“The economy stinks!”
This is just the latest reason why claims training gets postponed or canceled. Isn’t this the same type of short-term thinking that got Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and an assortment of mortgage brokers to go belly-up?
Savvy claims professionals know that tomorrow will come and that writing skills remain a core competency, vital to the success of the claims department just as the claims department is vital to the success of an insurance company.
An insurance executive who indefinitely postpones upgrading his or her staff’s writing skills may be under the impression that either form letters will do the trick or that because all the staff has been in the business a while, their writing must be perfectly fine. Both assumptions are wrong. For claims professionals, knowing how to write effectively isn’t the icing on the cake; it’s part of the cake itself.
If you’re looking for the ROI to show up on a balance sheet, forget about it. The ROI of claims training is often not quantifiable, but it’s there. To give you a perspective on the ROI of claims training, let’s pretend that you decide to put 40 adjusters through a rigorous claims writing course; let’s say the cost is $10,000. Now, what do you get for your money? Let me describe what you get by looking at the return in terms of short-, medium-, and long term benefits. I’ll let you do the arithmetic to figure out what your own shop’s investment would yield.
The dozens of letters adjusters write begin to improve. There are fewer mistakes, fewer punctuation errors, fewer format problems, fewer redundancies and old-fashioned phrases. Form letters start to be revised, taking up the conversational, “Plain English” spirit of the training. Lengthy sentences get broken up and so do lengthy paragraphs.
Also, because the claims people have learned more about organizing their letters, there’s less wasted time in producing each one. The letters get to the point faster, have a gentler tone. Claims handling becomes smoother. Fewer policyholders get angry and start calling their attorneys.
Your people are prouder of their letters and are not secretly making fun of their stodginess or quaint language. Moral improves. Your claims people appreciate that you have taken the trouble, time and money to give them valuable training. This leads to greater company loyalty, less turnover. But wait: now let’s go into medium term gains of this investment
Writing training may pay for itself many times over if adjusters learn to spot weaknesses in claims letters and file notes.
One bad faith lawsuit led to a whole file being discoverable. In that file were examples of nasty, negative, accusatory language. If an adjuster has never had anyone teach him ways to avoid negativity, subjective comments, and anger in correspondence, then your whole department is at risk. One bad faith lawsuit in Kentucky featured an opposing attorney putting embarrassing prose on an overhead projector and ridiculing the poor prose as well as the tone. That resulted in the company paying out $950,000!
A municipal retirement fund found itself in trouble when, because of a vague and muddy retirement payout estimate, a retiree sued for what he expected to receive in benefits. The court agreed that the prose was hopelessly vague and awarded a very handsome retirement package to the plaintiff.
Another aspect of the relationship between an adjuster’s writing skills and worries over litigation is the trend toward e-mails and log notes being brought into court by an opposing attorney. Great form letters won’t help you if you shoot off a crash-and-burn e-mail intimating that the claimant is less than honorable.
Tone is a writing issue that goes far beyond the niceties of sentence structure; adjusters must take responsibility for their words … or wind up eating them in a court of law. Training can return its investment if your adjusters can learn how courts have handled situations involving inadvertent racism, sexism, ageism and the act of coming to a conclusion too early in the claims handling process.
For every “enclosed please find,” “under separate cover,” above-captioned file” and “pursuant to” there is a customer who is laughing, shaking his head and equating this user-unfriendly language with your company’s image and customer service.
Bad writing is embarrassing, and, although its effects may not show up on the ledger, it may repel customers. On the other hand, an adjuster with training in persuasive writing will not only avoid embarrassment but will “sell” settlements faster and better because of an awareness of how persuasion works. It’s hard to put a value on improved corporate image, but the loss of even one embarrassing writing situation can be devastating.
ROI includes retaining adjusters. Everyone knows that good adjusters are hard to find. Once you find one, you job is to keep that person on the job. Many surveys point to training as a proven method for motivating employees, keeping them enthusiastic, and keeping them “on the same page” in that they all know how something should be done.
Writing training helps smooth the learning curve and lifts morale. Don’t think that just because no one on your staff has expressed a need for writing skills training, the problem doesn’t exist. Just scoop up a handful of typical letters in your claims department, read them as if you were the recipient. You’ll see what I mean.
As new hires join your staff, the letters they start to write will be better because the form letters they use as a model will have improved – leading to a new generation of benefits derived from that one training investment in the past.
Within two years of the training, those 40 claims professionals will have written, conservatively, 500 letters each. Each letter, let’s say, is 50 percent better written than before the training. Suddenly, that $10,000 investment is dwarfed by the ongoing use of the skills that were put in place.
Just as the need to improve people’s driving skills will never subside, the need for insurance professionals to write clearly and concisely will never subside -despite form letters. If you are to be successful, there’s no substitute for confronting how you write and making sure that the premises you have for the way you write are logical, well-founded, and up-to-date. Planting the seeds of effective writing in your staff can and should yield a blossoming of productivity and profitability that will dwarf the original investment and pay a dividend with every new e-mail, letter, and report.
Blake is director of The Communication Workshop. www.writingworkshop.com.
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