Prioritizing Customer Service in the Eye of the Storm

As Hurricane Florence descended on North Carolina, the state braced itself for the worst. But thanks to Hurricane Matthew two years prior, insurance agencies in the Tar Heel State knew the drill.

Clients can be forgiven for hitting the panic button before and after a major catastrophe, but it’s in these moments that insurance agents need to stay cool, calm and collected to best serve their communities.

Here are four tips from agents who fought the tide of Hurricane Florence:

1) Prepare staff. In a life-threatening emergency, nothing is more important to a business than making sure its people are safe. But after everyone makes it through the ordeal unscathed and is ready to return to work, they need to have access to the right resources, whatever the circumstances.

“We tried to stay open for as long as we could, but we closed with plenty of time and emphasized that our staff needed to take care of themselves and their families first,” says Steve Chalk, principal, Chalk and Gibbs, Inc. in Morehead City, North Carolina.

George Chadwick Insurance in Wilmington, North Carolina has procedures in place for 72 hours before a storm. In preparation for Florence, they sent employees home with a packet of information, including claims numbers and ways to contact each other. After adding every employee to GroupMe, a mobile group messaging app, and contacting the phone vendor and forwarding calls to cell phones, they waited remotely for the onslaught of calls.

2) Simplify claims reporting. When the calls started to arrive, “work was divided into two-hour shifts,” says George Chadwick III, owner, producer, George Chadwick Insurance. “We gave clients the insurance company’s phone number or said go to our website or Facebook. We found that to be helpful to our stress and the customers’. Most importantly, it got their claim reported quicker.”

A hurricane leaves widespread damage across communities, which means that the majority of your clients will probably need to make a claim. But what if your office gets damaged and the phone and power lines are out of action?

Providing direct claims reporting numbers is often the right first step. Post the numbers on social media, your agency website or a prerecorded voicemail greeting, just to name a few options.

“We provided every number for every company in the event that the office gets damaged and we can’t get to it, which did happen,” says Owen Thomas, agent, senior account executive, Dial Insurance in Lumberton, North Carolina. “If people wanted to streamline their claims, they could call it in immediately.”

Online and 24/7 claims reporting is also crucial during a crisis. “It expedited the reporting process to the insurance company, which means they can assign an adjuster and get it there faster,” Chadwick says. Streamlining claims reporting by posting claims numbers, giving them to clients when they called and directing clients to report their claims online or over the phone themselves was “the best thing we did,” he adds.

3) Communicate with clients. When a client has lost their home or business as a result of a storm, it is difficult to know what to say to them. But simply making contact can make a world of difference.

“Overall, it’s all about communication,” says Thomas, who sent a video to the Big “I” of his submerged community. “You’re there to make sure your clients are taken care of, and in a tough time like this, people are not happy. They want answers immediately.”

In fact, Thomas provides all his clients with his direct cell phone number. “They can contact me any time,” he says. “I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure they’re taken care of and they can get back into their homes as soon as possible.”

Communication before the hurricane is also important. “We want to do everything ourselves, but we realize that it’s just not possible,” Chalk says. “Through ads, Facebook, our website and things like that, we send out preparedness tips.”

And because most insurance policies can’t be bound a few days before a storm, one of the simplest preparedness tips to communicate to clients is to check their coverage regularly. “We’re hands-on—we really encourage our clients to review their policy beforehand,” says Rodney Kemp, claims manager, Chalk and Gibbs, Inc. “But believe it or not, people don’t always study their insurance policy.”

4) Apply the lessons learned. When Hurricane Michael made landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast just a matter of weeks after Florence, it brought with it sustained winds of 155 mph, making it the third most powerful storm in history to make landfall in the country.

After the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017, Florence and Michael represent another slew of catastrophic storms, which is why agents need to heed the lessons of these storms to serve their communities in 2018 and beyond.

“I never thought we’d be out of power for a week and half with our staff unable to work,” Chalk says. “We’re making some internal adjustments, particularly in terms of remote locations, to do whatever we can to get back up and running.”  

“I think we’ve learned multiple lessons,” Chalk adds. “But number one: Don’t take a hurricane for granted.”

Will Jones is IA assistant editor.