How Empathy Reassures a Customer During a Loss
Bryan Manz, Director of Claims, National Insurance Operations at Western Financial Group, discusses what happens when a customer makes a claim and the broker’s role in this process.
I live in Calgary and work out of Western’s High River office. I live with my wife Becky and we are expecting our first child to arrive at any moment. I started at Western eight years ago but have been in the insurance industry for 23 years, all in claims. For hobbies, I enjoy anything involving the great outdoors. I especially love spending time with my wife and taking our 2 dogs, a Boston Terrier, and an Australian Shepherd, out to Kananaskis when we can. I also discovered Disc Golf last year and am looking forward improving on that.
Q: How soon do clients start thinking about the claims process?
A: When clients buy their policy, they are already planning for an event they wouldn’t otherwise recover from without insurance. Clients get into the mindset of thinking about what they would do if a claim happened. That’s normal and that’s why we are here.
The broker helps prepare them about how the claims process works and what to do if they have an insured loss.
If you do have a loss, the first step is to call your broker.
Q: What happens when a loss occurs?
A: I would say the first thing that a broker should do once a loss is reported is to show empathy. It is the cornerstone of a good claims’ experience.
Empathy is so important to get things off on the right foot. One thing I like to accomplish as an insurance professional is that we need to dispel the myth that insurance companies and brokers and adjusters are bad. That’s not true. We’re invested in our communities and we want to help.
Then we need to get the information about the loss to get the claim started correctly and we need to tell the client what to expect next. Managing expectations is a very important part of the process.
What’s also important is offering reassurance as their trusted broker. We’re still here for them to contact us even when clients are transferred to a claims team. We want to make sure that a client does not feel like they’re in this alone.
Q: What are a customer’s responsibilities once a claim is reported?
A: The customer must act in a timely way and be accurate when reporting a claim.
A customer must also prevent further loss to their property. So, if you have furniture in a flooded basement, you should move it to prevent further damage. The whole principle of insurance is that we cover sudden and accidental loss.
If you fail to mitigate damage and allow something to be knowingly damaged, it’s no longer something that’s accidental, right? This can affect your claim.
Q: What are the broker’s responsibilities once a claim is reported?
A: A broker needs to get the information quickly from the client and then get it efficiently to the claims team.
The broker doesn’t disappear, though, and needs to be available and accessible to the client. We can help them with any questions throughout a claim.
Another point to highlight is that a broker also represents the insurance company as well. We have an important role as an intermediary for all parties and need to act in best interests of all.
Q: What are some issues that can come up during the claims process?
A: There can be times when information is missing and a loss is not reported in a timely manner by both the client and/or the broker, and that can slow down the claims process.
It’s very important that the broker has a client’s current contact information. This goes along way in ensuring things get off a correct, and timely, start. As an Adjuster, I would rather spend my time calling the client right away, rather then calling other parties to try and get a correct phone number.
On the client’s side of things, they can mistakenly believe that once they report their loss that their job is done and it’s all up to their insurance company. They need to be available and to co-operate with the insurer. You must be involved in your own claim. Nobody is in a better position to move things along than the client themselves.
Making a claim isn’t necessarily black and white. It can be gray. Every claim is incredibly different. Just because you have an insurance policy, your claim isn’t guaranteed. The insurance company needs to make sure the loss falls within the terms of your policy, and no exclusions apply.
Q: Can a customer have unrealistic ideas about an insurance settlement?
A: Clients sometimes do not understand that not everything is covered. No insurance policy covers everything. For example, they may not understand something like the difference between actual value – what an item is worth at the time of a loss, and full replacement value. Sentimental loss isn’t covered, either. That’s just not something you can’t place a dollar value on.
When you have a loss, your broker will help you understand what is covered and what is not.
Q: How long does a customer have to make a claim?
A: All claims have a limitation date of two years. You can go beyond two years, but then you need to initiate litigation to do so. If you wait too long to report a claim, you might run into some complications. For example, you are not mitigating the damage to your property if you are letting something remain damaged for prolonged periods of time. Or perhaps important evidence required to support your claim is not being preserved correctly. If an insurer cannot investigate properly, coverage may be impacted. So even though a policyholder has up to 2 years to report, it is highly recommended it is done so at their earliest opportunity. This will help mitigate any of those potential issues.
Q: How do you reassure a customer who is really upset?
A: You have to walk a mile in someone’s shoes. If I can see things from your perspective, I can better empathize. The same kind of claim can have a different impact to different people. You also need to have a bit of a thick skin, too, because people aren’t always at their best in these moments. Understandably so.
Brokers also need to practice active listening. You repeat back what they're saying, so they know they're being heard and you're reassuring them.
We do not want a customer to feel intimidated about the claims process. We do our best to listen, reassure and empathize with a person who has experienced a loss.
Customers come to us for a reason. They trust us with some of the most important things in their lives. We need to live up to that expectation at all times. That is our duty as insurance professionals. No time is better to show that then during a claim. Showing empathy, managing expectations, and making sure the client knows we are there for them throughout the entire claim, and not just the reporting phase, is what we do best.