"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
-- Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
Clearly, Shakespeare’s Juliet had never served a stint as a claims adjuster. She was a smooth one with words, however. Even Claim Coaches stumble and bumble. Last Friday I was emailing a request for a settlement check on a resolved product liability claim in Texas and incorrectly referred to my client as Bridget when her name is Gretchen. (Background: for years, this client’s in-house risk manager was our claims contact; her name was Bridget. She found love and happiness in Australia, though, and left the corporate world for Oz years ago.) That is no alibi, though.
Her successor was named Gretchen. I knew that. Should have known that. Terrific lady and client. Old habit die hard and brain cells die off as you age. At the end of a long day and week, though, the Claims Coach had a brain fart (not covered by my HMO and not listed in DSM III) and referred to the client as Bridget. To help matters, I cc’d the client in on the email.
She called me on it. What could I say? Throwing myself on the mercy of the court/client, I apologized and told her that – as penance for the transgression -- she could call me “Kelvin” or “The Idiot” for three days – her choice. Fortunately, she was a good sport about the whole thing and assured me that she “was just messing with me.” Not every client is going to be so good-natured about it.
Names are Important to Relationship-Building
It prompted me thinking, though, about the role of names in claims handling and customer relations. The take-away is that names are vitally important to people. Make sure you get them right (do as I say and not as I sometimes do!). Adjusters and claim professionals need to build good, strong, interpersonal relationships to succeed in their jobs. One way to do this is to sweat the details and get names right. This involves not just calling a Gretchen Bridget, but also taking time to try to pronounce names correctly. Adjusters will likely have some claimants, insureds and clients with odd names. Take time to ask the person how to pronounce the name. What works for me is something like, “Ms. XXX, I want to be sure I pronounce your name right, so can you help me?”
Just because you are sweating those details does not mean that others will necessarily get your name right. Reciprocity may be elusive here. As a Quinley, I have been called Quincy, Quinney, Quigley, Kelvin, Calvin and other terms likely best gone unmentioned in this blog (let’s keep our PG Family rating). Perhaps I have been referred to by the initials S.O.B. as much as by the initials CPCU.
As a neophyte adjuster at Crawford & Company, one day I returned to the claim office from taking a statement (this was at a time when adjusters actually did such things), only to find the staff laughing, hooting and hollering over my arrival. When I asked, “What’s the deal?” my coworkers responded that while I was out on the road, a claimant had phoned, complaining about her adjuster and the paltry settlement he offered. She said she could not recall the guy’s name but that “He was a little red-headed white dude!” From then on, the claim staff jokingly referred to me as “The Little Red-Headed White Dude.” I could not shake the moniker, as I explored claim office openings and transfer opportunities in garden spots such as Three Mile Island, Juneau, Alaska and Kurdistan.
Remembering Boosts Adjuster Credibility
People who forget names can erode their credibility. Recall Vice Presidential candidate Adm. James Stockdale beginning one of his campaign debates with the rhetorical question, “Who am I and why am I here?” Voters were not impressed. Maybe they could not answer Stockdale’s rhetorical question, either.
Occasionally our claim office receives feedback surveys from defense law firms that we employ. I applaud this discipline and wish it were more widespread (the subject of another blog, perhaps). One of my right-hand people is a very talented claims professional whose last name is Khin, a somewhat unusual name I grant. She has received law firm feedback surveys which butchered her name – Kihn, Kine, King, you name it. She was not impressed. “Gee, if they can’t get the name right, what does that say about the law firm’s client orientation?” The laudable gesture of sending a Feedback Survey is undercut by the failure to get the client’s name right.
As a freshman on my high-school cross-country team, the cheerleaders couldn’t remember my name amidst the team’s fast-legged and much better looking luminaries, of which I most certainly was not one. So on the “Spirit Posters” hung in the cafeteria they wrote, “Go – Little Red!” Those friends who knew me and knew I was on the cross-country team whooped and hollered about me being – much to my mortification – “Little Red.” (A taller carrot-topped runner was known as “Big Red.”)
Regardless of whether you are dealing with clients, insureds, claimants, witnesses, co-workers – pay attention to names. Strive to not only call people by the right name, but take pains to get the spelling and pronunciation right. Before calling someone by their first name, pause. Some people might find that off-putting, too familiar and presumptuous. Others may welcome it. (One tip: do they call you by your first name?) Do not hesitate to ask, “Mr. Jones – do you mind if I call you Jim…?”
Moral: Sweat the details, especially if you “are not good with names.” Many people fall into this category. There are many mnemonic tricks and memory devices to help people remember names – I just can’t remember them all for purposes of this blog. (For seven specific tips advocated by CareerBuilder.com check out http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/Careers/07/22/names). Your effectiveness not only as a claim adjuster but as a claim professional – and professional networker – is enhanced if you pay attention to names.
To each person, the sound of their name is the sweetest sound they will hear, though I used to joke that, until the age of 13, I thought my name was “Turn it Down!” because that is what my parents used to yell at me all the time while I played my Monkees albums on the stereo.
Don’t turn it down, though. Instead, tune in . . . to proper names. Sweat the details. Get the name right….
 Now, I just wish my (remaining strands of) hair was still red. I’m more likely to be called a Silverback than Carrot-Top.