is harder for us to display the level of empathy that the customer so often needs from us. 

A few years ago I took a call from an unhappy claimant. He'd been in a three vehicle collision in which he was clearly not liable, but the insurers of the other two cars were blaming each other. He was naturally upset because while that dispute was crawling to (hopefully) some resolution, he was significantly out of pocket. I had experienced a very similar situation a few years ago, that only resolved when I sued, and won, in RM Court. I decided to share my personal story with the customer, while at the same time setting out an approach that we could take that had a chance to move things along a bit quicker.

The change in the customer's mood was instant. Of course what he ultimately wanted was to have his claim paid (so it was important that I addressed his issue at the same time that I was telling him my own story), but he also needed someone to acknowledge the unfairness of the situation. To show  empathy, and validate his anger and frustration.

That's the element of customer support that gets overlooked when we define our roles in mechanical, task-oriented terms. In a competitive market, we absolutely need to be efficient with turn-around times and following up the process. But that's hygiene. We really create distinction when we recognize and take into account that we are dealing with customers who are navigating unfamiliar territory, while worrying about background stuff like: how am I going to get my kids to & from school while the car is laid up; where am I going to find the money for the deductible; how much is my renewal premium going to increase because of this accident?

It's a nightmare scenario, during which the customer encounters what they perceive as the blasé, seen-it-all-before claims handler, writing letters in formal office-lingo designed to mask any trace of personality, delivering bad news via tersely worded emails, casually treating with issues that represent terrifying outcomes for the customer. And it's not that claims handlers are bad people. They are human, and this emotional detachment is entirely predictable based on human psychology.

Knowing this, we have to make an effort to avoid it. We have to define customer-support as delivering what the customer needs. This includes but cannot be limited to the service that we are legally contracted to deliver. It must also extend to offering empathy, emotional support, advice, or whatever else we can. The only way we will be able to do so effectively is by developing the skill of getting out of our own heads, and trying to imagine ourselves in the customer's predicament. Even if we start out not being all that good at it, I'll bet that the customer will see and appreciate the effort, and that by itself will be a valuable upgrade to the level of service that the customer experiences.
Post a Comment