May 24, 2022

“May I place you on hold…?”

You call a lawyer’s office, another claim unit or a medical practice.

You hear, “May I put you on hold?”

How often do we hear that question when we call someone with whom we need to speak? It is annoying because it often signals that the outfit you are calling is understaffed at the intake stage.

What is worse is when you are put on hold and stuck listening to Muzak interminably, wondering if anyone remembers you or has forgotten that you are camped on hold. They likely have no idea that you’ve been waiting on hold now for 17 minutes. You don’t even have the benefit of one of those recorded messages that tech companies play when you call customer support (sic): “Your estimated waiting time is XX minutes.”

At least that calibrates your expectations a bit, like the signs in front of popular rides at Disney theme parks which state, “30-Minute Wait from This Point.”

Camping on hold is not only frustrating, but it’s futile.

Further, I loathe the recordings that tell you that wait times are prolonged because “of an unusually high call volume.” When you consistently call, and invariably hear that pre-fab bleating message, you start thinking it can’t be “an unusually high call volume.” If it happens all the time – every time YOU call – then it’s no longer “unusual.” It’s the New Normal. Staff up for it!

But, like the airlines, it’s easier to tell customers that the blame lies with them (i.e., too many callers/customers or not getting to the airport early enough) than it is to hire enough staff to service incoming calls.

But, I digress.

Another circle of phone caller hell for claim professionals materializes when you are put on hold interminably – Perma-Hold — then hear a click and a dead line. Not only have you been put on hold, but now you have been cut off. So you must repeat the process again, start from scratch and go to the end of the queue.

Having fun yet?

Here are some responses and tactics when you are asked, “May I put you on hold?”

Answer #1. “No thanks…”

This is the Nancy Reagan, “Just say no” tactic. This is bold and entails risk. The other party may still put you on hold anyway. They may decide that you are a jerk. Chances are they are asking you only as a (pseudo) courtesy. They intend to make you sit in hold purgatory anyway. I confess I rarely say this, but I’m often tempted to. Try it and see what response you get.

Answer #2. “Yes – but just for a minute…”

This signals that you want the receptionist to check back with you promptly. Of course, whether they do so or not is another story. Part of the frustration of perma-hold is wondering, “Does anyone still remember that I’m here? Have I been cut off and will I have to call again and begin the process all over again?”

(I’m reminded of Lewis Grizzard’s book, When My True Love Returns from the Powder Room, will I be too Old to Care?)

No harm in asking.

So agree to be placed on hold, but attach a condition. State that you are willing to sit on hold IF they promise to check back with you in a minute. Good luck!

Answer #3. “ONLY if you check back with me every two minutes …”

This is a variation on #2. You want the person to check back with you periodically, hopefully to report the progress they are making in getting your question answered or your needs addressed.

Answer #4. Put your phone on SPEAKER mode and work on some small task while you wait.

This way, you can go about your business getting other work done while you are on hold. Yes, it is annoying listening to muzak, but at least this way you can work the keyboard, pull the next file to work or answer a question from the adjuster who has just stopped by your work station. The downside of this technique is that it requires that you stay within earshot of your phone receiver, lest you miss the other party when he or she comes back on the line. If they come back on line and you are gone, temporarily out of earshot or if you respond too slowly, they may infer that you have left, will hang up, in which case you will have to restart the process all over again.

So if you switch to speaker phone, just remember that you are on hold. You cannot get up and walk down the hall to compare notes with another adjuster. You can’t go to the break room to choose between M&M’s and crackers at the vending machine. You are anchored. Grounded.

Answer #5. Get a phone headset for that lets you be hands-free and do other things while waiting on hold. With a phone headset, you can be on hold, hands free. With a cordless headset, you are even free to head down the hall, check out the vending machine or stroll by the fax machine. Of course, you may get some funny looks from co-workers who are not used to seeing you walk around with a headset. The first time I did it, co-workers would playfully comment, “Hey Kevin – Beam me up!”

