Handling Simple Structural Contents Claims:
Five Key Elements to Help Desk Adjusters Succeed

By Jeffrey C. Taylor

Desk adjusters play an important role in an insurance organization. They estimate and settle simple claims such as theft, vandalism, or minor fire and water damage over the phone, allowing field adjusters to focus on larger, more complex claims. And when field adjusters don't need to be deployed to loss sites, insurers can more effectively control operating costs. Using desk adjusters also allows insurers to maintain high customer satisfaction ratings by settling claims on the spot.

That doesn't mean that the desk adjuster solution is problem-free. Several challenges need to be addressed. Oftentimes, the people who fill such positions come from varying backgrounds and possess different levels of construction or adjusting knowledge and experience. In addition, when reporting a loss, most policyholders don't know how to describe the scope of damage their properties have sustained. Both factors present insurers with the challenge of creating a consistent, uniform approach that desk adjusters can use to handle simple property claims over the phone. New technologies, such as Xactware's Xactimate® Express, can help insurers resolve those issues in five ways.

Use Visual References
Visual references for common rooms and structural systems serve as useful cues for desk adjusters as they discuss losses with homeowners. For example, if there's been a small fire in the insured's living room, a desk adjuster can refer to a diagram of a standard living room during the phone conversation. Visuals guides can prompt the adjuster to ask the right questions to determine the extent of the damage: Did the fire burn through the carpet pad? Did the walls sustain any damage? This ensures that desk adjusters capture the details necessary to properly estimate the cost to repair the damage.

Combine Contents with Structural Settlement
According to J.D. Power and Associates, approximately one in three claims involves personal property items. Enabling desk adjusters to estimate and settle lost or damaged contents items while handling a structural claim saves on costs and improves the customer experience by reducing the number of representatives a policyholder needs to deal with. For example, if a burglar breaks into a home and steals a few electronic devices, a desk adjuster can easily estimate the cost to replace those stolen items while also compiling a list of structural repairs, such as replacing a door or repairing drywall.

Take Advantage of Uniform Pricing Data
Providing desk adjusters with access to independently researched and validated pricing information is one of the best ways to foster a consistent, defensible approach to handling simple claims. Xactware offers localized cost information for thousands of common building materials and labor rates for more than 470 geographic regions on two continents. Xactimate Express also provides adjusters with access to pricing for millions of contents items based on prices charged by major retailers. If an item happens to be obsolete, the application also suggests like-kind-and-quality items, which eliminates the inconvenience of searching for suitable replacements.

Enhance Line Item Searches
Many novice or less experienced adjusters don't know the code categories for contents and structural items. Insurers can overcome this issue by using technology that filters results by keywords, related or similar items, construction division, and so on.

In addition, it's often helpful to provide adjusters with lists of related items to make sure estimates include all the costs necessary to restore a structure to its original condition. Returning to our earlier burglary example: If the adjuster adds a replacement door to the estimate, providing the means to add a corresponding list of items, such as locks and hinges, can save time and engender reliability.

Facilitate Integration with Field Adjusters
On occasion, a desk adjuster will determine that a loss is too large or complex to handle over the phone. When this occurs, it's important to have a seamless process to refer the claim to a field adjuster who is better suited to estimate the loss. It's especially crucial to make sure that any claims information gathered to this point — including the policyholder's name, address, date of loss, and loss details — travels with the assignment so the policyholder doesn't need to repeat the information.

Applying these principles to phone-based estimating can help insurance organizations better handle simple or small claims in a timely manner. It also provides desk adjusters with a consistent approach that allows them to succeed at their role, regardless of their background in construction or estimating.

Jeffrey C. Taylor is Xactware's assistant vice president of Xactimate, the company's claims estimating platform.