An auto insurance claim involves the seamless coordination of multiple departments within the insurance company’s structure. From the liability department to the auto damage estimator and finally the body shop and rental company, you have to deal with a complex and unfamiliar process.
Hopefully every representative you work with is courteous and helpful, but in today’s high pressure and understaffed corporate environments, many of the employees can seem unwilling to help.
How do you deal with an auto insurance damage adjuster?
- Tell the adjuster that you will fill out a positive survey if the claim is handled optimally.
- Set expectations for communication and ask for response times.
- Document all conversations including phone, email and text messages.
- Call the claims department to have the file notes officially documented if you have a complaint.
- Escalate to the adjuster’s supervisor and supervisor’s manager if you are at an impasse.
- Reach out to the insurance company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts to expose poor customer service.
- Advise management you will file a complaint with Department of Insurance in your state.
- The Nuclear Option: Threatening to and Filing a Lawsuit in Small Claims Court.
As an auto insurance damage adjuster with 15 years of experience, I have seen each of these tactics in action. Damage appraisal negotiations can be difficult and sometimes adversarial, but there are ways to make the insurance company bend the rules.
Let me elaborate on how to leverage these tactics to make your adjuster want to reconcile the claim to your standards.
1. Tell the Adjuster that You Will Fill Out a Positive Survey if the Claim is Handled Optimally.
When beginning your insurance claim and contacting the adjuster for the first time it is important that he knows you are aware of the survey process. The regional manager, supervisor and adjuster have their bonus and raises based on this customer survey score metric. An adjuster’s customer service metric is also usually graded the highest and most scrutinized.
As adjusters we would go out of our way to make sure a customer was happy especially when they are aware of the survey. Letting the adjuster know that a positive survey will come their way if they reach your standard of service can be enough motivation for them to pay attention to your claim.
If your insurance company does not give email surveys, then a letter of recommendation from you, even in email form, or a phone call to a supervisor, could be motivational. These letters are highly sought by management and are considered a significant achievement by many adjusters and supervisors.
I mention this tactic first because it carries the most influence at the beginning of the conversation. Even if you have already started working with the adjuster and the experience has gone downhill, you might be able to salvage or reverse any damage to the negotiations.
By the time things have soured, we adjusters assume any survey results will be poor, so providing this motivation could be helpful to you.
” I know things have gone poorly with this claim, and I know you are just doing your job, but if we can meet in the middle, I will look out for your survey and make sure you are rated highly. “Smart Customer
So you are probably thinking, this sounds like bribery! Nope, a survey is your opinion, as reviews and ratings are now a common part of everyday life.
You can consider this an positive incentive to your adjuster.
2. Set Expectations for Communication and Ask for Response Times.
Auto damage adjusters are inundated with multiple claims each day with a backlog of phone calls and customers they need to contact. This is not due to an adjuster being disorganized, but because the auto damage departments of some insurance companies are understaffed.
Getting to all of the vehicle inspections while concurrently keeping in touch with every customer is challenging. Thus, delays can occur. These delays can lead to a vehicle waiting at a body shop longer than it should or accruing charges in a storage yard resulting in you having to be in a rental vehicle, or without a vehicle at all, for extra time.
To avoid these delays, set the expectation to the adjuster that you want to be kept up to date and informed throughout the inspection process. Make sure to ask for the adjuster’s phone and fax number along with their email address and supervisor’s phone number….just in case you cannot reach them.
3. Document all Conversations Including Phone, Email and Text Messages.
After each time you communicate with an adjuster, save the time and date of the conversation. You can use this timeline to show their supervisor, the claims department or your state’s Department of Insurance if there is a breakdown in communications.
Were phone calls returned? Did the adjuster leave a voicemail or send an email? Many companies rate their adjusters on being easy to reach and have guidelines in place mandating an adjuster has to respond within one to two hours of a call from a customer.
When I work with my customers, I send them an email after calling, especially when they do not answer (after leaving a voicemail) to further support that I made the phone call to them. Conversely, a customer should email their adjuster in the same circumstance. Remember, the more delays there are in the inspection of your vehicle the more it can cost you in time and money.
All auto damage adjusters are equipped with cell phones now, so texting the adjuster is a great communication option and results in a faster response time if a call is missed.
Additionally, auto damage adjusters are required to document the claim file every time they interact with a customer. Many companies tell their adjusters that if the conversation was not documented in the claim file notes then it never happened. This is why you have to track your conversations, you will need this electronic paper trail for step 7.
4. Call the Claims Department to Document the File Notes if You Have a Complaint.
If you are at an impasse with your adjuster, be it a disagreement on a total loss value, the use of aftermarket parts, inspection delays, or any other concern you can always call the claims department. Most claims departments are located at the insurance company’s home office and are staffed 24-7, so you can have your issue documented after hours when the adjuster is not available.
