Why Property & Casualty Carriers Should Prioritize Language Access

Oct 10, 2017

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During my time in the leadership program of a top-five property and casualty carrier, I was surprised to learn that we hadn't developed an effective, comprehensive strategy to handle non-English claims calls with the efficiency and professionalism we aimed for. Since joining the team at Voiance, I've learned there's a better way.

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 risks insurers face without a plan to effectively address non-English calls:

 1. Non-English Claims Calls are Becoming More Common

Since most US states mandate that all drivers carry liability insurance, the demographics of the average insurance carrier’s customer base are fairly similar to those of the US population as a whole. And US immigration trends indicate that insurers should expect more non-English calls in the future. Pew Research finds that “over the next five decades, the majority of U.S. population growth is projected to be linked to new Asian and Hispanic immigration.”

Today, nearly one-in-ten US residents speaks English “less than very well,” and would likely prefer to communicate with their insurer in their first language.

Some of these individuals do speak some English – perhaps enough to get through a simple, straightforward conversation or ask a question and receive an answer. But conversations in the claims department are among the most complex customer interactions a contact center handles. They often involve concepts most insureds and claimants find difficult to understand without a language barrier: Explanations of coverage and benefits; detailed accident descriptions; discussions of negligence and liability and various state laws, etc.

This complexity, combined with a limited understanding of English, raises the potential for misunderstanding. And your agents are less likely to notice those misunderstandings if they don’t speak the caller’s language.

2. Denying Agents the Tools They Need May Undermines the Message of Customer Care

Most carriers’ mission statements include some version of “taking great care of the customer.” Agents hear about it in training, and it’s essential to organizational success that they believe it and practice it. Asking these agents to provide outstanding service but failing to provide them the tools they need – tools like access to quality interpreters on non-English calls – may undermine their belief that customer care is really a top priority. This attitude may carry over to the calls they handle in English.

3. Failing to Communicate Effectively with Insureds Carries Potential Liability

Miscommunication with insureds and claimants poses serious risks to proper claims handling. Coverage and Liability decisions – and the payouts that follow – often hinge on a customer’s statement about what happened. Trying to take that statement in English from a non-English speaker, or using a staff member or interpreter who’s not properly trained, could lead to a misunderstanding and an improper decision on coverage or liability.

Improper decisions may lead carriers to pay claims they do not owe – problematic in an industry where margins are tight. But the real danger is in the reverse: denying payment on a claim that’s legitimately owed because of a misunderstanding between agent and insured. Denying coverage when it’s owed, or denying liability and leading the insured into a lawsuit that exposes them over and above their policy limit, is a recipe for a bad faith lawsuit against the carrier, an outcome every insurance company wants to avoid.

Now that you’ve read about some of the risks of mishandling non-English calls, check out the full podcast with Claims Journal to learn about the tangible benefits of quality, comprehensive multilingual support.

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

Written by Graham Newnum

Digital Marketing Specialist experienced in researching and writing about language access-related topics for healthcare, business, and government.
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