Claims Service: Keeping the Promise to Policyholders – And Agents
By Kevin Jenné | Posted: 9/7/2021
Much has been made of the post-pandemic world that awaits us. It’s a time of returning to the office, visiting clients in person again and maybe even permanent adoption of some of the digital tools that made remote working easier.
In our annual survey of independent agents, while Channel Harvest Research expected to hear some strong opinions from independent agents on these topics – and we did – we were somewhat surprised by the persistence of more traditional themes.
Carriers are pretty familiar with what’s important to agents. Competitive pricing, compensation and ease of doing business all rank high, but delivering a great claims experience rises to the top of the list.
In this year’s Channel Harvest survey, Agent Voices 2021: Unexpected Challenges, claims service quality and claims responsiveness rank #1 and #2 in importance for agents when they think of their personal lines carriers. For commercial lines, these two claims attributes came in behind only underwriting responsiveness.
Nearly 2,000 independent agents responded to the survey, which was developed in collaboration with a number of carriers.
When considering how best to equip agents for success, carriers often focus on point-of-sale factors like pricing and ease of doing business. But agents also consider long-term factors when choosing where to place a customer – like reliable, caring claims service. In our 14 years of surveying agents, they’ve continually reminded us they aren’t just trying to place a policy; they want a customer for life, and that means being able to trust a carrier partner to keep the insurance promise.
Most agents prefer not to get involved with claims unless they have to, but too often that happens when the carrier doesn’t keep the policyholder well informed. A carrier that keeps both the agent and policyholder informed on claims makes for happy agents who will entrust that carrier more with their future business.
Why are we asking agents these questions in the first place? Channel Harvest surveys reveal that agents have an informed perspective of carrier operations. While they may not be on the inside, what they see from the outside is often quite telling. Take for example this comment by an agency claims professional in California regarding claims service: “Please pay attention to the caseloads placed on your adjusters. Many have too many claims to properly handle and too much is slipping through the cracks.”
While carriers might see a near-term expense benefit of reducing claims handling staff and increasing their caseloads, the cost of eroded trust in lost agent production may take longer to surface, and much longer to recover. Instead, this is where a carrier might want to consider investing in some process automation to lighten the load on claims handlers, especially for a high volume of very similar claims.
Making Smarter Use of Talent
It’s a recognized fact that insurance is suffering a talent drain as experienced, seasoned claims adjusters retire and the supply of younger talent isn’t equal to the demand. So this plea from an agent in Michigan takes on more urgency: “Please don’t underestimate how much good underwriters and claims personnel affect your business/retention.”
Nothing works like positive reinforcement, and we heard it loud and clear again this year, as in this observation from an agency principal in Georgia: “Your claim service is amazing. I get feedback all the time about how responsive and helpful the adjusters are. That’s a result of good company training and culture.” Carriers should take the positive comments to heart and view them as encouragement to keep going, to keep improving.
It also helps reconfirm where future investment in people and processes is warranted.
Digitalization as a silver lining
There was a lot of speculation during the early stages of the pandemic about the extent to which agencies would adopt digital processes to overcome the challenges of a geographically distributed workforce. According to our findings, this has been less of a factor than expected. Relatively few agencies have started using digital tools to deal with the effects of the pandemic. The exception was video conferencing such as Zoom, which one third (35%) started using because of the pandemic, while 43% were already using video conferencing before then.
About 1 in 8 (12%) started using e-signature with their clients because of the pandemic, while 75% were already doing so. About one third (32%) were using internal tools like Microsoft Teams with their employees before the pandemic, and another 14% started doing so to help their staff communicate.
Agents are looking to their carriers and technology partners to help them compete effectively in response to changes to their work and business environment. They see opportunities to apply technology to improve operations within the agency, and enhance their reach into the community outside the agency. A Michigan agent asked carriers and partners to “continue to improve the ability to do everything remotely, by investing in systems and technology. Also assist us in creating more opportunities to market our agencies online to replace the loss of our ability to network.”
Of course, agents may feel they face too much of a good thing when it comes to technology solutions – choosing wisely among many offerings has become challenging. An agency principal from Ohio asked carriers to “help agents implement tech tools to connect. There are so many options, it’s overwhelming to choose, then implement. Thought leadership and vetting of products would be very helpful.”
Kevin Jenné is research director at Channel Harvest and previously was director of agent and consumer research at one of the leading omnichannel property and casualty carriers. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more information on the Channel Harvest survey of independent agents, visit www.channelharvest.net .