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Reaction to an ATM scam offers a lesson for protection firms

A few weeks ago, I was robbed at an ATM. No violence was used just some subterfuge to distract my attention. Lesson one of this article is never respond to people shouting incomprehensible gibberish while you are drawing money from an ATM.

Lesson two relates to what happened afterwards. The ATM involved was not one operated by my bank. I have been a client of First Direct for 20 (very happy) years and I phoned to report the theft, which I also reported to the police. I was immediately reassured that any loss would be reimbursed to me immediately (which it was). I could eulogise about the quality of First Direct’s customer interface for some time and I would not be alone. I have recommended several members of my family and friends and their customer experience is uniformly good.

The protection industry can learn a lot from this. A lot of calls and letters to us are from people who have suffered a major health trauma or from close relatives reporting the death of a loved one. We all know this requires sensitivity and professionalism but it also needs the company not to treat every claimant as if they are potentially out to defraud the insurer. Follow sensible protocols to ensure the claim can be paid immediately but remember that 10 or 20 years after setting up a policy, this is the moment when they expect you to deliver on your promise. Most claimants probably hope a claim might never arise but when it does the least we can do is to make the process as painless and helpful as it can be.

Statistics across the industry suggest that well over 90 per cent of critical-illness claims are paid by companies and income protection averages for many companies are in this range as well. So, if we are highly likely to pay a claim, can we please try to see the process from the customer’s viewpoint. Reassurance, kindness and compassion are the right reactions when a claim arises. Why not try to imagine how you hope your partner might be treated by an insurer if they had to claim on your death or serious illness or disability.

I have banged on about emotional intelligence on these pages before but it is exactly what differentiates good customer service from bad. Imagine if my phone call to the bank had been one made by a pensioner to whom the loss of immediate cash and their debit card was even more of a concern than it was to me. The First Direct reaction was professional but also concerned and interested in my welfare.

They would have been very reassured by the reaction. This is not the place to talk about wider customer propositions but I think it is the place to suggest we really ought to begin by trusting people and then weed out the errant claims rather than the other way round.

Peter Le Beau is managing director of Le Beau Visage

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