6/25/2014

Love at First Bike

Tips and tricks for effective motorcycle claims resolution.

By Rick Drewry

Spring and early summer is prime time for motorcycles in many parts of the country, so we can expect to see an influx of new motorcycle owners and, of course, motorcycle insurance claims.

For adjusters new to the process, evaluating and settling motorcycle claims can seem intimidating. Though there is a learning curve, the right training and attention to detail will help you settle claims quickly and fairly and ensure that you send the right indemnity payment the first time. If you become proficient in motorcycle claims, you can become immensely valuable to policyholders, shops, and insurance carriers.

So how do you get started? Build your knowledge, build relationships, and take the time to understand what makes motorcycles special to enthusiasts.

What Sets Motorcycle Claims Apart

The first step in effectively settling these kinds of claims is developing an understanding of how a motorcycle is constructed. Once you have a proper understanding of their construction, motorcycle claims are some of the easiest to handle. Many claims simply entail swapping out parts. You do not need to become a mechanic, but you do need to learn the lingo, names of parts, and how they fit together. Since this varies from bike to bike, you also should be familiar with various makes and models and stay informed of new models and trends.

Handling motorcycle claims requires a different attention to detail than with other automotive claims, such as the difference between new and old damage. This creates a common gray area—and accuracy problem—in motorcycle claims.

For example, if a motorcyclist drops his new bike or bumps it against something, he likely will not think it is worth presenting for a claim. However, when he gets into a more serious accident and needs to file a claim, he will want to have everything fixed—including the old nicks, dings, and scratches. Because the shop is concerned with fixing the bike, it will not necessarily know or be attentive to what damage is specific to the claim. As an adjuster, your job is to understand the loss description, visualize what the damage should look like, and assess the damages based on that information.

You also will need to learn to identify the need for replacement parts or when a bike has damage to repairable painted parts. For many motorcycles, you can buy prepainted parts. However, many parts can be or need to be repaired and painted—even the gas tank. Few repair shops have someone who can perform this work in-house, but you can work with them to identify a third party that can handle the repainting. All three parties working together will ensure better outcomes for a mutually agreeable price.

There are many other technical considerations that go into these claims, and a good way to gain this knowledge is to seek hands-on claims training specific to motorcycles. Learn more than just identifying parts and writing estimates. Look for training programs that allow you to perform frame teardowns and replacements. It’s certainly easier to learn every component of a motorcycle and how they fit together when you are responsible for building a bike. Plus, you will have a deeper understanding of the time and care it takes to get a repair done the right way the first time. This lends you more credibility with both shops and customers, and ensures you can confidently defend the payment allotted for the claim.

Focus on Fieldwork

Fieldwork is the foundation for an accurate and expedient claims handling experience. If you are a field adjuster, you should finish the estimate onsite. Jotting down notes and then trying to interpret them later while processing the claim probably will not result in an accurate estimate. In fact, many errors stem from adjusters simply snapping a few photos and trying to write an estimate at a time when their memories are not fresh.

On the other hand, when evaluating damage at the repair shop, you can inspect the damaged bike alongside the manager and come up with a more accurate estimate. After all, the shop staff members are your most valuable experts for understanding the extent of the damage. Once you have generated an estimate, you can go over it with them. This in-person, hands-on approach produces better outcomes for customers and stronger relationships with individual shops.

Clear photos are crucial for the field adjuster, and securing the right photos is especially important for independent adjusters working with a carrier’s inside adjusters. If you have a supplemental claim later, you will be able to tell if there is damage that will trigger a new assessment. Plus, accidents happen in shops. For example, if a mechanic drops a wrench and dents a gas tank, this damage may find its way into the claim. Photos are the adjuster’s way of ensuring that all parties are treated fairly.

Though requirements may vary from carrier to carrier, you should always take photos of the following:

  • Vehicle identification number.
  • Odometer reading.
  • Four “corners” of the motorcycle.
  • Front and rear.
  • Front, middle, and rear on each side.
  • Damage detail, using a pen or arrow to indicate damage.
  •  Any unrelated or prior damage.

Be sure to review your photos while at the inspection location, ensuring that they are not blurry and that they clearly depict the damage. Later, label the photos indicating the damaged parts.

If you are working with an independent adjuster, be specific about your photo requirements. Your referral should include any key details, such as how the loss occurred and areas of the motorcycle that were damaged in the loss. With the right information at his disposal, the adjuster can provide a more accurate inspection report.

Respect Motorcycle Culture

There is a lot of potential for mistakes if you are not a motorcycle enthusiast and are unfamiliar with the names of parts, types of bikes, and the needs of this type of customer. That is why it helps to approach motorcycles as an enthusiast when trying to break into this line of coverage. Get to know the different makes and models of bikes and take the time to understand what is important to riders. Understanding new models and being able to talk about the construction of motorcycles goes a long way.

Though most car owners think of their vehicles as just another appliance, motorcycles are often a hobby and a passion project for those who own and ride them. Most motorcyclists love their motorcycles and will spend just as much time cleaning and maintaining them as they do riding them. Having this passion as an adjuster is always a plus and comes across to the insured, who wants to know that you understand how important it is to get his bike fixed. Also, consider the likelihood that the insured was injured in the accident that triggered a claim. The last thing he needs is an equally painful claims experience.

Of course, if you do not ride and are not into the culture, your lack of understanding will quickly become clear to an avid motorcyclist or shop manager. You can best build relationships with customers by taking a genuine interest in their needs and interests. At the same time, this attention to detail helps build good relationships with shops, a relationship that is true to both sides. With the right relationship, you can focus on paying exactly what you owe, no more and no less.

Aim for Speed, Accuracy, and Trust

Recent surveys have found that speed and accuracy are the primary drivers of customer satisfaction in motorcycle claims. Additionally, when motorcyclists and shops are asked about their experience with different insurers, they were usually satisfied with the speed of payment but not necessarily with the amount of the claim paid. Shops often feel carriers can deliver quick payment but not the expertise necessary to settle the claim fairly.

Not only do you want to conclude claims in a timely fashion, but also you want to get the indemnity payment right the first time. This helps to keep customers happy and allows you to build and retain good working relationships with shops and agents. After all, when a customer thinks his indemnity payment was inaccurate or the repairs insufficient, he will call his agent and his repair shop first.

These relationships are built on the trust that comes through mutual understanding. But you can only build that with the right knowledge, which is why training is so important when working with motorcycles.

In many cases, carriers provide motorcycle insurance as a courtesy to their existing customers; it is treated as an afterthought to homeowners’ or auto insurance. But a well-trained motorcycle claims specialist can increase a carrier’s credibility with its customers, providing much needed expertise in handling this niche.



Rick Drewry is the senior collector car and motorcycle specialist with Specialty Insurance Services Corporation, a claims management and training subsidiary of American Modern Insurance Group. He can be reached at (800) 375-2075, ext. 6937, rdrewry@amig.com, www.siservices.com.

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