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Customers Listen When You Extend the Courtesy

By Carl Van and Teresa Headrick

Finish this sentence.  “My job as a claims professional would be so much easier, if the customer would just ________________.”

We like to start many of our workshops with that question, and invariably, the answer we get most often is “Listen!”

One of the Claims Maxims we have developed over the years is “People will listen to you to the exact degree you show them you understand their point of view.”

We were monitoring phone calls and heard this exact call.  As you read the interaction, consider if you were faced with this situation, how you would respond to the customer.  Here’s the actual interaction (with the names changed) that we heard:

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.”

How would you have dealt with Mr. Swope?  You know you don’t want to argue, and you need to demonstrate you understand his point of view, so he will be open to listening to you.  But, what is Mr. Swope really telling Meg?

When Mr. Swope responded, “Because I’m the victim here”, Meg missed the highly emotional word – victim – and started arguing about whose job it was.  Here is our suggestion:  pay special attention when customers use emotional words.  They are vivid, and if you are listening, are easy to pick out during the conversation.

When customers use emotional words with their reasons, it is probably a hint that this issue is important to them.  In this case, Mr. Swope used the word “victim”.  What do we normally associate the word victim with?  We associate victim with a crime.  Mr. Swope is actually using the word as if he was the victim of a crime.  And you know what?  He’s not too far off.  Mr. Swope wasn’t doing anything wrong when his car was slammed into.  Now, he has to miss a day of work running around getting estimates for the repairs.  No wonder Mr. Swope feels like a victim.  It’s perfectly reasonable.

So what can help?  We suggest learning how to make an empathic connection.

The Empathic Connection

Think of the empathic connection as the difference between what someone said and what they meant. Consider what Mr. Swope said – “I’m the victim here.”  What Mr. Swope wanted was empathy for being involved in a car accident.  What Meg should have done was focus on the emotional word and what it meant.  This is the ability to make an empathic connection.  That’s not always easy.

Here’s another example that we heard while monitoring phone calls.  The claims professional was talking to a customer and the customer said, “Oh man, my brand new Porsche is creamed.”  The adjuster said, “Don’t worry, we’ll compensate you for the repairs.”  It’s subtle, but the customer is asking for empathy that his brand new Porsche has been “creamed.”  The claims professional missed what was meant –vs. – what was said.

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”?  She meant, “I would like flowers, please.”  But notice…that’s not what she said.  The poor husband didn’t make the empathic connection between what the wife said and what she really meant.

Auto Example:Angelina: “Mr. Pitt, we’ve determined the value of your vehicle to be $8,000, and we would like to pay you that to conclude this claim.”
Mr. Pitt: “No way, I want $9,000.”
Angelina: “And why doesn’t $8,000 seem correct to you?”
Mr. Pitt: “Because my neighbor sold his car, and he got $9,000 for it, and his car wasn’t nearly as nice as mine.”
Angelina: What kind of car was it?
The reason this is the wrong approach is because now these two people are both talking about a car neither one of them knows anything about (and by the way the neighbor probably lied in the first place).
Angelina: Mr. Pitt, if your neighbor sold a car for more than $8,000, and your car was nicer than his, I can certainly understand why you would feel your car was worth more than $8,000.  That’s reasonable.  I know you want everything you are entitled to, and so do I.  In order to make sure you get what you are entitled to, I ran this report on the value of your car.  Could we go over it?”Notice how Angelina does not argue with Mr. Pitt’s point of view, but acknowledges it.  This will allow Mr. Pitt to start listening to what Angelina has to say.  Angelina can get back to discussing the facts.
Homeowner Example:Kanye: “Ms. Kardashian, we can pay you $1,500 as full replacement for your computer.”
Kanye: “Can I ask you why $1,500 doesn’t seem right?”
Ms. Kardashian: “Yes, because I was working on my MBA, and I’ve got three years of research on the computer.  I’ve got three years of homework assignments on that computer.  Three years of my life is down the drain!  $1,500 is a joke!”
Kanye: That stuff isn’t covered.
The reason this is wrong is because right now, Ms. Kardashian isn’t listening.  She just told the adjuster part of her life is down the drain, and his only comment was that it wasn’t covered.  He’s not showing much empathy for someone who is in the customer service business.
Kanye: Ms. Kardashian, it certainly sounds like a devastating situation to have such valuable information lost all at one time.  I’m sure it was tremendously valuable to you.  I understand how difficult this must be, and believe me, if there was a way I could pay this, I would really love to do that.  The policy does restrict what we can and can’t pay for.  In your case, the computer itself is covered but the data on it is not.

Let’s go back to the customer with the Porsche. The claims professional didn’t make the empathic connection either.  When the customer said, “My brand new Porsche is creamed,” the customer wasn’t saying, “I hope I will be compensated for the damages to my automobile.”  That’s not at all what the customer was saying.  What the customer was saying was, “My life is upside down right now. I am so upset, I’m beside myself.”

If Meg had considered what was meant vs. what was said and made the empathic connection, she could have said something like, “You know what, if your brand new Porsche is creamed, I am sorry.  I know this is going to be difficult for you.  I know you probably loved that car and if there was a way I could take that accident back, I’d love to do it.  I just can’t.  What I can do is to make sure you get everything you’re entitled to.”

As a claims professional, you should listen for emotional words and consider what the customer means.   A genuine, empathic connection with the customer is a skill that great claims people use to gain cooperation in what they are asking.

Great claims people take their empathic connection a step further; they connect getting the customer to change the way they feel, with what they want the customer to do.  If you can tie in the customer changing the way they feel, with what you want them to do, the more likely the customer will do it.

