Collaboration amid catastrophe: responding to disaster in New Zealand

August 3, 2023

A hurricane seen from above.
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In late January 2023, Auckland experienced record rainfall and flooding. Two weeks later, Cyclone Gabrielle hit New Zealand and was cited as the worst storm to affect the country this century. The upper North Island, Gisborne and the Hawkes Bay areas, suffered severe landslips and flooding to homes and businesses —causing the largest number of claims we’ve recorded from a single event since the Canterbury earthquakes.

Our catastrophe (CAT) response and disaster management customer care teams were quickly assembled around the country and ready to respond. Their efforts to help clients and customers were supported by exemplary colleague collaboration from across the entire business.

A collaborative approach

In the initial days following the Auckland flooding event and Cyclone Gabrielle, I was asked to help set up, train and manage a temporary team of customer care colleagues who were assigned a vast claim portfolio. The associated claims were primarily related to domestic priority property flood damage in the Auckland, Gisborne and Hawkes Bay area. I’m based in Nelson, nearly 500 km away, so this task would involve a weekly commute for myself and my colleague Katie Panteli to Auckland, which didn’t faze us.

The customer journey

Every catastrophe is different, and every customer’s circumstances and needs are unique, but the common theme is the immense loss and tragedy. No matter what type of CAT event, the response team should try standing in the customer’s shoes and ask themselves how they would feel in their position. Many people lost their homes and belongings in a sudden catastrophic event and needed our help to map a way forward.

It’s essential that we treat each customer as an individual and take time to listen to them and show empathy for their situation. We need to find out what matters most to them at that moment and do our best to respond in a way that meets their needs. This way, we create the best possible start to a positive customer journey.

Good communication is vital – answering phones, returning calls, keeping everyone updated – as is thinking outside the box to find practical solutions to customers’ problems. Being there for customers and making sure they feel fully supported throughout the entire claims process is a primary focus.

Logistical challenges

During the flooding, we had the added challenge of managing a massive volume of claims under a completely new system, which was introduced by one of our key insurer clients during the response period. The impact of this cascaded down from branch level through to every aspect of our work – from general business administration to our adjusters in the field and our claim technicians’ routines to our building consultancy team response. We all had to work together and quickly tailor our resources differently to meet our client’s specific requirements.

As part of a large global organisation, we’re fortunate to work with some incredible people around the world, and it’s amazing how everyone pulls together in a time of need. We had tremendous assistance from colleagues who flew in from Australia, South Africa, Asia and Canada, and they were trained on how we triage and capture claims information on our systems. Remote support from Australia and Ireland was another significant part of our overall response, particularly in the major and complex loss space

Solutions focussed

While many of us worked under pressure in the disaster response teams, others were left to continue managing business-as-usual claims with a reduced workforce. Day-to-day or faced with a disaster, as an organisation and across all the various hubs, field adjusters, desktop, claims technicians and our executive team are solutions focussed, and colleagues are always ready to share their resources to improve and ease the workload for others. This collaborative approach starts at the top. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your skill base is, everyone wants to create a positive outcome for our clients, customers and colleagues. This supportive spirit runs deep at Sedgwick.

Four and a half months on, I recently undertook my commute to Auckland for the last time. While the work in the area is ongoing, we are completing these claims by providing support remotely. While each disaster is different, providing an excellent level of care for our clients’ customers remains the absolute constant in our response, and I know that in striving to meet these expectations, we will always have the full support of every Sedgwick colleague.

Learn more > visit our CAT resource center 

Tags: CAT Claim, Cat Insights, CAT Respnose, Catastrophe, catastrophes, cyclone, flooding, hurricane, New Zealand, Property damage, Weather, Weathering disasters