Others would ask, in false singsong accent, “Welcome to Dell Customer Support – may I help you?”

Getting through to the right person often helps investigate a claim, evaluate facts or negotiate case resolution. With so much business being done by phone these days – like it or hate it – the effective claims person must have an arsenal of tips and tricks to use to thwart delays and to minimize non-productive “on hold” time. Use these five tips to maximize your productivity when being put “on hold.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m on hold …

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

What tips or tricks have YOU used to minimize wasted time spent camping on hold? Please add comments below!

“Best Practices for Expert Witnesses” Podcast Interview with the Round Table Group

At the Round Table with Insurance Expert Kevin Quinley

I’m switching hats for a moment between my claim professional hat and my expert witness hat.

Recently, I was interviewed by the Round Table Group (see link above), an intermediary between clients (usually law firms) needing experts and matching them with specialists in a wide range of subject matter domains. Mine just happens to be insurance industry claim-handling.

In this discussion, I talk about
* what I wish I knew what I started down this path as an expert witness,
* how to prepare for depositions,
* how to write a bulletproof report,
* what questions to ask during the initial interview/engagement discussion and
* the best ways to market one’s expert witness practice.

I don’t claim a monopoly on insights with regard these topics, and in a limited time I tried to pack as many thoughts and insights as I could.

Enjoy!

Don’t be Hamlet When Making Loss-Reporting Decisions….

“To report or not to report?”

That is the Hamlet-esque question.

Insureds and brokers often learn of accidents, occurrences and events which they believe are unlikely to ever spawn a claim. Or, they may think that there is some small chance of a claim arising but they don’t think they have any potential liability exposure.

Should they report such a matter to their liability insurance company?

I tell brokers and policyholders, “When in doubt, report it out.”

They are often paranoid about how premiums and fear their cost may rise if they report. “Won’t my insurance cost go up if I report this loss?”

They don’t realize that the financial impact of “playing games” and suppressing reporting creates risks more significant than the marginal increase in premium from any incident/loss reporting. This decision often proves to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Better to report a loss and learn that it was nothing, versus assuming that it’s nothing and later have it morph into a serious claim.

Err on the side of caution. Report to the insurer, even if you ask them to log it as an “incident only.” That request may cushion you against future premium increases (no guarantees, though).

Why buy insurance if you don’t plan to use it? Didn’t you buy it to purchase peace of mind for bad things that might happen?

As an expert witness undisputed insurance claims around the country, numerous cases where clients engage me involve issues pertaining to non-reporting or late reporting of seemingly innocuous occurrences and coverage denials and controversies arising therefrom. This is particularly acute, but not limited to, transitions of claims-made policies from one carrier to another.

I often wonder how many tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars in litigation costs would be saved if the policyholder and/or broker had simply and timely reported an incident. Believe me, the costs involved here dwarf any feared increase in renewal premium. Sweeping the loss under the rug often later requires purchase of a very expensive carpet! (Roomba will NOT clean up this mess!)

Don’t raise data credibility issues and sow suspicion among underwriters or actuaries by under-reporting, due to fears that “my premium will go up.”

When your boss later asks why the insurer is contesting or — worse — denying coverage, do you really want to say, “Well … I didn’t think it amounted to anything and was worried that our premium would go up”?

That may be time to update your resume and contact a good headhunter.

Avoid this kind of drama in your professional life by reporting accidents, incidents and other occurrences which may not look like claims, or look like any valid claim.

When in doubt, report it out!

Thanks for reading. I am a consultant specializing in expert assessment of disputed insurance claims around the country. If you have a comment, a request for a future topic, or a question about your own case, please contact me at claimscoach@gmail.com or my office at (804) 796-1939.

