By Paul Lombino
Despite reputations as cold and aloof, insurance and financial-service companies are in the people business and need to convey a warmer message when reaching out to customers. One way to reinforce your brand’s theme ─ whether it’s reliability, responsibility, capability, or plain-old stability ─ is by revisiting your standard form letters.
Last year a regional insurance agency asked me to help revise their inventory of over 100 auto claim letters to policyholders, defendants, and other insurance firms. Their initial goal was to “soften the tone” of each missive to reflect the company’s more human side. (Don’t laugh. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people, too.)
My client’s approach to their “claim letters” project was both far-thinking in scope and democratic in execution. And I think it’s worth sharing.
Over a four-month period, a team of five participated in weekly one-hour phone conferences. The team comprised representatives from the insurer’s claims, compliance, and marketing communications departments. I served as writer-editor-copy manager. My role was to take notes during often rapid-fire exchanges among group members and to interpret revisions to batches of six to ten letters on a weekly basis until the project was completed.
Rounding out the team, the company president served as an effective group leader. A man of sound business and editorial judgment, he encouraged the group to offer diverse perspectives on what should and should not be included in each letter.
Every week we’d call in at an established time to:
- review existing letters,
- offer amendments, and
- vet changes made from the previous week’s meeting.
The team literally scrutinized every paragraph, sentence, clause and, yes, word. (This was no place for a thin-skinned writer.) As tedious as that may sound, this consensus-building approach worked to soften the overall tone of each claim letter without sacrificing content, which typically took the form of documentation requests.
With each passing week, I built a file of frequently used terms and phrases that could be inserted in subsequent letters. Repurposing existing copy helped present a more consistent message and shave time off the editorial process. It also allowed the group to focus more on the core purpose of each business communication ─ whether to express sympathy for a loss, offer congratulations on resolving a claim, or somewhere in between.
On average, it took about three weeks for each batch of letters to pass muster. This fluid process allowed the team to work on two or three batches of letters at a time, improving the copy structure along the way. This checks-and-balances editorial style proved not only productive, but nurtured a sense of camaraderie and kinship among the group that, I think, was reflected in the finished product.
For companies that communicate frequently with customers through form letters, it may be time to give your aging inventory a facelift. How you approach it will depend on multiple factors, including available resources and timetable.