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Not two weeks ago I got a call from a good friend of mine. While scoping a residential loss, he had a bizarre and frustrating interaction with the insured. In the course of what seemed like a normal conversation about procedure on her claim that had every appearance of being a covered loss, the claimant became agitated and informed him that she would be contacting her agent and the insurance carrier to complain about him! He called me to run the scenario by me to see if I might have better any better luck understanding what had happened. I don’t know if we completely solved the mystery, but we did touch on a claims communication principle that’s worth reflecting on – empathetic communication.

The question in my mind while my friend was explaining the situation was “what need did this lady have that his communication didn’t meet?” Why was she asking my friend these questions? Why were his answers increasingly upsetting her?

Brainstorming, we determined that she probably thought that the loss would not be covered; she was afraid. Of course, fears like this are not uncommon in the claims business, and as an adjuster – the party responsible for investigating a loss – it’s extremely important to know how to communicate effectively with people who are emotional. Sometimes the loss is covered, sometimes it isn’t, and sometimes it’s something in between. The news isn’t always good. Moreover, every carrier and claims company has different rules about what an independent adjuster can communicate to the insured about whether their loss is covered. All this adds up to the fact that there’s no universal set of words that act as a silver bullet; there’s no “say this and you’ll be fine”. Rather, this points to the universal need to connect with people. Connecting with people requires understanding where they’re coming from – and caring.

There’s an old saying; “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” How true this is in dealing with claimants! Communicating to a claimant that you understand their situation, fears, and doubts; this can make all the difference.

Here are some steps that I find helpful in this process.

a)    Stop what you’re doing and listen.  This means slowing down, putting down the tape measure, not multi-tasking, and looking at them.

b)   Body language – facial expressions, how you’re crossing your arms, etc. all matter.

c)    Let them talk.  Don’t interrupt; let them vent, hear them out even if you disagree.

d)   Ask genuine questions to help you to fully understand what they are saying and feeling.

e)    Listen for the need(s) behind the words.  Abrasive words and even profanity are often attempts to express fear and frustration.

f)     Don’t argue, retaliate, blame, judge, accuse or anything like that. This is important. Not only is this a time-suck (the scope appointment not the time and place to debate), but it does the opposite of diffuse their emotions.

g)     Reflect. When you believe you adequately understand what they are saying and feeling, communicate it to them – especially the feeling part. This can’t be faked, by the way – you have to put yourself in their shoes and reflect that you care how they feel.

h)   Repeat. If your first reflection was off the mark, ask questions, clarify and try again until you’ve shown them that you understand what they think and what they feel.

You’d be amazed at just how disarming this process is. Think about how you feel when someone takes the time to stop what they’re doing, understand what you’re going through and expresses that to you in a caring way! We can swallow a huge “bad news pill” from someone who really cares and understands. On the other hand, we’ll go to war over $5 if we feel like someone who doesn’t care unjustly took it from us.

So, my Adjuster friend and I reflected on how different the situation could have been if he had gone through the above process and caringly asked the claimant a question like “ma’am, are you afraid that this loss won’t be covered?” We both agreed that the claimant’s call to the carrier and all of the time, effort and energy that would be expended in the process of responding to the complaint might have been avoided.  She probably would have then felt understood and would have been able to move forward with the claims process even if she still had some uncertainty about coverage. She would have felt connection and trust with my friend.

Really, it comes down to the Golden Rule, doesn’t it? How would you like to be treated as the claimant?

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