Build “Quiet Time” Blocks into the Claim Unit’s Schedule

A huge barrier to adjuster productivity is interruptions. Adjusters may suffer from ADD, but their natures are likely only partly to blame. The texture of the customary claims environment fosters adjusters having the attention span of a gnat. How does the manager or supervisor boost claim productivity and fight this obstacle?

Tip: Consider instituting defined blocks of “quiet time” within the claims office. Odds are that the claim staff is often interrupted by phone calls from …

• claimants,
• policyholders,
• attorneys,
• vendors,
• medical providers,
• business associates.
• well-meaning co-workers

Plus, there are the ever-present meetings. And Zoom calls in the work-from-home/Covid era.

All these interruptions drain the claim operation of efficiency and make the claim backlog snowball. One way to help the claim staff survive and catch up is to build in and institute as an office practice limited blocks of “quiet time.”

Despite those who champion the concept of quiet time, do not be surprised if it is an uphill battle in championing the idea in the claims office. Perhaps few claim offices use it. One approach is for the claim office to assign the same one hour of time each day – say, 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM.

Another option: allocate larger blocks of time less frequently. For example, the workers compensation unit might have quiet time of 2 PM to 4 PM every other Monday. The commercial property claims unit might have it from 10 AM till noon every other Wednesday.

The idea is that these time chunks will give adjusters and everyone on the claim staff the opportunity to get organized and work efficiently.

During quiet time, adjusters are not required to take phone calls or respond to “normal” interruptions. If you have people who can cover for them, that is ideal. If not, take a message or funnel the calls into voice-mail, to be retrieved and returned promptly when the quiet hour is over.

If a claim matter is urgent, the claim staff should be sufficiently flexible to accommodate this.

Giving the claim staff quiet time may not only boost productivity and work quality, it may also improve morale and contribute to your quality of workplace. This helps the ability to attract and retain high-quality claims talent.

Have you or your claims office ever experimented with a block of time cordoned off for adjusters focusing on “deep work,” relatively free of interruptions?

“I’d do anything for Claims — But I Won’t Do THAT…”

R.I.P. Meat Loaf.

He had more than his 15 minutes of fame. Among his (few) hit songs was, “I’ll do anything for love – – but I won’t do that.” In the wake of his passing, many have wondered what he meant by, “I won’t do that”?

What was that?

Where did Meat Loaf draw the line? (Did he draw the line at squirting ketchup on Meatloaf? Mustard?)

Let’s pivot to an insurance claim context:

For a claims person, “that” might mean:

Will not issue a check in excess of my settlement authority.

Will not bid against myself in settlement negotiations.

Will not deny coverage without RTFP – reading the freakin’ policy!

Will not send a reservation of rights letter that essentially cuts and pastes the whole policy into the body of the letter.

Will not assume that a reservation of rights letter is a “one and done” communiqué and fail to promptly inform the policyholder of the insurer’s ultimate coverage stance, after investigating the potential coverage issues.

Will not choose defense counsel based un a law firm’s “brand name,” based on the lowest hourly rate, based on who has the most lavish December holiday party or based on who is the boss’ golfing buddy.

Will not let a case go into default by overlooking a lawsuit’s Answer date.

Will not handle a claim in a any state without first reviewing that state’s Unfair Claim Settlement Practices regulations.

Will not fail to respond promptly to any time-limit settlement demand from a policyholder, claimant, attorney or excess carrier.

Will not fail to continually ask defense counsel, “Based on all the factors we know so far, what’s your assessment of this case’s compromise settlement value?”

Will not fail to diary key milestone dates on a claim file, such as trial dates, response deadlines to demands, etc. (Interlude: “Do not let your claim files languish or your meat loaf…”)

Will not assume that my employer will give me a job for perpetuity or will “take care of me,” regardless of my supervisor’s assurances.

Will not fail to keep my resume updated regularly.

Will not wait until notice of an imminent layoff or termination before networking with industry colleagues. (The best time to fix your roof is when the sun is shining!)

