Blog Post

How to Be Proactive When Adverse Weather Impacts Your Customers

Blog Post

Will Roberts Profile

Will Roberts

Senior PMM
Ushur
in

It’s important for carriers to be able to reach all of their customers - both personal and commercial - to alert them when their insured property and possessions are in the predicted path of a hurricane, tornado, or hailstorm. Insurance carriers already think about how to get organizationally prepared for catastrophic (CAT) events. What they rarely, by comparison, warn customers of are the regional severe weather events that happen much more frequently and still impact their customers. With a risk frequency that has increased 5 times in the past decade, this is an underserved opportunity for both service and risk mitigation.

Challenges with Severe Weather Alerts

Alerting customers of impending weather events is a difficult proposition for insurance carriers  for a number of reasons, so carriers may be reticent to try and be overly proactive when it comes to less catastrophic events. Following up after the weather event, and potentially more than once, can compound the expected degree of difficulty. The challenges carriers face include cost, forming a communication plan, and guiding a unique claim journey.

Warning is only the first step in serving and supporting customers. Even if a customer followed all instructions that their carrier provided for safety and property protection, damage may still have occurred. Immediately reporting any loss is essential to begin addressing a customer’s immediate needs and support them in protecting their property from further damage. Without guidance from a carrier, customers may not realize their policy covers immediate expenses and could miss the benefit from a clean up vendor or access to emergency services already designed to provide value to them.

Proactivity can be expensive

Carriers certainly have methods to communicate with their customers but they are most commonly designed for planned outreach; be it monthly payment reminders or annual renewal confirmations. It can be expensive, if not impossible, to use those digital channels if they’re not prepared and configured to send at scale, with limited lead time to craft a tailored message and contact an event-specific audience. Telephonic outreach via a service center is a one-to-one approach that cannot scale to reach thousands of people simultaneously and speed matters. Plus carriers need to bolster their inbound call capacity with as many people as possible to field calls after a storm. After the severe weather has passed, the volume of first notice of loss calls coupled with triaging and dispatching key customer support and loss handling resources will consume all available claims resources.

For the same reason that existing digital and telephonic channels cannot respond, scale or run fast enough for severe weather event warnings, carriers may be unable to proactively check in with their customers to find out if they were impacted. Nor will they be able to usher them into the claim reporting process, and ensure they are receiving the support they need as quickly as possible. 

Communications require a strategy

Carriers need a communication plan when it comes to alerting customers of an impending severe weather event, and the context of the type of event is an essential component. Severe weather can take any number of forms and duration, and carriers would give their customers different advice for a winter flurry than they would for an approaching wildfire. One size does not fit all when it comes to safety and loss prevention guidance. 

Carriers need a clear matrix of team members and responsibilities in order to be efficient and effective when it comes time to warn customers of the next and fast approaching weather event. This includes identifying the specific customers at risk, and the most relevant and helpful information they will need to prepare. After the weather has passed, those same at-risk customers need to be reached again, so carriers can confirm whether they have been impacted. If they have, they need to be guided toward reporting a claim, and offered local emergency support information. 

More is not better - Generic warnings can get lost in the noise

While it may be operationally expensive to send out severe weather alerts, it’s also detrimental to send too many warnings, and ineffective to customer’s experiences if they are generic and not applicable to their location. Customers who are numb to alerts are prone to ignore, if not opt-out from their carrier’s alerts, and will miss the one that winds up damaging their property. With more than 20,000 severe weather events across the United States in 2022, over-distributed alerts would be experienced as spam to all but those in the actual path of the storm. 

The corollary desire to not want to overwhelm customers with warnings is the additional concern that carriers could warn the wrong people. Weather patterns shift, and they’re difficult to predict with 100% certainty. If an insurance carrier sends notifications too far in advance, they risk missing customers under threat, and including those who will be spared. And the extent of the severe weather event could be under or overstated, eroding the alert’s credibility. Both or either gaps could again result in customer’s ignoring a future SMS message when it does apply to their property location. 

Challenges Aside: The defense to being proactive

The purpose of insurance is to reduce financial uncertainty and make accidental loss manageable. Policyholder expectations of service from their carrier are already established by proactive and easy self-service experiences they enjoy in their personal lives, from online retail to social media. It is difficult to justify that while consumers are forewarned when their clothing order delivery will be delayed due to inclement weather, they may never receive practical advice from their carrier on how to prepare their home for the same severe weather event

That same online retailer may reach back to confirm customer satisfaction, while that consumer may not receive an empathetic message from their carrier to confirm that they incurred no damage from the storm. 

Additionally, offering proactive communication and reaching out in times of uncertainty can offer a needed sense of security and build brand loyalty in ways that reactivity via a contact center with long wait times may not. 90% of customers confirm severe weather alerts from their carrier are valuable. It’s also cost-wise to advise customers to protect their goods and belongings in order to avoid damage that would have resulted in a claim; it can even reduce the severity of a loss. For example, by advising customers to keep their cars under cover during a hail storm, they can prevent ruined windshields and dented hoods, if not total losses.

Many insurance carriers have networks of emergency repair services, like board-up companies, that they engage for rapid post-loss customer assistance. With the expertise and services at hand, they and their business partners each would benefit from giving customers gentle guidance towards a network of preferred vendors before the severe weather arrives. Being proactive continues to bring value to the customer after the weather event has moved on. 

What Warnings Could Look like

In 2022 there were 18 catastrophic weather events in the U.S , which insurance carriers are already organized to deal with. Those disasters alone took almost 500 lives and cost $165B.  Between 1980 and 2022, the U.S. has sustained 341 weather and climate disaters with a total cost in excess of $2.48T. While the total cost of the additional 20,000+ severe weather events is not known, they still posed a threat to people and property. The full scope of the damage of these less catastrophic events may be less, however customers who are in their path will still value the opportunity to prepare and protect themselves and their property.

Carriers today can use automation to proactively engage with their customers before, during and after both catastrophe and severe weather events. This enables carriers to bridge the gap in loss prevention and claims service, to support both the largest disasters and the thousands of less catastrophic but still impactful storms. Establishing templates with a defined communication plan means a carrier can control their outreach and send at the opportune time. Proactive engagement has become a commodity expectation for customer service. Carriers can differentiate their customer experience by increasing the scope of severe weather events where they help their customers prepare, and then initiating two-way conversations to support the post-event claim reporting journey. 

Open doors, kept open

By proactively checking in with customers after a severe weather event, carriers can learn about the nature and extent of damage a customer has incurred. Substantial damage or even customer preference for a less severe loss can be ushered to a person-to-person conversation, that can include dispatching emergency repair services and authorizing temporary living expenses. By comparison, carriers can introduce customers signaling less significant damage, perhaps a downed tree on a fence, to a digital first notice of loss experience. Carriers can offer customers the option to upload photos of the damage, receipts for any immediate out-of-pocket expenses, or repair estimates. This helps the carrier better understand the scope and size of the loss for claim reserving, begin the expense reimbursement process, and even adjust smaller claims without needing to complete an onsite damage appraisal. 

The Expense of Waiting

Long-running auto and property claims include many discrete interactions between the carrier and customer — what we refer to as Micro-Engagements™— and each represents an opportunity for a customer to unintentionally feel forgotten and churn as a consequence. While a customer is juggling contractor visits and overseeing clean-up after a severe weather event, and potentially temporarily living in a hotel, they are also still living their day-to-day lives.

From working at jobs to coordinating school transportation, and attending extracurricular activities, life doesn’t come to a complete stop after a severe weather event. When a carrier provides customers the ability to opt-in for proactive claim status and payment updates, or send a text message to #claimstatus to ask a question, they are offering the same speed and ease that every customer has learned to expect as an everyday consumer. 

That same ease doesn’t only apply to customers checking status information. Customer Experience Automation™ also applies when the claims adjuster needs to reach the customer, perhaps to complete and e-sign a proof of loss, or even to schedule a convenient time for a phone call.

Conclusion

2023 has already seen immense levels of significant weather with 10+ atmospheric rivers causing flooding and erosion on the west coast, and Nor’easters wreaking havoc in New England. Every weather event is a chance for a carrier to reach out to their customers and help them avoid a claim altogether by giving them advice and best practices in times of a potential disaster. 

If you and your call center and claims operations teams want to add automated proactive and secure two-way communication to your insurance journey, or you’re worried about being overwhelmed by new claim volumes for severe weather events, the Ushur Customer Experience Automation™ platform is specifically designed to help you move quickly. Conversational AI in the Ushur platform keeps customers engaged, and Ushur Invisible App™️ makes gathering information and managing documents simple and secure.
If you’re interested in augmenting your severe weather customer communication plan with automation, check out Ushur’s pre-built automation workflows included with our Severe Weather Alerts and Management solution pack and learn how it can provide value within weeks, or contact us at ushur.com/request-demo.

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