Here’s an example of what we mean:

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 the 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:  “You know, Mr. Swope, if you don’t want to get an estimate because you’re feeling like a victim, I can understand that. You weren’t doing anything wrong and our insured slammed into you. I appreciate how this makes you feel.  I’ll tell you what, if you can go get an estimate, some good things will happen.

First of all, you will get to choose the shop and you can pick someone you trust. Second, you’ll be there when they write the estimate to make sure they don’t miss anything and that’s good for you. And third, if you can get them to fax it to me, I’ll get a check out to you as soon as possible. When you’re back on the road and can put all of this behind you, maybe you won’t have to feel like a victim anymore.  Because that’s a lousy way to feel and I’d like to help.”

Did you see how Meg acknowledged Mr. Swope’s reason, made the empathic connection of what was meant with the emotional word, and tied it to getting what she wanted from him?

Maybe Mr. Swope will do what Meg asks, and maybe he won’t.  Either way, Meg’s job is hard enough without arguing with Mr. Swope about whether or not he’s a victim or whose job it is to prove his claim.

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 facts.
  • Pay attention when customers use emotional words.

This article can also be viewed in the August 2013 issue of Property Casualty 360. Click Here for Web versionView the digital version HERE.



The Eight Characteristics of The Awesome Employee by Carl Van!

The Eight Characteristics of The Awesome Employee

Hardcover $24.95

Or click here for the Kindle version


GRETNA, LA—Pelican Publishing Company is proud to announce the release of The Eight Characteristics of the Awesome Employee, written by Carl Van.

Van will have readers looking for the awesomeness they have within themselves to renovate and rejuvenate performance in any job by incorporating his eight simple characteristics: attitude, time management, interpersonal skills, continuing education, customer service/empathy, desire for excellence, teamwork, andinitiative. The difference between a good and an awesome employee isn’t the individual’s talent, intelligence, educational background, or job knowledge; it is attitude. His often humorous, real-world examples steer the reader along the path to becoming more productive, more satisfied, and more successful in any job.

Discover the route to utilizing attitude to renovate and rejuvenate your performance in any job. Your transformation to awesomeness can be achieved by incorporating Carl Van’s eight simple characteristics into your daily performance:

  • Attitude
  • time management
  • interpersonal skills
  • continuing education
  • customer service/empathy
  • desire for excellence
  • teamwork
  • initiative

By using Can’s straightforward road map to success, driven by easy-to-understand examples of performance issues, you can develop these eight keys to becoming the employee you were meant to be. Each section focuses on one general characteristics and provides on-the-job examples that will lead the way, including quotes from popular songs for the journey of your career.

Carl Van is a poplular keynote speaker and opening presenter at claims conferences in the United States and Canada. He is the author of more than seventy-five technical and soft skills training workshops. He has dedicated his life to studying how people think and interact and has developed classes and programs to improve the success of individuals as well as business groups.

“A few years ago I published a trade book entitled, The 8 Characteristics of the Adjuster. After some encouragement by a couple of publishers to rewrite the book for the general public, I finally did and expanded upon the original.

The new book, The Eight Characteristics of the Awesome Employee, is about as long as the original adjuster book, and is written directly for employees as opposed to those at the management level.”  -Carl Van

The Five Maxims for Negotiations #5 “Stay In The Conversation”

On this fifth and final installment of the five maxims, Carl explains how to control the conversation so you don’t get lost in defending your position.

The Five Maxims for Negotiations #4 “People Trust Those Who Try To Help”

On this fouth installment of the five maxims, Carl explains how people trust those who try to help them.  A simple twist in approach that yields more positive results.

The Five Maxims for Negotiations #3 “You Never Have To Prove Anyone Wrong”

On this third installment of the five maxims, Carl explains how you never have to prove anyone wrong, you only have to prove that you’re right.

7th Annual Claims Education Conference MAY 8-11, 2012


The Five Maxims for Negotiations #2 “Never Argue with Reasons”

On this second installment of the five maxims, Carl explains the best way to avoid arguing with reasons.

The Five Maxims for Negotiations- Maxim #1 “Point of View”

Carl Van give some great advice with his Maxims for Negotiations.  This first installment deals with understanding points of view.

Dealing with Angry People.

Carl suggests how to deal with those angry people we all encounter at some point. (from the Customer Service Video Tip Series)

What Qualitites Do You Need to Have Good Customer Satisfaction?

Recently a chart explaining the difference between customer advocacy factors and customer satisfaction factors from the Peppers and Rogers Group landed in my e-mail. Upon inspection of the chart, I found that there was some very valuable information worth sharing that every customer service professional needs to know.

The chart explains that in order to have great customer satisfaction there are some factors that have to be provided by the customer service professional. These factors are being competent, be exceptional at handling issues, knowledgeable, and be available for the customer whenever they need them.

To tie this back to the world of claims, first and foremost claims professionals have to be knowledgeable in their field before they are able to provide good service to anyone. Continuing education classes and keeping up with relevant insurance news are just some ways to stay educated and provide better information in turn. After that, claims professionals need to know how to be empathetic and patient with their customers in order to handle the issues in the best way possible. Listening is the key when it comes to understanding followed then by reacting to the situation. The other important factor to keep in mind is that while working in any customer service field, especially in claims, you need to be available for your clients at any time they need you. No, this does not mean that you always need to have your phone next to you to take calls but it does mean that you need to get back to every client in a reasonable amount of time. Show your customer that you do have time for them and that you are going to help them in the best and most efficient way possible.

The chart also shows what factors are most needed to gain customer advocacy. Click on the chart to enlarge and tell me what you think.

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