In a highly competitive market, insurance companies have to offer high levels of customer service to set themselves apart from the rest, says Andrew Bickerton....

As changing from insurer to insurer becomes easier the more advanced technology gets, retaining policyholders has become one of the industry's top priorities.

Customer expectations are high, and the more expectations are met or exceeded, the higher they become. In an increasingly competitive market, this trend encourages insurers to work harder and harder at achieving good customer service, thereby maximising their chances of successful retention and expansion of their customer base. It costs six times as much to gain a new customer as it does to keep an existing one – as the adage goes.

Providing excellent customer service should be at the top of the agenda for the insurance industry, and at no time is the point better made than at the time of a claim. This is the time when the policyholder needs to feel that, even though the event that started the process was negative, the ensuing experience and outcome was positive.

Word of mouth is powerful
A dissatisfied claimant will tell at least ten other people of his experience, which can erode brand confidence. On the other hand, a satisfied claimant will tell at least eight other people – and reinforce brand confidence.

It is not just about whether the claim is covered or not and whether it gets paid. A claimant can be paid, but still be dissatisfied at the length of time it has taken to settle the claim, the wasted telephone calls, or the way he or she was treated en route. Sometimes even if a claim is rejected, the claimant can be happy with the helpful and professional way this was done.

Providing excellent customer service means treating people in the way you yourself would like to be treated. It is to do with putting yourself in the shoes of the claimant, remembering that although it is just “another claim” from the industry's point of view, from the claimant's perspective it may be one of the worst personal disasters of his or her life.

Service essentials
There are parts of claims handling that can be improved. We must have knowledgeable people on the other end of the phone to deal with enquiries. We must not pass the policyholder from pillar to post for an answer, or make them wait in a telephone queue before we let them speak to a human being. We must provide prompt and informed answers when questions are asked. It is essential that loss adjusters and claims handlers understand the technicalities of the business and are always ready to give an open and honest response in a professional and jargon-free way.

There are basic quality rules that will elevate customer service. These include peer review of outgoing reports and letters, ensuring that all incoming correspondence is dealt with within set time frames, that telephones are answered promptly and politely and that, when employees are on holiday or away from the office, there is adequate cover to keep things moving. Most importantly, staff must be kept well trained and motivated.

For Crawford & Company, customer service has always been a top priority. My appointment as the new quality and compliance director was another step to ensure that we continue to maintain and enhance the quality of service provided to our customers and thus, in turn, to their policyholders.

I began by revisiting some of the basic elements adjusters use to provide a quality service. These elements are the absolutes that Crawford & Company expects from every member of staff. But the quality brief within Crawford is not just directed at adjusters who handle claims, it also includes our support staff that is often a primary interface with policyholders. It is also about our national, regional and local management creating an environment where it is easier for our people to get it right than to get it wrong.

The first steps have been to clearly and simply state the company's quality objectives at branch level and at individual claim level so that everyone knows what is expected of them. A complementary programme of audit makes sure that these quality objectives are met in each of our branches across the UK. However, the audit is not just about looking for failures, it is about replicating good practice from branch to branch as the auditors travel around the country.

This is linked in with other Crawford offerings, including meaningful round-the-clock response, brand protection and support, accelerated claim processing and other similar new developments.

Quality does not stand still and there is always room for continuing improvement. New quality initiatives have to be introduced regularly, building upon the basics that have already been established, in order to be a key player in the market.

  • Andrew Bickerton is Crawford & Company's new quality and compliance director.