Will not accept reassignment of 279 Covid-related business interruption claims because the Company is too cheap to replace the last adjuster who was handling them and who just walked off the job.

Will not fail to regularly invest in my own claim skills and knowledge and will not rest on my laurels, thinking I’ve got it all figured out because I’ve been in the business for “X” number of years.

Will not assume that technology tools eliminate the need for human interaction or empathy in the claims process.

Whether or not claim professionals find true love — or a blank Proof of Loss — by the dim illumination of the dashboard lights, or whether we approach each claim like a bat out of hell, we all have our professional lines in the sand.

If nothing else, Meat Loaf reminds us of that.

The Adjuster’s Bookshelf: My Top 10 Books from 2021

Reading is a big part of my life. Always has been. A daily reading session is one of my Keystone habits. I typically have two books going on at the same time and try to knock out 20 pages a day on each.

As we get close to the end of 2021, I offer a highly personal and admittedly idiosyncratic list of what I consider to be the best books read during 2021. To lend context, I’m on pace to read about 65 books this year, with a huge backlog on my “To Read” on-deck circle. (To see a listing of all the books I’ve read so far in 2021, check the Goodreads app or connect with me there.)

In order of ranking, here are my picks for the best books I’ve read this year:

1. “Freaks of a Feather: A Marine Grunt’s Memoir” by Kacy Tellesen. An electrifying military memoir, hard to put down yet hard to read at times. Tellesen traces his story from a young man fantasizing about joining the Marines, his tours in the Middle East, and his struggles to readjust to civilian life. Terrific book!

2. “The Dark Fields” by Alan Glynn. This is the book on which the movie “Limitless” was based. One of the few novels I read in 2021. I’m a huge fan of both the movie and this book.

3. “Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals” by Oliver Burkeman. The title refers to the estimated amount of life expectancy that the average person has at birth. Those who know me well know that I’ve been preoccupied (obsessed??) with time management and personal productivity since the 1970’s. Author Oliver Burkeman takes a novel twist on this topic with his theme basically that we CAN’T “do it all.”

4. “The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self” by Michael Easter. This book is the embodiment of the Stoic principle, “Do hard things.”

5. “Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning” by Tom Vanderbilt. A first-person journey of the author who sequentially tackles disparate skills, including (but not limited to) chess, surfing and performing in a choir. An interesting story of an autodidact.

6. “The Long Game: How to be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World” by Dorie Clark. Dorie Clark has been on the business school faculty at Duke’ Fuqua School of Management and has written a terrific career guide on the need to be patient.

7. “The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion” by Eliott Brown. This book closely tracks a Hulu documentary on Wework’s fiasco. It reads like a novel and is hard to put down, even though we know the ending.

8. “Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire” by Brad Stone. A compelling narrative of a modern-day business titan and, depending upon what day you check, the richest or second richest man in the world. Order it . . . off Amazon!

9. “Alpha: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Soul of the Navy SEALs” by David Phillips. An absorbing Chronicle of a Navy seal accused of war crimes and the culture of the special forces that created challenges in prosecuting this SEAL Team leader.

10. “The Art of Adjusting: Writing Down the Unwritten Rules of Claims Handling” by Chantal Roberts. True confessions: the author is a colleague and friend. Also, I blurbed the book. That said, Ms. Roberts pulls back the veil surrounding the business of claims adjusting to provide practical insights that you won’t find in most staid insurance textbooks, leavened with her own droll sense of humor.

Honorable Mention: “Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business” by Paul Jarvis. As a solo entrepreneur, I found this book resonating with me, in terms of how to craft a lifestyle that is financially sustainable without the headaches of adding staff and chasing endless growth.

Biggest disappointment: “Edison” Edmund Morris. I’ve been a big fan of Morris and, in particular, his titanic three-volume work on Theodore Roosevelt. However, this book was weird. Morris got the brilliant idea of relating a biography in reverse chronological order. In other words, he started with Edison’s funeral and worked backwards through his life, ending up with his birth. The rationale for this was not apparent to me and made for a disorienting reading experience, weighing in at 800+ pages. Maybe he did it because he thought it would be a virtuoso biographical performance but it made no sense to me. Call it the Benjamin Button met5hod of biography but it just did not click.

