Recorded statements are filled with dozens upon dozens of questions, with many you’ve asked so often that you have them memorized. But when was the last time you made a careful assessment of those questions? Are they all providing the same value to the interview? That is, do they all lead directly- and quickly- to your goal?
In our experience taking, transcribing, and translating recorded statements, the answer to that question is often no. We’ve put together three crucial considerations that we’ve used to refine our own statement taking formats and train our statement takers. We recommend you apply them to your own statements- you might find you’re in need of an update!
1. Move the Interview Forward
We began this post by asking if your questions were all delivering “value.” Value, to us, is simply that a question achieves its purpose: to collect the necessary information from the claim as efficiently as possible.
“Efficiently” is the key word in that last sentence. A cursory glance might convince you that all your questions are leading towards your desired end, but a more critical look may reveal that your questions are costing you time, or clarity.
We mentioned controlling the interview is an essential skill for adjusters. Precise, effective questioning is a major component of that effort. We find that interviews often derail when the interviewee feels compelled to launch into some sort of tangential diatribe or marginally adjacent commentary. Such commentary is often unnecessary and occasionally even untoward. This might include a story they are reminded of, a recollection of unrelated events, an exposition on their current or previous emotional state, or unsolicited opinions.
As an adjuster, you should be able to curtail such behavior, and that starts with setting expectations and then asking precise questions. The most effective questions consider the alternative ways an interviewee could interpret and answer it, and attempt to eliminate those opportunities with precise wording.
For example, open-ended questions are an exceptional tool for adjusters, as they highlight the factors that stand out in an interviewee’s mind and perspective. However, if framed improperly, an open-ended question can be an invitation for the interviewee to follow a train of thought that leads away from the necessary information on the claim.
Consider the common request, “Please describe the accident.” Phrasing the question this way could lead to a number of different expositions that aren’t necessary to the claim. Rephrasing that request to “Please describe the events that took place in the three minutes prior to the accident” gives a timeframe for the information and subtly suggests an expectation of an answer in the form of a chronological order of events. By rephrasing the question, you’ve significantly reduced the risk of a divergent answer.
2. Make Your Questions Succinct
Time is at a premium throughout the claim process, and therefore must be part of your analysis of your questions. Time that is wasted on your questions comes from a lack of clarity. Perhaps you are not asking your questions with confidence, or just going through the motions. Otherwise, perhaps the questions themselves are phrased poorly and causing confusion.
Confidence comes with training and experience. Confident statement takers ask direct, succinct questions because they trust they will elicit the response they require. A lack of confidence manifests in numerous pauses, changes to the question in mid-sentence, and compound questions that seek too many simultaneous answers. Seek to familiarize yourself with the format, listen well, and trust your questions, and you should build confidence quickly.
If a question on your stock format is poorly written, however, or you consistently phrase it poorly, you may find it sows confusion in the interviewee, eliciting unhelpful, incomplete, or repeated responses. These responses can lead to extended commentary, clarifications, or addendums that convolute the answer and extend the time of the interview. If you find yourself commonly needing to clarify a question, it’s a good sign that question could benefit from review.
The simplest way to ensure that your question is as efficient as possible is to reverse-engineer it from the answer it needs to invoke. Is there any room for another interpretation? Could it be answered in a way that gives redundant or repeated information? Is it open to vague, undefined responses? Is it leading? Refining your questions so that they are answered in the exact way that you intend will speed up the entire interview process.
3. Adapt Your Questions
A well-written format can only take you so far in efficiently establishing the facts of a claim. The best adjusters are also the best listeners, prepared to revise their questions based on the information they’ve already received.
Don’t forget that your interviewee is also a human being, and therefore prone to misspeaking, obscuring details that might seem unfavorable to them, or omitting details they have forgotten! If you’re paying close attention and visualizing the claim in your own mind, you’ll be able to address any inconsistencies with confidence and clarity.
Careful listening may also lead you to eliminate questions if the question has already been answered. You don’t have to ask a question simply because it’s on the format! Just like in any other conversation you might have, it’s annoying to be asked to share information you’ve already provided, as it indicates the individual is probably not paying attention to you. Show your interviewee the respect they deserve by listening well and adjusting your questions to fit what has been shared already during the statement.