“Every boxer has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” It’s one of boxing legend Mike Tyson’s most famous quotations from his dominant heavyweight days in the ring. He’s referring to the scenario where boxers (or indeed any person in any skill or profession) practice daily and prepare for any possible scenario, but when a scenario actually comes to fruition, “then, like a rat, they stop in fear and freeze.”
Insurance professionals responding to catastrophic weather events do not have the luxury of being able to “stop in fear and freeze.” Over the past few years, insurers in Canada have suffered several sucker punches to the face. They’ve had heavy blows in the form of the Fort McMurray wildfires in 2016 and the Calgary floods in 2013, and frequent surprise uppercuts in the shape of regional flooding, wind storms, and hail in the western provinces.
When a catastrophic weather event occurs, the first 48 hours of a carrier’s response is paramount in determining the success of the overall event response. As Alister Campbell, president & CEO at PACICC, said at the recent CatIQ Connect event in Toronto: “The first 48 hours [after an event] is probably what will define how a customer experience will be remembered by that customer. Did you answer the phone? Did you respond? Did you show up when you promised you would? Did the people who responded know what they were doing? Were they authorized?”
Every insurance company or professional responding to a claim wants the answer to all of those questions to be “Yes.” It’s in the insurers’ best interests to provide the best possible customer experience at claim time. The faster an insurer responds to a claim, the more they’re going to mitigate the total claim cost.
Planning for all eventualities, like Tyson’s boxing scenario, is a key element to insurers’ ability to respond to catastrophic events successfully. When a localized event occurs, like the pair of tornadoes that hit the Ottawa-Gatineau area in September 2018, insurers (especially those in the home insurance business) receive a sudden influx of claims. Their call centres are flooded with queries, they have distraught customers waiting for answers, and they have to navigate local operational and staffing challenges caused by the weather event.
For a major Canadian home insurer like The Co-operators, which likely has some exposure to most - if not all - catastrophic weather events across the country, every claimant has to feel they’re the number one priority, explained Patti O'Leary, the insurer’s national property vendor management specialist. That customer promise becomes harder and harder to deliver once you reach the bigger catastrophic events like Fort McMurray and the Calgary floods.
One thing that insurers, brokers, claims adjusters, restoration professionals, contractors, and any other stakeholder must exercise is empathy, according to Sean Hobson, vice president of WINMAR (Canada) International Inc., a specialist property restoration firm that works with insurers like Co-operators before, during and after catastrophic weather events.
“Fantastic communication is the thing that keeps everybody going,” he said. “[The number one priority] is making sure that clients come first. We all have a different emotional reaction to events in life. When it comes to a windstorm being forecast and then a tornado passes through, we have to be prepared for the emotional stance that we’re going to come across when we walk into each individual’s home. It’s extremely important on the preparation side for our people to be prepared for that mentally, physically and emotionally.
“The client is always at the fore. It’s about making sure they’re taken care of and letting them know, even if it’s just through one phone call to say: ‘We’re calling on behalf of XYZ Insurance Company to let you know that we’re coming to help you, we have acknowledged your loss, and we are and will be there for you.’ It’s key and critical that clients have that information and that you’re constantly communicating with them.
“We had a loss [after a windstorm in Ontario] where a tree fell into a young girl’s bedroom, less than a foot from her bed, and the parents were distraught. Every time we talked to them over three days, they were [thinking of the worst case scenario]: ‘What if this had happened in the middle of the night when our daughter was lying in bed?’ Those are the kinds of situations where we have to console and make sure that, no matter what, everyone is OK.”
It’s not just clients who go through emotional stress during the aftermath of a catastrophic weather event. It’s also the responders – the insurers, claims adjusters, restorers, contractors, and other emergency services – who are tested to the max of their endurance.
O’Leary commented: “We have to be concerned about our project managers and adjusters as well. You worry about fatigue with them. You look at our front lines, our project managers and our emergency crews that are out there - they’re really not sure what they’re heading into sometimes. That’s something that I think as an insurer and as an owner of a company, you’ve got to also take into account, that those people are leaving their families at 2am, they’re working 14-15 hour days – and so you want to make sure they’re physically and emotionally okay as well.”