Customer service – what does it mean?

PMI insurers have yet to crack customer service - if they did, advisers could spend more time growing the market says Colin Boxall, director, Advo Group

Sorry, your NHS cash claim is declined because you failed to pre-authorise your emergency admission.” “Sorry, you are declined as your new condition is linked to pregnancy, even though you last had a child 24 years ago.”

These are just two of many recent examples where we have had to intercede on employees’ behalf, and I am sure they will sound familiar to advisers. Add to that the need to constantly leave messages, query incorrect invoices, chase up membership packs, track down quotations, and it can seem like we spend our time constantly tackling the same problems.

How often do you say to yourself that if our company was run like this, we would be out of business?

Insurers often ask me how sales can be improved, and what new initiatives and changes to product design will work best. They are often disappointed when I tell them that they need to get the basics right before they can move forward.

Modern health insurers have been around since before the formation of the NHS. The fundamental principals have not changed. You get ill, you ask your insurer to pay the bill. Yet it is incredible that after all these years some health insurers still struggle to deliver acceptable day-to-day support.

Yet it is incredible that after all these years some health insurers still struggle to deliver acceptable day-to-day support.

As much effort should be spent on training people as investing in new systems. Often problems are caused by insurers’ staff not able to think for themselves, rigidly sticking to prescribed routines and following procedures without the ability to see situations in context. Technology and systems are vital, but good people are the key.

This could be an opportunity for an insurer to shine. Speedy resolutions often assist retaining the client long term. But sadly this is not always what happens.

Earlier this year a client demanded that we move its insurance after several high profile mistakes that were poorly handled and left to escalate. Client confidence was undermined despite the majority of other claims within the group going smoothly. Perception of general overall poor service became the client’s reality. The client lost patience; the insurer lost £200,000 of premium income.

For our business, an overall improvement in the support provided by insurer partners will lead to increased new business turnover and retention. With more time to look after clients we can concentrate on expanding our services, cross-selling and finding new clients.

One insurer has impressive front-line sales support, technology and account managers but is frustrated that it does not receive more business from us. From its perspective its product is good and cost competitive. It has to understand however that when recommending a new insurer we put our reputation on the line. If we know an insurer cannot deliver the ongoing service the client demands we cannot take the risk.

But it’s not all bad. Some insurers do stand out from the crowd. Standard Life, Groupama and Health-on-Line deserve a mention as reliable partners. Things can change; two years ago one of these would not have been on the list and was one of the worst. Consultations with brokers and a real commitment and desire to change can pay dividends.

It is very encouraging that I have had several meetings recently with a number of insurers who have expressed a desire to change and have invited us to present directly to senior management.

They will, I am sure, continue to be disappointed with what we have to say. The solutions seem so simple they are often overlooked. Account managers who take ownership of problems, have responsibility for delivering and have a general understanding of business are often all that is needed.

As our general manager commented to me recently, the key is getting good relationships and trust – then things work so much better.

These are difficult times which means the pressure to deliver a high level of support has never been so strong.

The extra burdens our firms face through re-managing and re-administering policies detracts directly from our bottom line. It stifles creativity and innovation and has a negative impact on new business.

We are all dependent on each other – client, adviser and insurer. So come on, let’s work together. If we all do our jobs properly then it can only be to our mutual benefit.