Three Ways Property & Casualty Carriers Handle Non-English Calls - and What to Do Instead

Sep 26, 2017

Prior to joining the team at Voiance, I spent four years handling claims for one of the nation’s top five property and casualty insurers. I partnered with executives and company attorneys to resolve the most serious bodily injury claims and trained new agents to do the same, eventually managing a team of claims professionals. Throughout the process, it was clear that we weren’t equipped to handle non-English claims calls with the same efficiency and professionalism the company expected the rest of the time.

I recently sat down with the Claims Journal Podcast for a conversation on the challenge of handling claims for non-English speaking insureds and claimants. This excerpt covers three unsuccessful approaches to handling non-English calls, as well as a simple, effective solution:

1. Ignoring the problem

I once heard a manager express the view that non-English calls weren’t worth his concern. He didn’t believe he received a significant number of these calls, thought many of them could get by in English if they had to, and expected that those who couldn’t would find someone in their life who could speak English to call back for them.

This approach was short-sighted. US demographic and immigration trends indicate insurers should expect more non-English calls in the future. Already, nearly one-in-ten US residents speaks English “less than very well” and likely needs the help of an interpreter to understand complex insurance claims concepts. And a failure to build that understanding may negatively impact contact center performance and even expose insurers to legal liability in the form of bad faith claims.

2. Enlisting bilingual agents to handle non-English calls

For a time, my company formed a designated team of bilingual agents to handle incoming calls in Spanish. Any Spanish call that arrived on the floor was put on hold and transferred to their section for assistance. This approach seemed logical – our location in the southwestern US meant we had no shortage of Spanish-speaking agents to draw from. But we quickly encountered some practical limitations.

First, this bilingual team approach only worked for Spanish calls – the majority of non-English calls coming in, but by no means all of them. And with the majority of US immigration now coming from linguistically-diverse Asia, relying on bilingual agents won’t work as a long-term, comprehensive solution.

Secondly, our company was not set up to hire, train, or monitor agents in languages other than English. Most of our supervisors, managers, and quality assurance personnel didn’t speak Spanish, so we were unable to guarantee the same call quality we insisted on for calls in English.

3. Choosing a language services provider…based exclusively on price-per-minute

The carrier I worked for did eventually partner with a language services provider to make phone interpretation available to their agents. But since no one at the company (including me, at that time) knew much about what makes a quality language services provider, we selected one based exclusively on who was cheapest.

Predictably, this resulted in a service that didn’t provide our agents with training on working with an interpreter, kept them (and our customers) waiting on hold, and sometimes failed to provide accurate, meaning-for-meaning interpretations of our customers’ statements. Critical metrics like Average Handle Time, Customer Satisfaction Scores, and First Call Resolution likely suffered as a result.

Now that you’ve read about some of the less-than-optimal ways insurers attempt to handle non-English calls, check out the full podcast with Claims Journal to learn about the tangible benefits of quality, comprehensive multilingual support – and how to choose the right partner.

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Topics: Advice and Improvement, Best Practices, Demographics & Culture, Language Services, Interpretation

Written by Graham Newnum