Why are customer expectations of insurance higher than they were prior to COVID?

4th October 2021

This article was first published in Insurance Business UK

Today marks the start of Customer Service Week 2021 (the theme of which is ‘The Power of Service’) – a timely happenstance as customer service is increasingly on the minds of insurance businesses as the aftershocks of COVID-19 continue to reverberate across the sector. Having served as Director – Head of Desk, Property Claims at Davies for just over a year now, Laura Harvey has seen first hand how the weight of consumer expectations has changed since the early days of the pandemic.

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“It has been a rollercoaster for our clients and their policyholders during the COVID period, and it has been for our staff as well,” she said. “We’ve all gone from being in a fully in-office working environment to a fully remote-working environment which brings its own challenges. And certainly, at the beginning of COVID, we saw a softer approach from customers who were just thankful that their claims could progress.

“We were really fortunate that we were able to continue trading and that our infrastructure allowed us to continue doing business pretty much as usual. As the year has gone on, however, and people have been through more of this rollercoaster, we’ve seen a hardening of customer expectations and we’re back to people demanding to see action and movement on their claims very quickly.”

Davies’s commitment to paying applicable claims in a speedy, reliable and client-friendly manner has been undented by the pandemic, Harvey said, but the reality is that there are external market influences that are impacting the delicate claims ecosystem. Issues such as material shortages, labour shortages and COVID-related isolation periods are adding a longer lifecycle to the claims process and so customer experience scores are fluctuating quite a bit.

As it stands, she said, customer expectations are higher than they were prior to COVID and a lot of this is due to an adjusting worldview. Generally speaking, we now live in a society where speed is of the essence and people expect their needs to be addressed in a much more immediate fashion. The issue is that when it comes to claims, for instance those involving building repairs, that immediacy is simply not possible right now, which is causing some frustration and concern for policyholders.

“And we have seen an increase in customer frustration being brought out through various channels,” she said. “And while we don’t always get everything right, I think it’s really important to know that we will absolutely always try our hardest, always strive to put things right as quickly as we can when it’s within our control.

“That’s the hardest thing that our people have been dealing with lately – those outside influences that make some decisions or processes longer and harder. We completely recognise and emphasise with the frustrations of our policyholders. But there also needs to be a recognition that it’s difficult for our staff to take those more abusive calls or feedback when they genuinely are trying to do their utmost to make sure that claims go as smoothly as possible.”

There are always emotions tied to claims, she said, but lately, with the added financial strain of COVID and lockdowns, there is even more of an emotional beat to looking after clients. This has been addressed by Davies in a variety of ways, and Harvey’s emphasis since she took on the role has been on giving her team the right tools and support to care for customers as they mitigate the challenging conversations that need to be had now.

Read more: How did the insurance sector’s service levels perform under lockdown?

Key to developing these tools has been making sure that the team understand customer requirements and can set expectations accordingly, she said. And customer service is at the heart of understanding changing requirements which is why they have worked closely alongside their customer experience team within Davies’s technology department, to revamp what their customer experience programme looked like during COVID.

“COVID has been a unique time to get feedback from policyholders and we want to understand how their journey has been for them during that time,” she said. “So, we revamped the programme in June last year to ask them some more journey-related questions, and not just around NPS and recommendations but also, how friendly was your handler on the phone today? How much confidence do you have that you know what will happen next? What was your call wait time today?”

These kinds of questions generate genuine intelligence related to performance, Harvey said, and the practice has become a permanent fixture in the customer service journey now. Being able to track where that journey goes right is important, but even more essential is figuring out where it goes wrong. That learning piece is what makes all the difference, and so this revamped programme is focused on making changes to ensure that customers have the best possible experience.

But at its core, great customer service is really about empathy, she said, and remembering that there is another person on the end of the phone, or online chat, or any other channel. And that’s an ethos that needs to go both ways to work at its best vantage point. The Davies team always looks to provide that respect and communication to its policyholders, Harvey noted, and in doing so, has gained a genuine understanding of the financial and personal strains impacting people right now.

“[Our team] have all been through some form of journey in the last 18 months, whether that’s a public journey everybody knows about or something very private,” she said. “All have been impacted in some way, shape or form in the last 18 months and some people’s journeys will continue, as they’re still dealing with health concerns or dealing with loss.

“And a lot of our policyholders are in the same boat. So, I think for me, it’s essential to try and instil a little bit of kindness, a little bit of empathy and a little bit of patience in our interactions. And that’s what I’m trying to instil in my team in the hope that we can make that infectious. So, though we’re coming out of a very difficult time I do think there are some real positives now starting to show through.”

For more information on Property claims solutions, please contact Laura Harvey, Director – Head of Desk, Property Claims on laura.harvey@davies-group.com

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