May 6, 2021

“Six Steps to Un-Suck Your Claim Department Voice Mail Service (This is a recording …)”

Remember quaint bygone days of yore?  Living, breathing people actually answered phones?  This era now resides in the gauzy memories of the past.  Technology rules now, especially in customer service and telephone interactions.  Fewer claim transactions occur face-to-face.  While email rules, people still phone the claims department.  When they do, chances are they hear an automated voice mail response.  While this may be efficient for insurers or claim organizations, it may not be effective from a customer service standpoint.

As Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal asks rhetorically, “When did calling a customer service line become the new hitting yourself in the face with a brick?”  (Answer:  Probably when companies discovered they could handle customers cheaper by installing recorded systems instead of hiring people to answer phones.)

In fairness, the insurance and claims industry is not unique in adopting automated response systems.  However, one component of claim service is managing communication exchanges conducted by phone.

Remember hearing, “You have only one chance to make a good impression.”  Make it a good one!  Voice-mail response systems thwart efforts to start off the claims process with a positive impression.  Here is my own biased, idiosyncratic list of six beefs with automated systems:

“Due to an unusually high call volume ..”  I get suspicious when every call triggers this ecycled message.  If the call volume is ALWAYS high, it’s no longer an “unusually high call volume.”  It is the new normal.  It means that the company – not the customer – should adjust.  If you call Monday morning, Wednesday afternoon and Thursday at mid-day and EVERY TIME the recording refers to an unusually high call volume, B.S. detectors should activate.  It’s hard to believe that, by coincidence, every time I call, there is an “unusually high call volume.”  Really?  No, it’s easier to blame an “unusually high call volume” than to say, “We just don’t want to hire enough staff to answer the phones.”  Just like airlines find it cheaper to tell passengers to get to the airport two hours early than to hire enough people to process luggage and tickets expeditiously.

“For quality purposes, this call may be recorded …”  Oh boy, I hope it is.  It has never been clear to me just how recording a customer exchange somehow magically improves quality.  In fact, I have had unsatisfactory exchanges that were still recorded.  Example:  recently, I had to cancel an Xbox on-line renewal.  Flummoxed by trying to do it on-line, I made the mistake of calling Customer Support (an oxymoron.)  After ten minutes on the phone, the Customer Support Rep told me he really didn’t have any more time to spend with me, that I was taking up too much of his time.  Now that’s customer service!  I sure hope that exchange was duly recorded.  For “quality purposes,” of course!

Hey, if you are really so fixated on quality, pick up the %^&# phone!  Now that’s quality!  Staff the phones — not with robotic canned messages — but with living, breathing humans.  What a radical notion!  Occasionally, I have finally hacked through the voice mail maze to reach a human, gotten the run-around and then said, “Boy I hope that this conversation has been recorded for training and quality purposes.”  Usually, it is a case study in how NOT to address customer needs.

“To avoid long wait times, please visit our website at …”  Translation:  “We prefer not to deal with you by phone, so go hunt for the answer on our website and hope that your problem neatly fits into one of our FAQ’s.”  Great message for your customers – “You are a nuisance.  Please just pay us your money and then leave us alone!”

“Please enter your [account number/Social Security Number/policy number]…”  Invariably, after doing this, I eventually connect with a living, breathing human.  Guess what is the first thing that they ask me for?  My account number, Social Security Number, policy number, etc.!  Go through the hassle of entering this long string of numbers onto the computer keypad, only to have to repeat these same numbers?  Makes no sense.  When I ask why the customer must give the same data twice, I get some mumbled response like, “Well, I don’t have access to the information you entered in ..”  Lame-oh!

“Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold …”  Pinocchio’s nose must grow as this mantra repeats.   If my call is so important, why not have people answer the phone?  If my call really is so important, why not hire more staff to field calls and trim wait-time?  On the credibility scale, this line is right up there with,

“Yes – I’ll respect you in the morning,”

“Your check is in the mail,” and ,

”Officer – I had only one beer.”

It gives the illusion of being customer-focused without the substance.

“All of our representatives are busy serving other customers .. Please try your call again later.”  This is a real blow-off.  When later?  Two hours?  Tomorrow?  Next year?  What if your issue, question or problem – like a claim – is time-sensitive?

Claim service means we put ourselves in the client’s shoes.  Walk a mile in them by dialing in and you may discover new opportunities to upgrade the customer service experience for your company and claims office!


Six Questions to Help Unsuck Your Claim Service…

  • Pretend you are a policyholder or business partner.  Call your office.  Put yourself in the customer’s shoes.  How is the experience?
  • Is a recorded greeting and voice mail menu the “default mode” or do living, breathing humans pick up?
  • Do callers have a “bail out” option if they want to quickly advance to speak with a person or want to bypass voice-mail options?
  • Does your recording always cite “an unusually high volume” of incoming calls or is this message reserved only for genuine peak times?
  • Is your voice-mail system designed for your convenience and cost-savings or for customer service needs?
  • If the recording says that calls may be recorded for quality/training purposes, when was the last time you actually used a recording for quality or training purposes?



  1. The good ole days..

    The only time my recording kicks in, is when “unknown”, “private”, “# Unavailable”, 3digit #s, calls. These I find to be automated calls, telemarketers, or some unsolicited something. Making voicemail the norm today is frustrating, but….
    (my kids tells me all the time; “ma, you’ve got to get with the times”.)

    I do not believe that the calls are really being recorded as they stated, at least not at AT….

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