When Disaster Strikes, How Do You Communicate with Your Customers?

Even before hurricanes Harvey and Irma made landfall in recent weeks, insurers knew there was a need for rapid communication with policyholders. In an emergency or a natural disaster, forms and other types of customer communication have to get out quickly and rapidly.

Any big insurance provider has a playbook for how to respond to emergencies like hurricanes. Process flows that might ordinarily complete in seven days have to be accelerated. In response to the recent hurricanes, insurers serving the Texas Gulf coast and Florida needed to implement a fast path for their affected policyholders. They also knew that the process of filing claims in many cases couldn’t be paper-based.

It’s exactly these kinds of natural disasters which have been accelerating the insurance industry’s move to digital, multi-channel communications. If you’re flooded out of your home, or you can’t stay there because there are no services, you can’t receive printed mail and you’re unlikely to fill out paper forms—especially if your house itself is under water.

The media advised residents affected by Irma to locate their policies—more easily done if you have advance warning of the impending disaster. Other advice included taking room-by-room photos on a free smartphone app developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, MyHome Scr.APP.book.

The Growing Role of Web and Mobile Communications

Events like Harvey and Irma only underscore the growing importance of digital channels of communication—and the shortcomings of reliance on printed materials and the U.S. Postal Service. It’s imperative that insurers optimize their communications and the distribution of claims forms for delivery on mobile platforms that allow for two-way communication with policyholders.

And it’s the job of the insurer to make access easy for policyholders in the wake of a disaster, keeping the policyholder calm and helping them understand the losses the company must bear. Connecting with people via text or social media is part of that equation.

Insurers—and public agencies, for that matter—respond to disasters in one of two ways. They’ve either planned for it in advance, or they need to react, on the fly, to meet the demands of policyholders or citizens.

Most large national insurers have deep experience in working with policyholders before and after an event like a hurricane. They’ve built a fast-path outlet, and a crucial part of their plan is to radically cut the number of approvals needed in their claims processes.

In addition, good practice may compel some insurers to pre-identify those policyholders most at risk. Some insurers may have pre-built web pages for customers affected by disaster. These are the providers which have planned well.

But other providers may be more reactive, without a well-established plan. While they recognize both the need for speed and the imperative of going around established processes, it may be difficult for them to sustain the new set of processes. It’s best to have a pre-determined, fast-path approach that can be pulled off the shelf to accelerate processes and non-paper-based communication.

Of course, with hurricanes, insurers, along with all the rest of us, generally have some advance warning to plan. It’s an event like an earthquake or terrorist attack which can catch organizations without disaster experience unawares. In these cases, everyone is in reactive mode.

The Impact of Disaster Response on Brand

Unfettered communication—including acceleration of processes—is critical not just because it’s the right thing to do for policyholders. It also has an impact on brand and messaging, long after the last claims have been filed.

If the insurer presents a difficult-to-navigate, cumbersome, multi-step claims process, the policyholder has a poor experience. If, on the other hand, the company has easy-to-find information and a streamlined approach, it wins a great deal of customer loyalty.

Most major insurers know exactly what to do. They have that aforementioned playbook. They know how to communicate and what processes to implement from the get-go.

But there’s another lesson here. Insurers should double-down on their efforts to collect valid email addresses and mobile phone numbers from their policyholders, even if it doesn’t lead to further suppression of print communications. After all, there’s benefit in the normal course of business: Digital customer interaction is far less expensive at all times—and it allows for greater, and more timely, two-way dialog.

But some people guard their privacy and are reluctant to provide digital addresses and phone numbers. To date, insurers have been successful in building electronic records of policyholders only to a certain point.

That’s where marketing comes in. Insurers should reach out to policyholders, explaining the need to reach them at any time. Insurers need to encourage policyholders to follow their Twitter feeds or Facebook posts, and make sure those policyholders regard them as a place to go for more information if disaster strikes.

If there’s anything the recent hurricanes demonstrated to insurers, and to the customer communications industry at large, it’s that they need to be able to reach policyholders with those communications, even if they’re not at home. Multi-channel communication is critical.

Doculabs has worked with a wide range of the leading insurance providers, and we understand the challenges, as well as the best practices, in moving toward multi-channel communications. To learn more, check out our CCM practice, or contact us here.


Rich Medina
Tom Roberts
I’m a Principal Consultant for Doculabs with more than 25 years experience, focused on delivering strategies that improve clients’ enterprise content management capabilities, with an emphasis on customer communications management strategies.