How about you?

What have been the best, most impactful books that you read this year?

Confessions of a Corporate Expatriate

Ten years ago today, I walked away from an executive-level job at a Fortune 500 company. I left a good salary, bonuses, a terrific benefits package, stock options, 401(k) benefits with employer match, etc.

I walked away after 34 years in the corporate world. I made a leap of faith, took a deep breath and launched my own boutique consulting company, Quinley Risk Associates LLC, doing litigation support work as a consultant and expert witness.

To say it was scary is an understatement. I left the amniotic warmth of a corporate parent who had always taken care of me. I paddled toward a new shore, landed and set fire my boat afire. It was an inflection point in my life and career.

No turning back. No more letting a corporation determine my monetary worth. No more letting an organization set boundaries on how I could fully use my capabilities. Me and Corporate America?

As Taylor Swift sang, “We are never, EVER getting back together!”

I’d done expert witness work on a “moonlighting” basis since 2004, but had to decline most opportunities. I had a demanding C-suite day job, a parallel career as a business writer, was raising a family and had only so much bandwidth and time available area.

I had no family history of entrepreneurship. My father was a Navy officer. My brother was career Air Force, then retired and went to work for the FBI. Nobody went into business and nobody started their own business.

When I said “Sayonara!” to reorganizations, office politics, quarterly budgets, Board (Bored) meetings, Home Office pronouncements and bosses who gave no feedback and then unloaded nuggets of “needs for improvement” at an annual performance evaluation. When I closed the corporate door, I had two expert witness engagements which were winding down. Within three weeks of launching Quinley Risk Associates in November 2011, I got a new engagement, involving alleged mismanagement of a workers compensation claim program by a large third-party claims administrator (TPA).

Since then, the decision to start my own company has borne fruit. For years, my wife, Jane, had urged me to set sail as a full-time consultant. I resisted, reluctant to leave the corporate womb. She had faith when I doubted myself. Despite the risk, she believed this vocational risk would pay off, despite no “regular” paycheck.

As usual, she was right.

I’m grateful to say that it has worked out. Today, please indulge me as I celebrate — and appreciate — a ten-year milestone.

As Thanksgiving recedes, I give thanks. I thank the attorneys and clients who give me an opportunity to “live the dream.” I get to work with terrifically smart people on complex cases and to blend my love of writing, analytical process and spoken communication in the context of insurance claim disputes throughout the country.

When I launched my business in the Fall of 2011, the worldwide headquarters of Quinley Risk Associates was in a garage, surrounded by paint cans, yard gear and kettlebells. (Isn’t that also how Apple and other tech companies began? LOL). We put up for sale our house in the Washington DC area; our realtor “staged” the house to maximize its potential selling price. So, my headquarters were relegated to the garage, to enhance our ability to sell the listing.

From such humble beginnings! Our kids were grown. We relocated to the Richmond Virginia area in 2012. We’ve never looked back.

Now, at the 10-year mark, I do look back. During my corporate years, when I wrote hundreds of articles and ten books on insurance and risk management, gave hundreds of presentations, I had no Grand Design to someday become an expert witness. However, some unseen force helped reconfigure those disparate puzzle pieces of abilities into a coherent picture, which now represents my vocation.

My years in the corporate world helped hone tools to do what I’m doing now. I don’t begrudge those years, but don’t miss them. They served their purposes during their time. For those solidly ensconced in the corporate world, good for you! For those, however, who harbor a vision of a different path and lifestyle, I encourage you to chase the dream, take The Long View and make it happen!

