We have all been there. Endlessly waiting in a call centre queue for someone to finally speak to us on the phone and sell us a home insurance policy. 'Your call is important to us', the delighted recorded message chirps. You are then subjected to a seemingly never ending list of irrelevant choices that frustrates us, when all we want is a knowledgeable insurance professional....
Buying building insurance that is 'non-standard' can be a particularly tricky exercise. Many of the 'standard questions' many insurers use, never seem to quite fit a homeowners individual circumstances. Many policyholders cry out for good old fashioned 'customer service'. In the old days, you call walk into your friendly insurance brokers on the high street or give him a quick ring. He would answer your call in seconds, and listen and advise you on the right course of action.
There was once a time when every high street had two or three insurance brokers, either independently owned, or chain brokerages that could be found across the country. These days, it is not unusual for an average high street not to have any insurance brokers. They are a dying breed - slowly killed off by insurance 'over the phone', or online home insurance comparison websites. It is left to the average customer to telephone insurance companies directly for the best deal. Another consequence of the fall of the high street broker, is an ever increasing number of larger direct style broker businesses, that operate in a similar style to direct insurance companies.
The customer service that the high street broker would have provided would have been a face to face transaction. Insurance proposals would have usually been completed by hand by the broker whilst the customer sat opposite. A broker is there to answer questions and finally checking that everything on the proposal form was accurate. The proposal forms would have been sent off to the insurance companies, or even collected by insurance inspectors from the local and regional insurance company offices, along with the deposit cheque for the first months insurance payment. This way the customer service part of a new insurance policy would have taken place at the brokers office, and the customer would have been recommended an insurance company based on the brokers knowledge of the insurance company and the policy cover, the price the insurance company was charging or the amount of commission that the broker earned from using a particular insurance company to cover the customer.
With the ever increasing regulation surrounding insurance sales, insurance brokers have to follow the letter of the FSA in how they make recommendations to customers about which policies to buy. However, with ever increasing regulation and an increase in the number of direct insurance brokers and direct insurance company operations, customer service element of purchasing an insurance policy for home insurance for example now all take place over the telephone or online. When making a call to an insurance company, the oh so well heard phrase “calls are recorded for quality, accuracy and training purposes”. However, it is not necessarily for customer service purposes that this is announced with every call. The reasons for this phrase being heard at the start of every call from insurance companies is for fraud detection purposes and checking of statements if required at later dates.
In case of customer complaints, this call recording is to protect the insurance company so they can make sure that they have actioned everything that a customer has requested. However, that is to make out that insurance companies do not take customer service seriously. Since the FSA have made so many demands on financial services companies, including general insurance companies, the quality of staff is monitored and calls are frequently monitored for staff performance purposes. However, much of this monitoring relates to the technical aspects of insurance and tick boxes so that the rules of the FSA are adhered to. Customer service, the way the customer is spoken to, and the 'soft skills' are often lacking in this monitoring and when it comes to customer service, surely this is as important as merely ticking the regulatory boxes.
One of these customer service requirements would surely be 'how quickly calls are answered', and hearing “please hold your call is important to you” is one of the most aggravating statements to hear from any insurance operation. Funnily enough, sales departments of insurance companies tend to answer their calls a lot quicker than claims or customer service departments. Sales departments is where the insurance companies make their money. However, claims are the where the customer really sees what they have purchased, i.e. does their insurance meet their needs in their time of need? And when a customer has a claim, and is perhaps in distress after a flood, being kept on hold, and being told that their call is important, but not important enough for the telephone to be answered quickly is even more stressful.
High street brokers may not always be able to offer the price competitiveness of direct insurance companies. Yet, being able to walk in and talk through a claim with an old fashioned insurance broker can never be replicated with massive impersonal call centres.