At a recent conference, one stalwart proposed insurers should stop publishing claims statistics on the basis they are all very similar, not scrutinised independently and have not increased sales over the time they have been shared.
While I, like everyone else in that room, did not agree, I could see the point being made. My first sales manager had a mantra for customer service: perception is reality. It does not matter if your service is great; if customers think it is rubbish, it might as well be because that is what they will tell people.
I think that is where we have got to with protection claims. We know we pay all valid claims and the statistics back us up. Yet the public still think we are rubbish, so confidence does not increase and sales do not grow.
We now need to make the experience match the statistics.
Stepping up the service
Part of the problem is that life insurers are seen as big, faceless organisations. When I lost my login for HM Revenue & Customs a week before the tax return deadline, a disinterested call centre bod told me she could reset the account and that a new login would be posted within eight working days. She could not tell me the new details, nor could she have them emailed. And she could not have cared less. Why should she? In her mind, she is not providing me a service, she is simply telling me the rules.
Insurers can occupy this same space, as anyone who has made a claim for themselves or on behalf of clients can testify. Service level agreements and intricate form negotiations are the order of the day. And email? We are still dealing in second class post in some cases.
Any senior executive at a life insurer should spend a minimum of one day a year in their claims department, handling calls and seeing what their customers experience.
We know we pay all valid claims and the statistics back us up. Yet the public still think we are rubbish, so confidence does not increase and sales do not grow.
Claims is one area technology has not been seen as the solution, with emphasis placed on the human touch needed at such a difficult time for customers. But in reality, most people do not want to talk to a stranger when ordering pizza, let alone when a family member has died. We should be thinking in terms of online claims registering and handling, with settlements agreed within days, not weeks or worse.
We could also look at other markets and learn from our peers. One general insurer booked up hotel rooms in an area they knew was at major flood risk and consequently were able to shift their policyholders into emergency accommodation immediately.
I am not suggesting life insurers start block-booking funeral plots in towns with below average life expectancy, but the principle of knowing what is needed before the client even does is an example of brilliant customer service at a time when it is most appreciated.
Paying valid claims is not an achievement; it is our sole purpose as an industry. Now let’s make it easier.
Phil Jeynes is head of sales and marketing at UnderwriteMe