7 Ways to Get Max Value from Your CPCU or IIA Class

Short (11-minute) video from The Claims Coach, Kevin Quinley….

https://vimeo.com/manage/535594916/general#privacy

New Podcast: The Perils (and Rewards) of Reporting Incidents to Insurers

Link to “The Claims Coach” podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/190163/8227273

>https://www.buzzsprout.com/190163/8227273

Bad Faith Myth: “Claims Should Not be Adversarial”

Many bad faith cases involve plaintiff allegations that an insurer treating the process as an adversarial one acts in bad faith.

I’m not buying it.

America’s system of civil jurisprudence, which many view as the best and fairest of any system, is based on an adversarial process. Each side in litigation presents its case to a judge or jury. They do so in the strongest possible terms. By a process where each side advocates as strongly as possible its positions, the judge or jury receives both sides of the story and can use that information to arrive at a just and equitable decision. Our entire system of civil jurisprudence is based on the notion that the most fair and just result comes from an adversarial process. Why this would be legit for our foundational legal system but illegitimate in the context of differences of opinions on claim disputes is beyond me.

This bad faith argument often arises in uninsured/underinsured motorist claims. Plaintiffs argue that such claims should not be adversarial. Like it or not, however, handling uninsured motorist claims involves aspects of an adversarial process. The damages an insured can recover under his or her uninsured coverage equal the damages he or she might recover in a third-party liability claim against the tortfeasor.

Of course, third-party liability claims are quintessential examples of claims resolved through adversarial processes. In a third-party liability claim, an injured person asserts a claim, often initiating a lawsuit, against the other driver. The other driver’s insurer defends its insured against this third-party claim. If the claim goes to litigation, that insurer hires a lawyer to defend its policyholder against the claim or lawsuit.

The purpose of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage is to try to put an insured in the same position he or she would have been in, had the other driver/tortfeasor possessed liability insurance or adequate coverage limits. Therefore, insurance claim industry practice recognizes that handling uninsured/underinsured motorist claims will include adversarial processes inherent in handling of third-party liability claims, since the purpose of the coverage is to put the insured in the same position as if the tortfeasor had adequate liability coverage.

Additional disputes often arise in property damage claims, representing honest differences of opinion. No claims industry standard, no industry consensus claim-handling “rules of the road” tells adjusters that the claims must never be adversarial. Usually, they are not. However, honest disputes and differences of opinion arise that can reasonably and predictably spawn adversarial situations. While many if not most claims progress smoothly, by their very nature they can become adversarial through no fault of an adjuster or the insurer.

Conflict and clash of opinions is an occasional fact of life in the real world of insurance claims. Absent evidence that the clash of opinions was motivated by (a) adjuster animus toward the plaintiff or (b) adjuster expectation of financial gain from the insurer’s stance, it is a Gumby-like stretch to equate this with a breach of insurance claim industry customs, standards or norms.

While many if not most claims resolve without litigation or conflict, inherent in the claims process are frequent differences of opinion. These can be differences of opinion regarding coverage, damages or both. At the policyholder or third-party claimant decides to initiate a lawsuit, then the claim enters a new forum. That forum is the litigation process which is inherently adversarial. The policyholder or the third-party claimant typically topples that first domino culminating in the litigation, and adversarial process. No consensus insurance claim industry standard requires that the claim process not be adversarial, nor does any consensus insurance claim industry yardstick equate a claim’s evolution into an adversarial process as bad faith claim-handling.

Thanks for reading. I am a claim consultant who helps nationwide clients assess insurance claim-handling to improve litigation outcomes through expert evaluation and testimony on high-stakes cases. If you have a comment, a suggestion for a future topic, or a question about your own case, contact me at kevin@kevinquinley.com or claimscoach@gmail.com

YouTube You Tube     Facebook Facebook     Twitter Twitter     Linked In Linked In
Disclaimer   |   Sitemap   |   CLM Advisors
Quinley Risk Associates, LLC © 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Website support provided by Aivilo Web Solutions, LLC.