Hurricane Sandy has been a brutal reminder of how vulnerable we are to natural disasters. When widespread damage occurs and critical infrastructures and services are knocked out, chaos ensues – especially in crowded urban areas like New York and New Jersey. Those who are caught up in the chaos need timely and helpful information, especially from their insurance partners.
Insurance consumers use their smartphones and social media accounts to call, text, email, Tweet and Facebook their disaster experiences in real time. You can bet that they will comment about who is really helping them out . . . and who isn’t.
In nearly every natural disaster, there are clear cases of how to and how NOT to communicate during an emergency. Companies that get it right build a lot of goodwill and trust among their customers and the general public. The ones who don’t can get a badly bruised reputation.
Who got it right during Sandy?
- Citi Cards and American Express emailed customers offering help with access to cash, fee waivers, and instructions for getting help. American Express offered help with emergency financial, travel, or medical services. The messages were brief, helpful, and just the right touch for the situation.
- USAA's mobile app lets customers report a property or auto claim, submit photos, and view their claims status all from their smartphone. USAA Mobile also sends out storm-related tweets with a link to the app so customers can find it and submit their claim. Timely and convenient.
- The Wall Street Journal and New York Times opened up website content to all visitors during the storm. Readers were given free and unrestricted access to news and updates until the emergency is over. By doing so, they set a good example of knowing when to suspend business as usual and do what’s best for the public good.
Who got it wrong?
Sometimes no message is the best message. When the Gap sent out the tweet, “All impacted by Sandy, stay safe! We’ll be doing lots of shopping today. How about you?”, they drew plenty of public criticism. If your message helps you rather than helping those impacted, it’s best to keep quiet. Resist the urge to capitalize on the situation or say something self-serving that makes you look like you don’t understand the magnitude of the crisis.
How can you best prepare to communicate with your insurance customers during a crisis?
Before an emergency …
- Keep your insurance software contact database up-to-date and accessible. If your office was demolished, could you access your customer records offsite?
- When you hear of a potential exposure such as wildfire or hurricane, use your insurance agency software to create a list of those in potentially impacted zip codes. Email them in advance of the crisis with appropriate emergency preparedness tips.
- Think about what critical information your customers might need from you during an emergency such as how to file an insurance claim or request assistance from FEMA. Use your insurance software to draft instructional emails so they’re ready to be customized and sent at a moment’s notice during a crisis.
- Make sure you know how to make quick updates to your website because customers will visit your site for guidance.
- Prepare an emergency staffing plan. In the event of a crisis, employees may not be able to come into the office. How will you serve customers?
- Know how to remotely update voicemail. Can your main switchboard be answered remotely? Who will answer the phone if the office is closed?
During an emergency ...
- Provide any critical information in a timely manner by posting information on your insurance agency website.
- Post recent news and recovery tips to your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.
- Go ahead and send emails. Even if customers don’t have power, they do have smartphones and they can keep smartphones charged by plugging into their cars.
- Go the extra mile to provide critical help to customers in need.
When a disaster the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy hits and millions of lives are so dramatically affected, you need to do everything you can to pitch in and help people through the crisis – even if it means suspending business-as-usual policies. Provide them timely and helpful information, and you’ll be seen as a trusted and valuable ally.