Communication issues for adjusters are major during the initial stages of a catastrophe when insureds need us the most. There are some interesting articles and both good and poor advice on dealing with both issues.
Here’s a great article on phoning home during an emergency and the problems with cellphone coverage when there is widespread usage such as during the MN bridge collapse.We are all aware of the major problems adjusters faced during the first few weeks dealing with Katrina claims. This article mentions the number of people having to revert to phone booth usage which prompts us to remind you to purchase a long distance phone usage card prior to leaving home in the event you too will have to be using them. During the aftermath of hurricanes Ivan and Dennis, it was impossible to find them at Walmart and Sam’s so don’t leave home without one if your heading to a major catastrophe. Read the card information terms before purchasing it as many of the cards you find at the local gas stations charge unreasonable usage fees even if you do not connect with the call. My favorite are the cards from Sam’s Club and Walmart as the rates are most reasonable and you can refill them as necessary. Here’s a link to the Sam’s cards you can purchase on line.
Catastrophe adjusters are familiar with the many communication problems experienced while dealing with cellphone coverage outages and finding available temporary housing at hotels with rooms left with high speed internet services needed to upload large file documents to close out your files. During Katrina, we had adjusters sitting in their cars in parking lots where they could pick up “hot spots” or in internet cafes with large numbers of adjusters trying to log in to download CMS (claim management system) new file assignments, upload inspection documents, and to check their email for important instructions from their adjusting firms and carriers. It is quite challenging to meet deadlines for first contact calls and file closure quotas given the communication problems during the the initial stages of a storm.
Cellphone expenses for independent adjusters are major. You can reduce your long distance expenses through the use of internet phone services by using internet based phone services sponsored by such firms as Packet8 or Vonage. We couldn’t live without ours! They charge a monthly flat rate for long distance charges without regard to time of day in the US and Canada. Packet8 allows us to take our wireless box and Packet8 box with us and use it with any high speed cable box nationwide while out of town for meetings. Folks calling you don’t have to keep up with ever changing phone numbers and don’t even realize your not at your home/business location. It allows us to stay in communication constantly with customers. A great function of these services is receipt of your voice mail messages via email to maintain records of calls received and to listen to the messages right over your computer. These services generally run less than $40.00 per month for unlimited 24/7 phone coverage with some plans for residential service as low as $14.99 per month.
While viewing these sites, be sure to look at the virtual number options which also allow you to set up a virtual number in your hometown so your family members can reach you on storm by calling a local number saving on their cellphone minutes and long distance charges as well. They also allow you to set up a virtual number in the city where you are assigned on a catastrophe so your insureds are not incurring long distance charges to your out of state cellphone if your coming in from another area. The calls forward directly to your primary number so you aren’t giving out a phone number that won’t be in service once you depart from duty.
These programs are outstanding for adjusting firms such as the Packet8 Business plan allowing you to continue to add phones to your virtual office numbers as your staff increases during peak storm periods. They allow you to transfer calls between office members as if you were still working in the same office even though members may be spread apart nationwide at different storm locations. We just can’t say enough good things about considering these services to reduce your phone expenses.
This interesting article about “My First Storm” should help prepare new adjusters for what to expect as far as call volume during phase one of storm duty and is very realistic. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) reports in this study that delays are the top reason for Department of Insurance Complaints. As a former claims manager, I can assure you that delays and failure to return phone calls, failure to promptly call insureds within the first 48 hours of assignment receipt, and failure to call insureds and keep them up to date on their file status leads to poor performance evaluations, Department of Insurance complaints, and often involve your claim manager and executives in the home office. Complaints such as these should be avoided by disaster preparedness plans that include planning for these expected communication problems. If the article linked to above is news to you as a new adjuster about phone call volume, we highly recommend our 40 hour Fundamentals of Claims class at ClaimSmentor where we hold a mock disaster zoning and assignment session teaching you how to deal with a large influx of claims and managing them wisely to meet customer services deadlines, carrier goals, and to plan for carrier quotas for inspections and closings based on severity while at the same time dealing with the realities that hamper your efforts such as communication issues. This article by Mariposa LTD also provides excellent time management advice regarding appointments and calls.
Postings on many adjuster forum websites tell other adjusters to use disposable phones such as a Tracphone while out on cat then dispose of it when they depart the cat. First of all, the minutes for those disposable phones are too costly. More importantly,we strongly discourage such use. It’s important you check with your carrier to see if they allow this. I cannot imagine one carrier who would agree with this proposal just as they do not want you having mail sent to your hotel room. The insured needs contact information that is valid for the adjusting firm and/or carrier long after you have finished your assignment. Most carriers expect you to have calls come through their 1-800 service. This avoids communication complaints when adjusters depart the cat site and the insured is getting a disconnected number because you gave out a temporary number. Many of these 1-800 services will produce electronic phone messages that will be delivered to your email service or dropped in your basket each day along with other carrier or adjusting firm messages, files assignments and the like.
Carrier managers are alerted to complaint messages regarding adjusters not returning phone calls. That is considered unacceptable and you won’t find a claims manager able to support you for a volume of these types of complaints. Over the years, we’ve witnessed adjusters great at estimating but with poor customer service skills sent home.
You can also check with your adjusting firm as many firms are becoming much more proactive setting up adjuster voice mail services. In either case, be sure you are checking in regularly for your messages so important calls are handled promptly. All carriers expect that calls will be returned within 24 hours. You can just imagine a bad faith attorney deposing you on a claim to find out you’ve been using a temporary “throw away” phone number…..definitely not a good idea.
While the forums are fun and informative, there is often information dispensed that would not meet the most basic of carrier guidelines. It’s most important you get your instructions straight from your adjusting firm manager and the carrier, not from your field associates or forum buddies. Find out directly from your managers what phone number you should be giving out and not only the number but the mailing address you should be using on all communication such as estimate headers.
Carriers prefer you not give out your business cards from home which many adjusters do because they have their cellphone number on them. We’ve had adjusters give out contruction company and other private business cards from home as it was the only card they had with their cellphone number. The carriers have temporary business cards for your use (fill in the correct contact info on these temporary cards) to provide information if you just check upon arrival at your assignment. You should not be providing your personal business cards but carrier professional business cards only.
Safety is a very important reason for using your firms phone contact information. Adjusters should never be giving out their hotel number with their room as the extension to insureds or contractors. Stories abound of angry insureds showing up at adjusters hotel rooms late in the evening as they could easily locate them when the hotel phone service identifies the name of the hotel when the customer calls back for you unless your room has direct incoming phone service.
We’ll address additional NAIC complaint issues mentioned in the article above in the next few weeks to help you understand how to avoid such complaints. Managers understand you work in a complex field where complaints are going to happen as you have to handle claims on coverage issues, policy limits and other contract settlement terms and policy conditions.They will support you when dealing with calls they get from policyholders as long as you are properly doing your job. They cannot support you when they are valid consumer complaints caused by failure to return calls, delays in contacts and inspecteds, and delays in calling insureds on other customer service issues.
Be safe out there and reduce your phone expenses this storm season by disaster planning for options available to reach insureds when the cell phone may not be the best option.