Claims executives complain that new hires "can't write," yet scheduling staff writing courses rarely happens. Gary Blake enumerates why this training should be a priority.
Mark Twain once said that everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it. I often feel that the same is true about claims writing skills. Many claims executives bemoan the fact that their new hires "can't write"—i.e., they make errors of style, punctuation, and grammar that college graduates shouldn't make. But when it comes to scheduling writing training, it seems as if writing seminars are always superseded by everything from system installations to annual picnics.
If each adjuster writes just 10 letters a week, that's 500 letters a year. If each letter has 5 to 10 errors or stylistic gaffes—and that estimation is not far-fetched—the adjuster is displaying thousands of errors in front the insured.
Do these errors lose customers or play a part in bad faith lawsuits? I believe they do. Do these errors undermine the professionalism of a claims department? Certainly.
Now, since some insurers have more than 100 claims professionals on staff, we are talking about displaying tens of thousands of problems in correspondence to insureds and claimants—and that's just in a single year.
Form letters help a bit but don't completely solve the problem. The only way to really solve the problem is to invest in the training that would help each adjuster conquer writing problems, gain confidence in writing, and not procrastinate when it comes to writing.
If an adjuster is on the job for 10 years, that adjuster, with proper training, has now eliminated making thousands of errors. Many of those errors lead to more lost time as the adjuster plays telephone tag with the insured.
When I hear the reasons why claims executives keep writing training off their priority list, I feel like reminding them of the silent snafus buried in each letter—errors that affect the bottom line as well as the morale of the department.
Here are 10 good reasons to sponsor a writing seminar within your claims department.
They may not have taken one recently. Skills get rusty. Bad habits become harder to dislodge.
They write constantly. Some claims professionals spend as much as 25 hours a week writing claims correspondence, reports, e-mails, and log notes.
Carelessness is costly. If you think writing seminars is expensive, try paying compensatory and punitive damages to a plaintiff because an angry adjuster turned a log note into a nasty-gram that was discoverable in a bad-faith lawsuit.
Poor writing wastes corporate time. Many insurers have all letters reviewed by executives. What a waste! Teach adjusters to write well and you free up a lot of executive time.
Poor phrasing angers insureds. Language that is abrupt, stodgy, vague, or overly technical or complicated alienates adjusters from insureds. This can result in bad feelings and even lawsuits.
Writing errors reflect on the entire company's competence. A spelling mistake, punctuation error, capitalization glitch, or sloppy format undermines all the marketing efforts to make your company look professional.
Sending adjusters to the local community college for help is like letting a podiatrist do root canal. With all due respect to college professors, they may understand writing but are not steeped in the nuances of the insurance industry. Claims writing is a unique talent and needs to be taught by someone comfortable with insurance as well as with writing.
Form letters are not the answer. Even the best collection of "form" letters won't solve your company's writing issues because poor writers are not skilled enough to use these letters as a starting point; the letters wind up sounding lifeless.
"We have other training priorities." Saying that you'll get to writing skills "right after the new system is installed" is often as heartfelt as a New Year's resolution. While there will always be some arcane-but-sexy training to distract claims people, claims correspondence—and its writing errors—are often sent day after day and year after year without being checked, revised, or modernized.
"Our claims people have been in the field for 20 years." While one may become more adept at handling claims over a career, many experienced adjusters simply perpetuate the poor writing skills they learned 20 years ago. Many veteran insurance professionals say "I wish I had this type of class much earlier in my career!"
Writing problems are subtle. They can take the form of stodgy or convoluted writing. They can display themselves in paragraphs and sentences that are too long for a reader's comfort. They can chip away at readability by the leaving out or overuse of commas, hyphens, and apostrophes. They can waste time, as do redundancies, hedgy language, and off-putting jargon. Mix all these with a dollop of lawyer-like old-fashioned phrases, policy language that is often obtuse, and a handful of format issues (such as "re" lines that often require a translator), and you have a serious thwarting of what an insurance company strives to achieve: believability, trust, and a professional touch.
Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.