The challenges of the pandemic have presented insurers with a unique opportunity to reflect on the way they deal with customers and perhaps make changes for the future.
Richard Napoli, Markel UK’s claims and legal services director, joined a panel of experts at Insurance Post’s annual Claims and Fraud Summit to talk about lessons learned. Here’s what he had to say...
Has the pandemic highlighted that new skills are needed in the industry?
We’ve not found that. Ultimately, the claims during the pandemic were the same as those pre-pandemic. At the heart of a successful claims function is the right team with the right skillset. At Markel, we already had this. The challenge has been ensuring we have the right infrastructure behind the team, such as IT, supporting new ways of working, mental health guidance and so on.
Customers were understanding at the start of the pandemic, but are they now getting more frustrated?
I felt there was a lot of understanding from our customers at the beginning. As time has gone on, I think tolerance has reduced – most people today probably have less patience than they did the first time they heard the automated 'due to Covid-19 our service is impacted' message.
As an industry we now need to be moving forward. We’ve all adapted and changed how we are working to deal with the new situation and standards remain high. We don’t have all the answers, but we continue to work with our policyholders to find solutions.
How are you supporting vulnerable customers?
We deal with businesses, but behind every business are the people who run them and, at the time of a claim, they are likely to be in a vulnerable position. Our mantra has always been honesty, integrity and flexibility. This honest approach is particularly valuable, I believe, to more vulnerable customers as we are able to take into account their situation when finding a solution that works for them.
Now that much of the interaction with customers happens online, what have you learned about dealing with customers who are not so tech-savvy?
Technology should support communications with our customers, not dictate it. Due to the complexity of our SME customers’ claims, they can’t just call and settle the claim in the same way we can with simple property claims like a broken window. We gather the information with a combination of telephone calls and email and this personal touch helps the client to more easily understand the information we need from them. But where the claim needs more, we ensure that a loss adjuster is instructed to meet the customer face-to-face.
How did loss adjusters support you during the pandemic?
Our loss adjusters were incredibly helpful. Communication is key and they were all proactive in communicating with the customer – especially where a visit wasn’t possible or wanted. Loss adjusters were also able to feed back to us on the needs and concerns of specific customer groups (e.g. nurseries), which helped us to tailor our response.
Has it been easy to guide customers through the claims journey?
The pandemic caused a huge surge in customers contacting us. We received 190,000 advice line calls between March and October 2020. Many of these were customers needing guidance, but all had to have the time and dedication they deserved. Communication was a challenge but it was important that we put in place the internal resources that could meet the demand. In overcoming these challenges, we have found new ways of working that we’ll be taking forward post-pandemic.
Have you found there’s a correlation between happy staff and happy customers?
Absolutely. Staff wellbeing and motivation continues to be a big focus. The circumstances over the past year have been as hard for our staff as our policyholders. Motivated and supported staff are key to ensuring our policyholders get the support they need.
What did you learn about helping customers to understand their cover in light of the High Court case on business interruption insurance?
Our opening position is that we should always look for ways to pay a claim, so we were more in line with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) position on that matter than the insurers looking to avoid providing cover. The decisions in the FCA test case were useful for Markel as it reaffirmed the positions we had been taking but also provided clarity around issues that were less clear-cut. Loss adjusters have been key in helping clients understand how their cover would respond to a claim, but with so much uncertainty at the time, this was a challenge for them.