Author: Chris Boggs
Your insureds are not insurance experts, nor should we expect them be. In fact, many don't like to talk or think about insurance - much less read a coverage-heavy" letter. However, there are times when agents are required to capture specific coverage facts in writing.
When it becomes necessary to pen a coverage letter, remember three guidelines (I hesitate to call them rules"):
1. The reader does not know what you are thinking when you wrote the letter. Have you ever been in a conversation that seemed to begin in the middle? A professional friend of mine often calls and begins the conversation saying something like, So when we get to the point where you need to respond." You know as much as I did. My friend was so caught up in his thoughts, he just assumed I knew the basis of the conversation; he started the conversation in the middle. I had to bring him back to the beginning, so I knew where we were. We both needed to begin at the beginning.
Think of your coverage letters the same way, remembering that a letter is not a conversation; it is a one-sided attempt to get the desired point(s) across and answer unasked questions (these are the questions that your letter will raise) in the body of the letter. The reader cannot ask questions of you to gain clarity, this forces them to: 1) guess what you mean; or 2) make incorrect assumptions. Begin at the beginning and cover all the key points so the insured does not have to guess. Bad things happen when the reader has to guess.
Unfortunately, beginning in the middle or forgetting the insured has no idea what you are thinking is an easy trap in which to fall victim because you know exactly what you are thinking and what you mean but they don't. Always view the letter from the recipient's point of view. Because they are not present inside your head to hear your personal discussion or thought process, you must be explicit and clear in the explanations you put on paper. Assume the reader has never been part of the discussion and the letter is completely new information. One recommendation is to have an uninvolved third party read the letter. Be careful to not prompt them with any filler information; they must come to the letter blind."
2. Introduce and discuss insurance coverages and concepts so a reasonably intelligent, non-insurance person will understand. Remember, these are non-insurance people. As you explain coverage, stay away from industry terms (insuranceeze") and legal terms not commonly understood (legalese"). Using such technical language does one of two things (or maybe both): 1) it makes you look self-important; and/or 2) this can indicate you don't understand the coverage or concept well enough to explain it in simple language. Although you might have to use the term, subrogation," don't stop there, explain its meaning clearly, using non-insurance terms. Your job is to make new and complicated concepts familiar and easy to grasp.
3. You must be willing to "let go" of what you have written and be willing to delete that which does not improve the message or comprehension of the concept. Believe me, I know this is the hardest of the three guidelines to follow. Properly constructing a coverage letter can be very difficult and time consuming. You may spend 10, 15, 30 minutes or even an hour trying to get just one paragraph "perfect;" willingly deleting it after all that time feels like losing a close friend or that you have somehow failed. Although you may feel like a lot of time has been wasted if you cut it from the letter, stubbornly holding on to something that does not accomplish or harms the overall goal of the letter is - childish.
I spent too much time crafting that paragraph, there is no way I'm not going to use it." Never mind that using it might turn what was a good letter into a bad one.
A few years ago, I heard a story about the musical artist Prince and his 80's hit, "When Doves Cry." According to reports, Prince originally composed a bass line for the song. But before releasing the song, he removed it because he thought it was better without the bass line.
Certainly Prince spent hours crafting and arranging the bass line, but his willingness to remove it - because it ultimately didn't add to the song - resulted in "When Doves Cry" becoming Prince's first number one song. If a world-class artist is willing to delete something that took him hours to plan, why should we be so unwilling to remove a paragraph that does not accomplish the overall goal of the letter?
Certain self-evident concepts are not discussed in this short article such as the use of proper greetings or endings, the necessity of proper grammar and proper sentence structure. The goals of this article are to remind us that the client is not an insurance expert and that we must be able to give them ALL the information they need in a non-threatening yet technically correct manner. Writing proper and effective coverage letters takes knowledge, skill and practice.
Last Updated: January 27, 2019