The claims examiners at the home office do not usually address auto damage related issues but will document the claim file. This file documentation is important not only to prove to management that you called, but also in case you make a complaint with the Department of Insurance as they can ask to review file notes.
Make sure to address your concern thoroughly as to place the burden to resolve your problem on the company. Ask the claims examiner to send a message to your adjuster and their supervisor as well.
Some insurance companies also allow you to contact the adjuster from the company’s website. All you have to do is log into your policy and go to your open claim. You can message the adjuster from there.
5. Escalate to the Adjuster’s Supervisor and Supervisor’s Manager.
If your adjuster continues not to respond to your demands or is being adversarial, escalating the issue to their supervisor, or even the supervisor’s manager can help move your claim along. I mention this step, after contacting the claims department, as you already want to have the file notes documented by the claims department or yourself (from the customer portal).
Remember, the supervisor and manager are there to represent the company and will not always agree with you. They will make adjustments to the claim and bend the rules if necessary to avoid having to escalate the issue to their manager.
Most company auto damage management structures are as follows:
Auto Damage Adjuster → Supervisor → Manager → Director → Regional Vice President → CEO
6. Reach out to the Insurance Company’s Twitter and Facebook Accounts.
Some of the most savvy customers I have encountered were able to have their issues resolved very quickly by contacting their insurance company via Twitter or Facebook.
Check out the twitter accounts for some insurance companies…you will find complaints left and right. Many companies have a policy to respond to these messages if they can identify you.
Before proceeding with a message on social media, make sure to let the adjuster and supervisor know you will do so as this tactic may motivate them to resolve your issue. Having a customer air their claims grievances publicly will require the PR department to respond. This will look poorly on the adjuster, supervisor, and manager but could resolve your issue quickly.
7. Advise Management You Will File a Complaint with the Department of Insurance.
Your insurance company is not changing their position on your claim. For example, not wanting to pay for certain damages, or increasing your total loss value. A complaint to your state’s Department of Insurance alleging an unfair claims practice can change their mind. In conjunction with step 8 below, this can be a very effective motivational tactic.
I have seen supervisors approve diminished value claims and have total loss values increased just to avoid the hassle of dealing with the state.
What is most incriminating to the Department of Insurance is when your insurance company has been slow to respond to inspect your vehicle, to your contact attempts, or any other poor customer service indicator. This is why you must have everything documented so that a strong case can be built against the insurance company. With this in documentation in hand and your insurance company being aware of it, management would rather honor your demands than have a complaint made public.
Some states even publish how many complaints insurance companies receive, which is another metric the insurance companies want to avoid increasing.
After all of this these tactics are employed and they still do not respond in your favor, filing the claim is not too difficult. The only drawback is that most states usually allow the insurance company 30 days to respond, and there is no guarantee your concern will be addressed in your favor.
The insurance company will respond with a letter on how they made every effort to follow state insurance laws and what they did to resolve the claim. Obtain this response letter to confirm the facts are valid so you can dispute it if necessary. The insurance company will also included with how they will adjust your claim or a reason why they are denying an adjustment as per statute.
8. The Nuclear Option: Threatening to and Filing a Lawsuit in Small Claims Court.
Filing suit through small claims court for monetary damages is a very powerful tactic that can make the insurance company quickly change their mind in regards to your demands. Small claims courts do not require an attorney and can cost as little as $15 to file suit, some states even have fee waivers. Claim limits vary from $2500 to $10,000 depending on your state. Here are the steps to take when using the nuclear option:
- Write an letter showing your intent to file suit against the insurance company. Explain your position with supporting evidence, documentation and what the insurance company did wrong. Explain your demands and how they can be met. Give them a deadline on when they can respond or otherwise you will file a lawsuit against them.
- Send this letter via certified mail to the insurance company’s national and regional headquarters. Make sure the letter includes your claim number and contact information. Also email this letter to the adjuster, their supervisor, manager and director. If the adjuster does not provide these email addresses to you, contact the claims department and ask them for this information.
- If management does not take this letter seriously or does not respond to it, then file suit if you so choose. Check out this article on how to sue your auto insurance company.
- Wait to hear back from management for a resolution to your dispute, and if not, prepare your case for court.
I have seen less than a dozen suits filed by customers in the past 15 years for an auto damage related concern. Nevertheless, those that have filed suit, have almost always had their issues resolved completely. It is not worth the time and effort of the insurance company’s overworked and understaffed legal department, which is too busy litigating high dollar bodily injury cases, to focus on an auto damage claim. The signal to approve the customer’s demand can be handed down very swiftly at this point.
Getting an attorney is not always necessary and the retainer fee for many attorneys may be higher than the damages you are seeking. Also, be cautious when mentioning you have an attorney, as management will ask for a “Letter of Representation” as proof. Sometimes this letter is enough to avoid filing suit against the insurance company.