Claims and the Customer Experience After the Camp Fire

Things you learn when you help someone in a disaster


“Hi, Karlyn. It’s your sister. We’ve been evacuated. There’s a big fire up in Paradise that might head down our way. Just wanted to let you know we’re heading to our daughter’s house. We only had fifteen minutes to grab stuff but it probably is just a precautionary alarm. Call when you get a chance.”

That was the voicemail I got Thursday afternoon after I had spent a day chatting with an insurer about customer experience and the claims process.

The next voicemail said: “We’re on the road again. My daughters’ place is now being evacuated. We’re going to mom’s.”

And when I got off the plane, the last one said: “Mom’s evacuated now too. We’re all coming to your house.”

Sadly, she and her husband lost their home and business in the northern California wildfires. Fortunately, everyone is alive, I have enough room for everyone, and I know a little bit about insurance. It turns out that being a bit bossy is also a great attribute when you’re helping someone in a disaster.

Now, usually, I cover the claims process by looking at the technologies that insurers deploy when handling a claim. But all of a sudden, I now get to experience a totally different lens on the process. I helped them file their claim on the home and on the business. Both carriers are big name brand carriers who I know well. I know what systems they use, I know their strategy and their commitments to customer experience, and I know where their executives believe they are. But so far we’ve had mixed experiences. And so I have some advice…

The First Notice of Loss (FNOL)

Advice to insurers: The FNOL process is not about how quickly you can get the information, it’s about how safe you can make the claimant feel. Yes, the technology is important, but this is not the place to put data entry staff. Five stars to both carriers!

Acknowledgement of Claim:

Advice to insurers: Provide a more explanatory acknowledgment. Explain what will happen and when it will happen. Think about the sequence of the automated tasks and the order with which a claimant gets information. Don’t send out the online access instructions until after the adjuster has made contact and can explain the process. It’s too confusing when it just comes randomly. Or provide a document that explains the process and where this step fits in the process. An acknowledgment of claim should include some level of information around what the process will be going forward. By setting expectations early, you reduce the claimants’ angst.

Adjuster Assignment and First Contact

Advice to insurers: Keep reaching out until you talk to them. Or email. Or text. Any contact at all is better than none. My sister feels abandoned.

Immediate Support

Advice to insurers: Be careful in how you word your explanations. Small nuances in language come across very differently to people who are traumatized and desperate for help. Use some kind of fraud analytics tool up front to determine how trusted your claimant is. Trusted claimants may be eligible to go down a different path.

Explanation of Benefits

Advice to Insurers: Let the claimant know all the different sources of coverage that may be available to them. Send them a full copy of their policy with all the underlying policy language.

What Comes Next

Advice to insurers: You know what has to be done. Help your clients with a checklist both of insurance activities, and of non-insurance activities. Give them a timeline of what to expect. Recovery is more than a check. And claimants generally have not had their home or business destroyed in the past. They don’t have basic information about what to do. Even as simple a checklist as ‘reroute your phone lines and get a PO Box” is good advice.

Going through a major event like a firestorm is traumatic. Technology is a terrific tool that allows carriers to deliver a great customer experience. But there are aspects of the customer experience that as of today, even these two big brand-name carriers don’t have right. Some of it can be automated and some of it is about the human touch. As an insurance industry, we can do better. And we should.

Karlyn Carnahan leads Property & Casualty research across the Americas. She focuses on issues related to digital transformation. She’s particularly interested in shifting distribution channels, new ways of enabling and managing channels, underwriting transformation and new products, improving claims and transforming the customer experience. She is a widely recognized expert on these topics and has written market-leading reports, presented at numerous conferences, and has been extensively published in a broad range of industry media and general business media.