The New Breed of Adjuster and How to Deal With It

Since 2008, when I moved to Colorado, I have witnessed firsthand the sweeping phenomenon that is afflicting our country. My wife says that the usual courtesy she received as a child in the Midwest has disappeared and is no longer available in the West. On numerous occasions, I explained to my wife that this isn’t a Denver or West thing. It is an epidemic that has ravaged our country. With almost 20 years experience in the insurance industry, it is clear that Customer Service receives a lot of lip service. But does Customer Service still exist? Let me share a conversation that I heard last week between a commercial insurance policyholder and an adjuster at my office. The conversation went like this (the names were changed but the reality is true):

  • “Good morning, claims center, John, may i help you?”
  • “Yes, John, it’s Bill Johnson from Acme Company. I can’t believe that I finally got in touch with you. I left numerous messages but no response.
  • “(sighing, audibly defensive DEFCON 3) I was away last week and I’m trying get back to it…what is your claim #?”
  • “Look, I’m busy and don’t have the time to do this stuff… I don’t even have my claim number. Don’t you people?
  • “(DEFCON 1) Please do not raise your voice…I need to get you …” a claim number.

Do you sound familiar? Is this why there is a disconnect? This is, in my opinion, a survival strategy during a financial crisis. It’s a shift from the traditional model that consists of highly educated and experienced field-based resources to a centralized, low-skilled education economy model that has ‘lowered’ the standard for those who fill these roles. Every adjuster worth their salt will have had to deal with the emotional reactions of claimants or insureds. The successful professional knows how to effectively ‘talk them off a ledge’ and resolve the claim with win/win outcomes. The ‘new breed’ adjuster is often less experienced than three years, specialized in one area of business, and lacks authority. The adjuster also gets caught up in the drama of the claims, and tensions escalate with customers. As a result, they hit the DEFENSE button, and we have the same conversation as above. Management must take the time to develop action plans that encourage ownership from cradle-to-grave and creative approaches to mutually agreeable settlements. Communication is key. This means firmly instilling the idea that the brain and tongue are the tools of the adjuster’s craft and the need to work together for success. These are the steps I recommend for implementing a process within your shop.

1) Begin by sitting down with each employee to do an individual S.W.O.T. analysis.

2) Create an action plan with your employee that pits a strength, opportunity, or threat against a weakness, or threat. The goal is to show that strengths are more important than weaknesses. You have a larger problem if they don’t.

3. Empower employees to use this strength with every customer interaction.

4) Monitor conversations for feedback.

5) Continue with weekly debriefing meetings. Provide feedback and revise the plan as needed.

The employee will eventually see the areas where they make a difference and the ones where they fall short. This is a great tool to help managers with performance management and review time. It’s also a great goal for employee and manager. Before you can elevate a mediocre performer into a customer service star, there are many factors to consider. They want to make an impact in the world and feel valued. Show them what strengths or potential they have and challenge them to apply this resource in every interaction. This could be the key to gaining the trust needed to engage with insured customers and ensure customer satisfaction.