Insurers must offer quality customer service—especially during a hard market.
- Lance Ewing
- January 2021
A man walks into a small bookstore and asks the clerk for something on exemplary customer service. The employee sighs, looks up wearily and grumbles: “Yeah. Customer service books are somewhere in the back stacks. I'm sure you'll find them.” Or so the story goes.
In the current hard property/casualty insurance market, risk professionals are dealing with increased premiums, limited capacity, higher deductibles and, in some cases, less customer service from their carriers. For risk managers experiencing their first hard market, the lack of customer service could be a tougher pill to swallow than the premium rate increases. For longtime risk professionals, there is an understanding of customer service expectations during upside and downside market cycles.
Carriers know it takes so much more effort to land a customer than to retain one. Here's a retention tip: Clients seek loyalty from insurers through exemplary service, even in tough market conditions. Respectively, if the carrier demonstrates loyalty and stays with the client, the client should not shop around its policies and premiums each time the market firms. Reasonable customer expectations can grow excellent customer service by carriers.
Honest and open communication drives customer expectations as well. Carriers must adapt their messaging to clients and brokerage partners and not create a shroud of silence that only lifts near renewal time. As Jessica Lyons, director of insurance for Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, said: “Communication with policyholders drives customer service. During this time of concern and worry, communication is paramount. The world has changed, and trust matters more now than ever. Carriers must become more client-centric, and center on relationships which can influence the difference between loyalty and potential lost business.”
When rates are going up, and limits and available cover are going down, insurers can provide not just communication but innovation as well. Whether by a new coverage, a new endorsement or a technology enhancement, a carrier demonstrates customer service by being groundbreaking in this hard market.
Technology innovation is a key part of the customer service experience that insurance purchasers really want. Jonathan Price, senior director of risk and insurance, Main Event, said: “For me, the carrier-client partnership is driven by service and technology. These are critical and lasting components of the relationship between a carrier and myself as the risk manager. If a carrier can show … innovative opportunities for improvement, and develop strategies specifically for my company, then the partnership will be strong, not just now but in the future.”
Insurers are embracing innovations such as a client virtual assistant or advocate to help the customer and the agent/broker with claims, policy questions and renewal submissions via websites, smart phones and social media sites.
Now is a good time for insurers to focus on courtesy. It sets the tone and reminds risk managers why they do business with their insurer. Saying thank you—whether that's by voice, email or Zoom—after a renewal (even a difficult one) is one of the smartest, and simplest, ways to maintain and build carrier-to-client customer service.
To paraphrase poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou: “Clients will soon forget what you charged them. But they will NEVER forget how you made them feel.” The hard market will end, and risk professionals will remember which carriers were customer-oriented and which were not. That memory does not fade with time.
Best’s Review columnist Lance Ewing is executive vice president of Global Risk Management at Cotton Holdings Inc. He also is a former president of the Risk and Insurance Management Society. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.