Insurance Academy

Do You Remember Before You Knew Insurance?

By | September 20, 2017

When Hurricane Andrew made landfall in August 1992, I was a young soldier. To be honest, I was much more interested in my young Army career than a hurricane.

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, I had just graduated college, moved my family out of Florida and was in the first days of my insurance career. To be honest, I had paid attention to hurricanes as they blew around me in Florida for the last two years, but was focusing on my new jobs (this is irony…). I paid attention, but only as the news was so vivid in those days.

As professionals, sometimes, we forget what it was like before we knew so much about our field. Do you remember what it was like the first days of your insurance career? Do you remember not knowing what a self-insured retention was? Do you remember now knowing the difference between a property claim and a liability claim? What about those days when you thought an inland marine policy still had something to do with rivers?

I was reminded what it is like when you don’t know as much about insurance (and hurricanes) as someone else does as I recently spent some time with folks who don’t pay as much attention to hurricanes and the Florida insurance market as I do. That made me think about this truth. Our customers don’t understand their insurance policies nearly as well as they think they do and we may not be doing a great job of explaining the policies to them. Here are a few tips when you have to deal with your customers’ insurance questions.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you’re getting a call from a customer, there’s a reason. Before you get into the details of any question, ask yourself why they are calling. Some friends of mine have been working 10-12-hour days lately. They both work at Florida insurers and are taking customer calls. They don’t normally take customer calls, but because of Irma, both insurers are swamped by calls. People want to submit their claims. They want to know the status of their claims. They need some cash to start trying to get life back together.

You may not be dealing with Hurricane Harvey or Irma claims. It may be a normal day in your office, but someone is going to call you and they need for you to understand where they are right now. That’s the best way that you’ll be able to answer their question. A customer that’s asking about their 16-year-old son and their auto insurance policy has different needs than a customer calling to report that their house is under water. Putting yourself in their shoes helps them to be comfortable with you. It helps them to be able to communicate.

Listen to learn. I know, you usually hear people tell you to learn to listen. You already know that. I’m saying listen to learn. Don’t listen for your response. Don’t listen for a break so that you can ask scripted questions. Listen to learn. You’re looking to learn where the source of the problem is. You’re listening for as much information as you can glean. Misunderstandings first happen when we’re not listening. I could tell you story after story about how I have gotten myself into a mess when I didn’t listen, but you want to hear that more than I want to tell it.

In all seriousness, the key to best servicing your customers is in your ability to listen for their real issues. It’s not always the first thing that your customer tells you that is the issue. It’s often well into the story where you find the real issue. That’s what you key in on to solve the problem. The story may begin with the claim, but the whole claim may not come out right away. Listen to learn all that you can.

Drop the jargon. OK. It’s just family here, right? Insurance people speak a different language than the rest of the world does. We talk about deductibles, retentions, covered perils, exclusions, and limitation. We redefine words so that the customer doesn’t really know exactly what we mean. When there’s water in my basement, my wife says that the basement flooded while I think about it as overflow from drains and sumps. When I try and correct her, she gives me that look. It reminds me that I speak a different work language than the rest of the world speaks. When you’re speaking with a customer, be clear. Use language that they understand. You’ll be surprised how much better the conversation goes when we don’t accidentally confuse the issues.

Be honest and positive. Let’s start with honesty. Our industry has a reputational issue. People think that we don’t tell the truth. At best, a lot of people don’t think that we tell the whole truth. Tell the truth. If there is an issue with the policy, address it. If you don’t know the answer, say I don’t know. It’s really as simple as that. Be as honest as you would want someone else to be with you.

Let’s be positive, please. I say this sometimes, and people start getting all Pollyannaish. That’s not what your customer needs. They need someone who isn’t looking to place blame. Please don’t dive into a conversation with a complaint about the insurance company. Your customer already has the rest of the world communicating bad thoughts about their insurance company. They don’t need someone else helping that. If you can be positive, you might be keeping your customer from calling one of dozens of attorneys that are advertising their services to take on the insurance company.

I have been in touch with several insurance companies in Florida recently and the best I can tell, they’re doing all that they can to help a lot of people in a tough situation. Take a moment and try and remember what it was like before you got into insurance. Can you remember a time when you wished someone was there to help you with your insurance buying, or someone with a kind word when you had to file a claim? Your customer needs your help. Isn’t that what insurance is supposed to be for anyway?

About Patrick Wraight

Patrick Wraight, CIC, CRM, AU, is director of Insurance Journal's Academy of Insurance. He can be reached at

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