Once Burned: Getting a Contents Loss Claim Back on Track

As consultants, we are often called in at the start of a claim when clients are stressed and upset, having just suffered a loss. Gaining the insured’s trust is a priority.  More challenging, however, is when we are engaged in the middle or late stages of a claim to help get a difficult situation back on track.  By this point, the insured could be frustrated or angry if they believe their file has been mishandled or if there is uncertainty about timelines, processes and outcomes. Building trust takes time and effort, but being asked to pick up a dropped ball and get it back into play requires a particular skillset.

While every situation and client is unique, there are some basic practices that can be used to help regain trust and repair relationships. To illustrate how we deliver exceptional customer service under tense circumstances, let’s look at the case of a residential fire claim that had been in limbo for two years. By the time the SPECS team was called in, a Schedule of Loss (SOL) listing lost and damaged contents had not been created. The insured had no information regarding missing articles or the status of her stored contents, as the contractor storing the items was not responding to inquiries. The claimant was further exasperated at being turned away from the warehouse—located hours away—without being able to see her contents. Our appraiser had his work cut out for him as he implemented the following strategies.

Spend time upfront

If the insured has experienced a long delay on their claim, it is tempting to jump right into the project—especially when already aware of the issues with a file and the necessary next steps.  That being said, what’s on paper and what a claimant believes they have experienced can be two different things.  The situation could be emotionally charged and the insured may not feel heard or understood.  In the case of the house fire where the homeowner had been given the runaround, there were two years worth of built up frustrations.  No significant progress had been made, making the insured very wary. In this case, our appraiser put in the time upfront to speak directly with the insured about everything that had happened since the claim was first made.  Only after he had heard her needs and concerns did he create the summary of services necessary to address them.

Streamline communications

Too many points of contact can cause confusion, miscommunication, or duplication of efforts. It also makes for a less transparent process.  In the case of the fire, both the insured and the original adjuster were dealing with the contractor—and neither was getting answers. SPECS became the single point of contact between the contractor and the insured, communicating frequently and openly to ensure expectations were managed and issues were dealt with in a timely manner.

Put the client first

This may seem obvious.  However, sometimes what is best for the insured can mean more work.  In our example, the contractor had been avoiding everyone. When our appraiser arrived for a scheduled meeting with the contracting company owner to review the claim, he didn’t show up. One of the options considered was to have a different contractor take ownership of the insured’s contents.  Although this may have made SPECS’ job easier, it would have also likely resulted in further delays, only adding to the insured’s seemingly prolonged wait.

Don’t point fingers

The insured is already familiar with what previously went wrong. They don’t need to be reminded of the problems—they need solutions. Case in point: when the contractor did not show up for the meeting, our appraiser did not point fingers and return empty-handed. Instead, he approached the situation from a different angle. Even though they knew nothing about the claim, he met with the contractor’s staff and was able to acquire the non restored and restored items lists they had on file (which had never been updated), to get the ball rolling.

Be hands on and proactive

When we are asked to help on a project that has a damaged relationship, providing assurances is important, but actions really do speak louder than words. Even if it means taking matters into your own hands. When our appraiser finally did meet with the contractor and explained he required an updated contents lists for the insured right away, two workers were assigned to help create a SOL. As the contractor’s employees had little experience preparing such lists, our appraiser stepped in to help them with the process of going through all of the insured’s warehoused contents. The appraiser ensured each item was there and properly sorted on the lists. Likewise, at the insured’s request, he was on hand for the scheduled delivery of contents and quickly reacted when he discovered that the contractor had left two crates worth of contents back at the warehouse.

Go above and beyond

You really have to go the extra mile for a claimant who needs to be won back—especially given the emotions often involved in a residential loss.  At the insured’s request, our appraiser was able to locate and deliver some important belongings that were unaccounted for, including baby clothes and a death certificate. In addition, he personally inspected every item with the homeowner to make sure she was happy with the restoration work.


While entering into a claim, at a point where emotions are at an all time high, requires a careful balance of diplomacy, and effort, the payoff is a satisfied customer. Two weeks after SPECS was involved, not only had contents been returned, but trust was re-established and relationships were repaired.

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