With Hiscox achieving top marks in Newsquest Specialist Media’s research on service, Glenn Caton explains why getting it right is so important

The trouble with selling insurance is that, as a product, you can’t touch it, smell it, eat it, or carry it around and show it off to your friends. “Have you admired my policy schedule?” – is a line that is probably not going to win friends and influence people.

Insurance is generally an intangible product, where the client has few opportunities to really get to know and understand the value of what they have bought. For many, the only time they’ll have dealings with their insurer or broker is when their renewal drops through the letterbox or, for others, when they have to make a claim. This is when, beyond the price paid, service becomes the true differentiator.

So what do we mean by service? A look at the Collins English Dictionary defines it as an ‘act of help or assistance’.

It’s rather obvious I suppose, but have a think about the times you’ve been neither helped nor assisted when making a purchase when knowledgeable input would have been gratefully received.

How often have you walked into a shop and been immediately besieged by an eager salesman who mistakenly believes that an immediate offer of help is best practice when it comes to service?

I recently went into an electrical shop to buy a wireless router for my PC. A ‘helpful’ assistant immediately offered assistance but was unable to shed any light on the most appropriate product for my needs. He was very responsive but could he help me get the best router? And if not, can you call that good service?

The problem, in many cases, is that how we measure and perceive good service, at least in the financial services world, is fundamentally flawed. Answering the phone within three rings or responding to a piece of client correspondence within two working days might sound orderly and efficient, but does it represent good service?

I would argue that service measurements such as these are insufficient and possibly misguided. There isn’t much point in answering the phone within three rings or responding to an email within six hours if the end result for the client is that their problem gets no closer to resolution.

This is not to say that being responsive is not a key service element – of course it is – but what clients really need to know is that their problem is being addressed in an intelligent and, to go back to our definition, helpful way.

Applying intelligence to service standards is what really starts to set one service provider apart from another. Anyone can follow a process, but can you be intelligent in how you respond to a client’s needs?

Turning specifically to the insurance business, the summer flooding really put the sector firmly in the spotlight when it comes to looking at service standards.

Largely, I think, as an industry we came out of it with a great deal of credit but where there were problems tended to be where process ruled over pragmatism.  

One comment I saw from one of our claims managers really hit home: “When we were dealing with people who were flooded out, where appropriate we tore up the rule book and just did what was right at the time.”

Householders or commercial property owners don’t want to hear about process when their property is submerged under feet of dirty flood water – they need effective action to help recover their property (their livelihoods or their homes) as quickly as possible.

As a business we have many different customers with many different needs, whether it be a broker looking to arrange a management liability package for their client or a customer buying household insurance direct.

For us at Hiscox, the speed of turning around a quote is important but being honest and up-front with brokers about the risks we are comfortable taking on is crucial. Honesty at the first stage of the process eliminates ‘re-work’ further down the line.

 The critical factor is that we apply the same levels of intelligent service to every audience and every part of the insurance process, whether it’s underwriting the risk, issuing policy documentation, or handling the claims.

Achieving the highest standards of service demands far more than producing glossy marketing literature which talks about how central service is to the business philosophy.

A culture of intelligent service must be imbued deeply within the organisation and apply to every function.

So the next time a client calls, rush to pick up the phone by all means but ask yourself whether your response has truly helped your client get what they want. That’s when service becomes a true differentiator.