Competing on personal lines service

August 7, 2006

So, think there’s limited competition around service in personal lines?
Think again. Northeast insurers are tripping over themselves to herald their latest service features, which is good news for agents and consumers. Consider these recent events:

Hail to Mt. Washington
“It was like Armageddon,” independent agent Pam Sakowski says of the hailstorm that hammered Exeter, New Hampshire, on July 11. Sakowski, who owns the Ray F. MacDonald Agency in Durham, was visiting her friends at Foy Insurance Group, when the sky turned black, the wind howled and baseball-sized hailstones crashed down loudly on everything –including her new Honda Accord parked outside. “It looked like the Red Sox were on the roof pitching down ice baseballs,” she says.

Sakowski represents Mt. Washington Assurance Corporation and also insures her own car with it. At 7 the next morning the Mt. Washington Crashbusters van, a claims office on wheels, was pulling up to her door. Appraiser Doug Andrew quickly declared the car a total loss. “Her car was dented from hood to trunk, the windows were shattered, and the hailstones had even punched big holes through the shelf under the rear windshield. I’ve never seen anything like it –and there were many others just as bad,” says Rich Middleton, general manager of the Concord-based carrier, who came along.

As a result of the early-morning appointment Sakowski didn’t lose any time at work, where her own customers would soon be calling in hail losses.

For the next four days, Andrew drove his van from car to car, giving checks on the spot to people whose vehicles could be repaired and expediting the payment process for total losses. The hailstorm struck Tuesday afternoon, and every car was appraised by Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Middleton met with independent agents and policyholders. Most of the more than 70 hail-damaged cars Mount Washington insures in Exeter and neighboring Stratham were totaled. Many had both exterior and interior damage because the hail smashed windows, and the upholstery, if not torn by hail, was at least soaked. “We pulled out all the stops to get the job done,” Middleton added.

Getting car rental cars quickly proved another challenge. Since most rental car fleets in the Exeter area were destroyed as well, Mt. Washington worked with them to relocate cars from other areas.

Middleton says being New Hampshire-based helped. “Because we’re local, we not only could we put the resources on ground fast and pay claims, but we also met with consumers and agents in person and addressed their concerns on the spot,” he says.

A Peerless primer
Peerless Insurance, a member of Liberty Mutual Group, is helping its 151,000 homeowner insurance customers throughout the Northeast protect their families and homes during hurricane season. It is making a six-page Disaster Planning Guide available to policyholders on its website at www.peerless-ins.com. The guide helps policyholders develop an action plan for possible evacuation, details what necessities should go into an emergency kit, and explains the importance of undertaking a household inventory among other important safety tips. Also Peerless independent agents will be distributing wallet and key cards to policyholders, highlighting some of the most important preparedness tips and providing the claims service toll-free phone number for reporting a loss.

Rock and Tow
Boston-based auto insurer Plymouth Rock has introduced a new service for customers whose vehicles are unable to be driven after an accident. Known as “Tow And Go,” the service provides accident-related towing assistance at no additional charge to Massachusetts Plymouth Rock customers who have selected full collision coverage. By dialing a toll-free claim number, customers with full collision coverage can now have a covered damaged vehicle towed, arrange for delivery of a rental car and speak to a claims representative, all at one time.

The Tow and Go program will be introduced and tested first in Massachusetts. In the coming months the company plans to make it available in New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

ID Service for Homeowners
Commerce Insurance Company in Webster, Mass. has joined with Identity Theft 911 to offer eligible homeowner policyholders identity resolution services to assist them should they fall victim to identity theft. The services will be at no additional cost. Arizona-based Identity Theft 911 offers victims of identity theft a personal advocate to help them with identity and credit restoration. Some highlights of the service include: placing credit file fraud alerts with all three major credit bureaus; completing the Federal Trade Commission Fraud Victim Affidavit; access to proactive educational materials at www.commerceinsuranceidentitytheft.com; a full year of credit monitoring and fraud monitoring; resolution of account takeover and true identity theft cases, as well as assistance with policyholder inquiries. All services apply to immediate family members. Commerce provides personal and commercial property and casualty insurance in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

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Insurance Journal West August 7, 2006
August 7, 2006
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