Sunday, 31 October 2004 09:00

What it takes to be the ideal insurance company

Written by Dick Strom

It's been said that only one with a death wish discusses politics or religion - subjects on which even the Homer-Milquetoasts among us are quick to express strong opinions. But I can't resist: I hate politics! Especially I hate that which is passed off as presidential election-year politics. Every four years we are again immersed in this mud-slinging, mud-wrestling pit for political advantage. There is no "below the belt" rule in politics. If "all is fair in love and war," it's tenfold dirtier in political debates American-style. 

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Not only does my ire flare when I hear politicians lie, cheat, and steal to gain political advantage, but it also flares each time insurers smash-n-dash the repair industry and consumers, thumbing their noses at honest and equitable business relations, for their own gain.

So, I have a two-word suggestion for the insurance industry: Get real! Knowing that "a walk of 1,000 miles begins with a single step," wouldn't it be refreshing, and profitable for all concerned if, as a start, just one insurance company were to drop its insipid advertisements featuring singing geckos, good-neighbor-good-hands platitudes, or any of hundreds of other obvious gimmicks to lure policy holders?

Instead, how about one company coming clean with consumers, promising that this insurance company has changed its ways and will from this moment forward no longer conduct business in the "usual and customary" form its insurer-competitors still employ.

Mea culpa

Be the first insurer to rat on your own past transgressions, and those of your competitor-insurers (everybody has compassion on a truly repentant sinner). Expose in media advertisements all those sneaky little bait-and-switch maneuvers that insurers have been using for the past two millennia - "your-policy-doesn't-include-that" retorts, "that non-DRP shop doesn't meet the same exacting requirements as do our DRP shop buddies" out-and-out lies, and similar piles of insurer bull-pucky on the landscape.

Be the first insurer to distance yourself from the rest of the insurer-pack and, in so doing, win the favor and business of a consumer base that is increasingly incensed by, and skeptical of, all insurers. Realize that without consumer support and consumer dollars, you don't have a snowball's chance in hell of staying in business - and tell the world that you know this to be true.

No more fine print

Also, tell the world that from this moment forward you promise to print every line of your policies in ten-point or larger type, and in words that the average sixth- grader can read with full comprehension - no hidden clauses, no double-meanings, nothing left to misinterpretation. Also, that from this time forward you will genuinely put the best interests of your insureds and claimants, your bread and butter, in proper perspective - which just happens to be way- far ahead of any form of cost-cutting.

Do the honest thing: Admit publicly that you realize that without each customer you would have no business, and from this moment on you will covet each one, no longer as a cash-cow, but as a friend and business associate.

I'm betting that if one insurer would step up to the honesty plate, guarantee to provide their insureds and claimants with top-quality, fast, and efficient service the first time and every time, genuine factory replacement parts every time instead of cheap imitations, and the like, that insurer would gain the respect and future business of at least the most conscientious and best of drivers.

Blow your own horn

Next brag yourself up in the media - make it an all-out campaign in pointing out your strengths compared to the weaknesses of your insurer-competitors - which are no longer your competition since they're still providing second-rate service, and you aren't. Leave the trashy, regressive insurers that won't step up to the quality-plate thrashing in the mud. Set a new standard for the insurance industry.

You could say, "We've taken a serious look at our past performance, which has been functionally-equivalent to that of other insurers. And we're ashamed to admit that we've cheated you our policyholders by providing far less than we promised you. And we're ashamed at how we've 'bate-and-switched' you as if you just rolled off a turnip truck, and out-and-out lied to you concerning our claim of 'functional-equivalency of imitation parts,' and winked at the shoddy workmanship our cost- cutting-at-any-cost has encouraged some shops to engage in.

"Though we realize our sins of omission and commission have given you more than ample reason for not having any respect whatsoever for us, we've seen the light, and we are begging you (who can resist a truly penitent sinner?) for just one more chance to prove we're a changed insurer.


"If you would grant us this request we guarantee we will pay repairers fully whatever is needed to repair your vehicle back to as close as humanly possible to pre-loss condition, so they can do proper repairs without cost-shifting at your expense. In return, we're asking you to go to bat for us by telling everyone you know the advantages of insuring with the one insurer that actually fulfills its promises. But without your support we'll have to slither back into the mud from which we came."

Of course, a bold move such as this on an insurer's part would have to involve dropping all DRP relationships with shops, forcing some shops and allowing others to once again compete on the basis of quality and performance in a free and open market, a system that has been knocked out of kilter since some insurers became control-freaks.

Reputation is strengthened

For the first time in history, consumers would be motivated to actually brag about this insurer's services, causing a reduction in its need for advertising; consumers, astonished out of their wits by this bold insurer's move, would be singing its praises from the rooftops.

Even repairers, who would benefit greatly from dealing honestly with an honest insurer, would be directing all of their customers to this insurer. Insurer money wouldn't have to be wasted on advertising ego trips such as Seattle's "Safeco Stadium" (at the tidy sum of $40M over a 20-year period).

But above all, this bold move would help eliminate the scum from among insurer ranks by raising the bar for insurers, setting a new standard for some, making it unobtainable for others. Bogus CSI figures for insurer-performance would go the way of the buggy whip. This could be the beginning of a new age for insurers, one in which top quality repairs, top performance, and true responsiveness to consumers' needs, ruled.

Just a dream

Okay, . so I admit that this is somewhat far-fetched, "wistful thinking" as Mom used to say. I realize that my ideal insurer here is only a dream, about as likely to appear as are politicians to not waffle on the truth. But truth always has been the best policy. If any of us - politician, repairer, insurer representative, whatever - can't conduct business in a completely honest and ethical manner, we need to get into an occupation in which we can - or answer for it!

Dick Strom, Modern Collision Rebuild, 9270 Miller Road, NE, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110; (206) 842-3621; e-mail: moderncol@qwest.net.