Insurers' idea of service falls far short of what the public expects, says Mark Borkowski

When things go wrong, it's just a shame all you ever get is a silky tongued insurer's spokesperson handing out platitudes to its critics

I hear the Claims Standards Council (CSC) has been told by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) that it is "threatening competition" by trying to put an end to high pressure sales techniques in the insurance world, including cold calling, whether by telephone or in person on the doorstep.

At a stroke the OFT shoots itself in the foot (not covered, I'll bet) and deserves a lingering, high-decibel, potentially dangerous raspberry for siding with the harasser against the harassed.

There's enough high pressure around already involving insurance, and in my view any effort to lower it must be beneficial. But no - the money does the talking, as usual. Commission selling is, as ever, the guilty party.

It wouldn't be so bad if insurance claims were a simple, sure-fire way of gaining compensation when mishap strikes. But they're not, and judging by what the latest British flood victims think of their insurers' performance, the 'service' has a long way to go.

Across Carlisle and a swathe of Northumberland, the members of the population I've seen interviewed bear no resemblance to those happy, smiling people in the TV ads, who greet the claims adjuster as though he was Father Christmas. It's curious the way he steps into their ravaged garden or farmyard with the cataclysmic typhoon still apparently raging.

The days of not making a drama out of a crisis seem to be a thing of the past, as complaints from the public pile up about understaffed call centres causing hours ofhanging on the phone, endless small-print quibbles, no-show personnel and slow paperwork at the mercy of Royal Mail.

It serves the big players right that consumer programmes and daytime TV pick up on them when things go wrong; it's just a shame all you ever get is a silky tongued insurer's spokesperson handing out platitudes to its critics.

It's disgraceful that crises should take insurers unawares - that's why they exist, for goodness sake. That's what they're supposed to be spending our premiums on - getting prepared for the unexpected.

In PR terms it's even less professional. What must their shareholders think, when the papers are full of floods one day, and demonised insurance firms the next?

It's time the industry acutely threw its weight behind living up to the public's expectations of it. When it has the nerve to oversell to such a degree, and to pile on the mind-bogglingly expensive TV advertising, it's hardly "doing its best" by coming to a standstill when it's supposed to be on parade.

It's high time it started to run with its customers' expectations.

Here's an interesting experiment. Just as Switzerland copes with snow and Britain never does, just as the US copes with heat waves, and Britain never does, why doesn't the CSC, or better still the government, draft legislation banning all insurance companies from all above-the-line advertising?

It would be great: extremely low-key marketing such as Christmas cards, key-rings, cricket sponsorship, that sort of thing, would be the only promotion permitted. Then let word-of-mouth do the rest.

Soon only insurance companies offering a fantastic service for an amazingly low price would pick up any business at all. The rest would vanish in a puff of broken promises. That would teach them a thing or two about high pressure. IT

' Mark Borkowski is head of PR agency Borkowski