By Jack Burke
Property/Casualty insurance is a unique industry. The sale is nothing more than a
“promise” and the “product” is only delivered if a claim should be filed.
A successful agent must put significant effort into
creating unique distinctions in the presentation of the “promise”. Such efforts
might include the branding of the agency, risk management, value matching of premium and coverage to
the risk, communications, education and so on.
However when it comes to a claim and the delivering of the
“product”, the agent is sometimes conspicuously absent as the company claims
department takes over. If the insured runs into difficulties, the agent might be called
upon to run interference for the client; but by and large the agent often becomes a
non-entity. In the majority of claims, this works fine. The company expediently handles the claim
and the insured gets the check. Some customer-focused agents will insert themselves into
the process, but many simply go about their business. No news is good news. If the client
doesn’t call with a problem, everything must be ok.
This is something like a car salesman who makes a sale, but
doesn’t stick around to handle the delivery of the vehicle to the customer. How do you
begin developing a lasting relationship if you aren’t there for the delivery of the product?
It seems like the bigger the company, the more removed the agent from the claims process.
Yet, smaller regionals, like National Grange along the
Eastern Seaboard take pride in making the agent a vital part of the process. In fact, the
agent has the option of writing the check and personally delivering it to the
client – often within 24 hours.
Let’s take this topic of claims handling a little farther
down the road. So far, we’ve been talking about the processing of a claim for
“your” client. What about “the other party?”
In auto insurance, for example, if your client is liable
for the damage — how well does your company treat the injured party’s claim?
At this point you’re probably wondering what I had for
breakfast this morning. After all, as long as your client is happy, why should you worry
about someone else who isn’t your client? Well, bear with me a little longer. I’ve
been doing a lot of mental gymnastics trying to figure out how to say this. From
the largest city to the smallest town, most independent agents have a core geographic area
in which they market their services. This is not a limitless market area–in fact, it
could be argued that every agent maintains a “small town” of customers and
prospects within the larger confines of the overall universe.
If you accept that philosophy, then you can understand how
quickly gossip can spread within a small town. The “other parties” in a claim
can either become your advocates or enemies. If your company handles their claim with
expeditious sensitivity, they’ll tell their friends how well they were treated. As a
representative of that company, their good words help build your brand identity and
credibility with potential customers — and solidify relationships with existing clients.
On the other hand, if your company puts them through the hoops, they’ll carry that message
outward in an even bigger way. Their “gossip” hurts the brand you represent and thereby hurts you.
I can remember back to the 60’s and 70’s, when a certain
national personal lines insurer became very aggressive in claims adjusting. Claimants
would arrive at body shops with the company settlement only to find out that the shop
would not do the work for the price.
Everyone within the auto industry was bad mouthing this company and it lost major market
share. It eventually had to spend millions to recreate an image that it had destroyed.
Now here comes another kicker. Considering that many
agents never even follow up with their own clients after a claim, you’re really going to
think I’m going nuts with this thought: How about calling up the “other
party” afterward to introduce yourself and ask if everything is ok? Before you shout,
“I’m not going to open that box of Pandora!”, think it through. This “other
party” lives within your “small town” of market influence. Therefore this
“other party” is also a potential client. In fact, this “other party”
could be one of your very best prospects because they have already experience your
“product”. They have been involved in the delivery after a promise. If your
company has treated their claim with dignity and respect, they are very warm. If you
follow it up with compassion, you could easily be opening the door for their business.
This is what relationship marketing is all about. It’s
about being human and caring. It’s about caring enough to make sure the companies that you
represent are good at delivering the product when called upon to do so. It’s about caring
that your client’s claim is handled properly — and that the “other party” is
properly taken care of as well. It’s a sense of compassion for everyone involved in the
claim. You aren’t the insurance company, you are the expert risk manager who accesses
company coverages to protect your clients.
Are you treating claims as problems to be processed, or
opportunities to be explored? Are you defaulting your role to the company, or becoming an
active participant in the delivery of your product? Are you focusing on relationships?
Jack Burke is president of Sound Marketing, Inc. and
editor of ProgramBusinessNews. For information on his latest book, Relationship Aspect
Marketing (Silverlake Publishing), visit
www.relationshipaspect.com or www.soundmarketing.com.
You can reach him by phone at 1-800-451-8273 or by email at: