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Ageas’ Claims Director on its customer-centric culture creation

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Rob Smale explains how Ageas views its customers, their claims and their interactions, detailing the "Ageas Way" and the improvements to the insurance process for consumers.

For some people, making a claim can be a trying time and the well-known adage that you never know the value of your insurer until you have to make a claim has never been truer.

At Ageas, the customer journey is incredibly important.

The starting point for any change to process or system is how that change will impact the customer’s interaction with the business. It may be that the business wants to reduce the number of telephone calls a customer has to make to resolve their claim, or it may be about the sort of information the business provides to customers during the course of that claim.

For Ageas, it is all about the customer.

Whenever a customer contacts us, they are creating what we refer to as “a demand”.

To help us identify the sort of demand they are creating, we identify them as either a value demand (when a customer calls to make a claim, or provides us with additional information to help the processing of the claim) or a failure demand (when a customer may not understand a decision we have made, something hasn’t happened as we said it would or is unhappy with something they have encountered during the course of their claim).

This simple process means we can effectively analyse the causes of the failures – identifying where the process could be more streamlined. From there we look at how we can design that failure demand out of the process.

Take, as an example, calling to resolve a household claim.

Only 10 years ago it took, on average, 16 calls to resolve a household insurance claim, but after looking at what was happening, we were able to streamline the process by identifying the sticking points and removing them by either providing more information during the initial calls, or taking a more proactive stance to handling the claim in its entirety.

The result has been that, on average, for most claims, it now only takes five or less telephone calls or contacts.

If customers contact us to tell us that we have got something wrong we carefully look at the individual problem.

Sometimes, these are more difficult to design out for the simple reason that you just don’t know when they are going to happen. If it turns out the failure was easily rectifiable then you can redesign the process.

If the problem was unpredictable, then you learn from the mistake to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The customer is, at the end of the day, relying on us to ensure they are put to as little inconvenience as possible so it is only right that their experience is the start of any transactional analysis we undertake.

Having processes and systems that are centred around making the customer’s experience seamless is all very well and good, but if your own people and teams aren’t engaged in those processes, delivery is much more difficult.

For Ageas, this has been a simple culture to nourish.

We have a philosophy known as the “Ageas Way” that explicitly talks about how we want to treat customers and how the leadership team are expected to nurture the Ageas claims teams.

We take a “people are best” belief and every one of our people takes their role incredibly seriously, cares for the customer and take pride in giving the customer an excellent service.

But more than that, the people dealing with the calls are empowered to pick up and correct any issues, and this nurtures a culture of learning and taking ownership.

For me, I was keen to implement a focus on getting the people who use the system and the process to design it themselves, based on the feedback they received from the customer. It was definitely a bottom-up approach rather than a top down process.

This gave me the impetus to develop the concept of ‘manufacturing’ claims to the bespoke needs of each customer and not assuming all motor claims or home claims are the same.

Celebrating and sharing the successes of the individual claims handlers is incredibly important as it shows how we have gone above and beyond what could be expected to ensure the right outcome for the customer.

We talk to our people about making brave decisions and being empowered to make those decisions.

We try and have a process of predicament management to help us understand the needs of the customer.

Take, for example, a house fire that requires us to rebuild the kitchen.

In a recent case, we might just consider re-housing the customer in a hotel or rental property. But during the course of our conversations with the customer, our agent discovered that the claimant has a relative who lives abroad and they hadn’t seen in awhile.

We bought the customer a ticket to see their relative rather than forcing them down the standard route.

In the event of a motor claim, their policy provides for the use of a courtesy car whilst their own is being repaired.

Our teams may discover that the customer simply doesn’t want to use it because they aren’t confident about driving a strange car.

Rather than simply arranging the provision of a car, our teams may ask them if they want one and if they don’t, they will come up with another way for them to get around– for example, covering the cost of taxis that may be used instead.

For such a busy claims operation, there are obvious economic benefits to taking these approaches and, as with any business, our own model is predicated on being as efficient as possible by keeping the customer at the centre of what we do.

At the end of the day, we want to ensure the customer has a great experience with Ageas when they come to make a claim.

Making the experience right for the individual and having people effectively managing a claim means that we strike the right balance for both the customer and the business.