Everyone knows that a claim is the ultimate test of how good your service is. With customer expectations constantly rising, it's no longer enough to provide a standard, impersonal process, no matter how streamlined it may be.

At Hill House Hammond, we deal with over 100,000 claims a year, settling 85% of those direct with the customer on behalf of our insurers, so we have to get it right. We've adopted processing methods that cut red tape, paperwork and to-ing and fro-ing. The customer's first call prompts it all into action – appointing repairers, engineers, suppliers, loss adjusters and our uninsured loss recovery agents. Wherever possible, we discuss values and resolve issues over the phone, so there's no protracted correspondence.

Our aim, however, is not just to ensure a speedy conclusion to the claim, but to leave the customer and the claims handler with a sense of a job well done. With this in mind, we've spent the last 12 months developing an in-house claims management system, beginning with household claims and now expanding into motor. We wanted minimum input, maximum output – a system which would champion our claims handling. Hence, we've named it Maximus.

Championing claims handling
Maximus began with an idea from our household claims manager, Lisa Wilkins, and was built from scratch by our database technician, John Stayt. We had three objectives: to improve customer service by better managing expectations; to ensure consistency and best practice; and to provide an efficient training tool to bring on staff. It's a specialised online database covering everything relating to household claims, and works like an internet search facility – the operator keys in a topic and has immediate access to all relevant information including:

  • details of policy terms and endorsements – no more frantic searches through manuals while the customer gets increasingly impatient
  • how a particular claim will proceed – what's covered, what we will do, what the customer needs to do or supply, how long it will take in any set of household claims circumstances
  • technical information – for instance, about different roof tiles, locks and so on, with illustrations where possible
  • a glossary – building terms, computer terminology, even down to types of Asian jewellery
  • a full contact directory listing suppliers, loss adjusters, insurers, our own branches and anyone we need to know
  • suppliers and partners information – for instance, what range of carpets our approved suppliers carry; which loss adjuster will be appointed and, in both cases, their guaranteed service standards
  • details of Insurance Ombudsman Bureau (IOB) decisions or court rulings that may have relevance to the claim.

    All this information might previously have been held in different manuals and in staff memories, but now we can equip even inexperienced handlers with knowledge at the touch of a key. Customers benefit from enhanced confidence in our operation and can be given full details on how their claim will progress from the outset. We benefit by generating less queries and follow-up calls, saving time that can be more usefully spent at the initial contact stages.

    The system provides a fast-track learning tool, but we've introduced a process to take this even further. All updates are input daily and staff must read and acknowledge the item online; it then moves into that person's training log, so if someone's been away or works part-time, they're not left out of the loop.

    Training is a priority throughout the company. All claims staff undergo a two-year training programme, following a two-week intensive induction course. Regular, formal training sessions are combined with on-the-job training and individual coaching in every aspect of insurance. All are encouraged to take professional qualifications.

    Ongoing operation
    We know from the letters we receive that customers appreciate dealing with people who are empowered to reach a speedy and flexible conclusion to their claim.

    Maximus is proving to be a very efficient tool but, like the whole operation, it's not intended to be static. Apart from the ongoing training aspect, team managers are charged to add to the “encyclopaedia” every time they have new information, opinions or advice.

    The new system certainly keeps the teams stimulated. In our claims department these days, like the film Gladiator, it's all action.

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