Finish this sentence: “My job as a claims professional would be much easier if the customer would just ____.” Invariably, workshop attendees most often fill in that blank with “listen.” One of the claims maxims we have stressed over the years is, “People will listen to you to the exact degree you show
them you understand their point of view.” The interaction below, which we overheard
while monitoring phone calls, provides a lesson in listening. How would you have
handled the situation?
The insurance company representative
dials the phone number listed for the
claimant. The phone rings, and Mr. Swope
Mr. Swope: “Hello.”
Meg: “Hello—this is Meg from
Typical Insurance Company, and I’m
calling about your auto accident. I
know you had damage to your car. I
am sorry that we don’t have any independent adjusters available right
now. Can you get an estimate on the
repairs and send that to me?”
Mr. Swope: “No way; I’m not going to do that.”
Meg: “Why is that?”
Mr. Swope: “I’ll tell you why:
Because I’m the victim here. Why
should I run around doing your job?”
Meg: “Well, it’s not my job to
prove your claim; it’s your job. You
have to do this in order to get paid.”
What went wrong during the call? How
would you or your claims staff have dealt
with Mr. Swope? It’s clear that you don’t
want to argue. Yet, it is also necessary to
demonstrate that you fully understand
his point of view so that he will be open
to listening. However, what is Mr. Swope
really telling Meg?
Emotionally Charged Verbiage
When Mr. Swope responded, “Because
I’m the victim here,” Meg glossed over a
crucial and highly emotional word—
victim—and began arguing about where the
onus lay to resolve the claim. So here is
our suggestion: Pay special attention
when customers use emotional words.
Such words are vivid and, provided that
you are listening, are easy to pick out during the conversation.
When customers use emotional words
with their reasons, it is a hint the issue
is important to them. In this case, Mr.
Swope used the word “victim.” What connotations does “victim” normally conjure
up? Generally, we associate the word with
a crime having been committed. Had he
been the victim of a wrongful act, then
Mr. Swope would be using the word correctly. But you know what? He is not too
Think of the empathic
connection as the
difference between what
someone said and what
they actually meant.
far off. After all, Mr. Swope wasn’t doing
anything wrong when someone slammed
his or her car into his. Because of the fault
of another, he must now miss a day of
work. This day “off” will be far from relaxing; in fact, he’ll spend it running around
obtaining estimates for the repairs. No
wonder Mr. Swope feels like a victim. It’s
a perfectly reasonable perception.
The Empathic Connection
Think of the empathic connection as
the difference between what someone said
and what they actually meant. Consider
what Mr. Swope said, “I’m the victim here.”
What Mr. Swope wanted is empathy for
having been involved in an auto accident.
What Meg should have done is focus on the
emotional word and what it meant. This
represents the ability to make an empathic
connection. It’s certainly not always easy.
Here’s another scenario we encountered while monitoring phone calls. During a FNOL interaction, the claims professional was talking to a customer who
said, “Oh man, my brand new Porsche is
Points About Listening
■ People will listen to you to the exact
degree you show them you understand
their point of view.
■ Demonstrate you understand their point
of view by acknowledging it.
■ The best way to acknowledge someone’s
point of view is to repeat it back to them.
■ Don’t argue with reasons. Acknowledge
reasons and get back to discussing the
■ Pay attention when customers use emotional words.
creamed.” The adjuster responded with,
“Don’t worry; we’ll compensate you for
the repairs.” It’s a subtle oversight on the
part of the representative. The customer
is seeking an empathetic response, only
that reflects the disappointment associated with having a brand new—and rather
expensive—car severely damaged. The
claims professional in this case missed
what was meant versus what was said.
Now try this one: Let’s say a wife walks
up to her husband and says, “Wow, Shirley
sure is lucky her husband brings her flowers.” The husband responds, “She sure is.”
Obviously, what the wife said and what
she meant are two different things. What
did she mean when she said, “Shirley sure
is lucky her husband brings her flowers”?
Well, the wife meant, “I would like flowers, please.” But that’s not what she said.
The unsuspecting husband failed to make
the empathic connection between what
his wife said and what she really meant.
Let’s get back to the customer with the
Porsche. We’ve established that the claims
professional didn’t make the empathic
connection, either. When the customer
said, “My brand new Porsche is creamed,”