A question of purpose: a broader approach to customer service

Steve Walker outlines the role of "purpose" in giving great customer service


Steve Walker, Head of Claims Operations"Despite my youthful appearance, I can remember the days when insurers believed that you had to make it difficult for customers to claim on their insurance policy. The thinking was that this would keep the number and cost of claims down, and that was exactly what the business wanted.

Fortunately times have changed considerably since then, and the thinking now - both in our industry, and certainly in my own organisation - is a million miles from this.

So what’s brought about this new genuine service focus, and what does it mean to customers?

It’s my belief that we have a greater sense of purpose than ever before, which stems from a shared desire to achieve something greater and more worthwhile than profit or financial savings.

We want to do the right thing for our customers and our people. Profit may be the result, but is not our raison d’etre. You might think my boss will be hot-footing it to HR due to this seemingly traitorous statement, but actually he agrees. And so does our CEO.

We want to make it as quick and easy as possible for customers to make a genuine claim. Not just because that’s the service they have paid for – and are entitled to receive - but because our sense of purpose comes from our shared belief that it’s the right thing to do.

This alters the way service is delivered and - in turn - experienced by customers, because they feel understood, genuinely appreciated, and are guided and involved in the process, making them feel reassured and valued.

This was demonstrated poignantly in a thank-you note I saw recently from an elderly woman who had been robbed at knifepoint. Although distraught at the loss of the wedding ring she had worn for sixty years, her shakily hand-written letter of thanks expressed gratitude to the individuals who had dealt with her claim, who, she said, had restored her faith in humanity, showing care and understanding beyond her expectations.

Working in claims, we often help customers in the most distressing and stressful of circumstances, so it makes sense to make sure that those responding on the frontline have a skill-set that includes emotional intelligence, as well as technical knowledge and customer service insight. But I think it’s essential to get the basics right in order to gain customer loyalty too.

You can gain or lose a customer at the point of a claim, so making the claims process easy, removing obstacles, and minimising the customer effort required are crucial to setting their expectations at the outset.

The last thing we want customers to think is that we’re putting barriers in their way pointlessly.

The Harvard Business Review is a proponent of this approach, publishing an article by Karen Freeman, Matthew Dixon and Nicholas Toman entitled "Stop Trying To Delight Your Customers".

They conducted a study involving 75,000 people to assess the impact of customer service on loyalty. It confirmed that customers are much more likely to take revenge on a company and abandon it down to bad service, than they are to choose one for its ‘over the top’ service.

The conclusion drawn is that companies are far better putting their energy into consistently meeting customers’ basic expectations than they are trying to exceed them. This means looking at everything you do to minimise the level of customer effort involved.

This is all well and good in theory, but in practice, there’s nothing like a major weather event, followed by another and then another to test the service capabilities of insurer claims teams.
In December 2015, Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank caused widespread damage and severe flooding across Cumbria, Yorkshire and parts of Scotland. Loss Adjusters on the ground were well prepared and sprang into action in affected areas, ensuring the insurance industry was on hand and ready to help before, during, and in the aftermath of the flooding.

At Covéa Insurance, thanks to our weather mapping software integrated with our customer data, we were able to prepare for the surge and visit customers in the affected areas (some of whom had no means of contacting us as a result of power and communications networks being down) to ascertain what help they needed. One elderly couple were found by our Loss Adjusters upstairs in their flooded home, refusing to leave, and so were given assistance to temporarily modify their home, allowing them to stay there safely.

Cross-trained staff across multiple sites worked overtime and around the clock to meet the surge situation with telephone response service targets continuing to be met. Normal claims protocols were truncated or modified to allow the swift and easy payment of claims and payments were made to assist customers in advance of their claim being received.

Vouchers and hampers were provided for customers displaced from their homes due to floods over the festive period.

In contrast to previous storms in 2005, 2007 and 2009, media criticism of the insurance industry so far has been minimal, and has been confined mostly to the time it has taken to set up Flood Re. The Government has borne the brunt of the anger of those affected, with David Cameron heckled by angry locals in York for failing to fund adequate flood defences.

It’s perhaps a little premature to claim a victory for the insurance industry. Cleaning up after floods is likely to take several months and there’s no guarantee that there won’t be more weather incidents. Repairing homes and businesses can be a long and complex process, and repairs can only begin after a property has fully dried out.

But if our data and customer feedback this far is correct, we should all feel a sense of achievement that a transformation of our industry’s reputation for customer service might well be underway, thanks to the combined efforts of individuals with a greater sense of purpose who have been driving change with their genuine commitment to caring for customers.

There’s no doubt our purpose comes from delivering a timely, relevant and empathetic service to our customers when they need it, so when it comes to making insurance claims, ‘easy’ does it."


This article featured in the February 2016 edition of Insurance People Magazine - for more, click the link on the right




Notes to Editors:

About Covéa Insurance

Covea Insurance plc is the UK underwriting business of leading French mutual insurance group Covéa, who are number 1 for property and liability insurance in France, generating over 16.3 billion Euros in premiums in 2017.  

Covéa Insurance looks after the insurance needs of over 1.5 million policyholders; delivering financial reassurance through its Standard & Poor’s A+ stable rating, as a guaranteed subsidiary of Covéa. 

The company offers motor, household, protection, pet, mid and high net worth insurance and a range of commercial insurance products, through a range of distribution channels. Employing over 1800 people, Covéa Insurance has a strong people and service ethos, having Investors In People Gold accreditation and is signatory to the HM Treasury Women In Finance Charter. It also has World Class service accreditation from the Institute of Customer Service for its Motor Claims, Home Claims and Underwriting Services teams as well as Chartered Insurer status for its Commercial and Mid/High Net Worth business.

In 2018, Covéa Insurance were recipients of the Personal Lines Insurer of the Year award at both the British Insurance Awards and the Insurance Times Awards and was the top rated insurer in the Insurance Times Broker Service Survey for both Personal and Commercial Lines.

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