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Insurance Companies as Our Families

Lately I have been thinking about messages from insurance companies, who often encourage us to think of them as our families. My thoughts go in this direction because I wrote a training proposal for an insurance company in Minnesota this week, and I am looking forward to teaching “Writing Tune-Up for Claims Professionals” in Dallas, Texas, next month.

So I was intrigued when I received an example from a client, who got it from his insurance company. The emailed letter begins like this:

Dear _____,

You’re more than just another policyholder at ______ [name of company]. You’re a member, and we treat our members like family. That’s why we are reminding you that your property policy doesn’t provide coverage for flood damage.

Yes, family communications are often blunt and focused on a negative, like the last sentence in that paragraph.

The letter goes on helpfully to suggest several excellent ways to prepare for heavy rains. The fourth way, which appears in a paragraph after three bullet points, is to purchase a flood policy. The letter provides brief details about how to purchase a policy, when, and at what estimated cost.

But the opening jarred me. I think insurance companies can maintain their focus on customers as family members and communicate the flood damage message in a positive, helpful way. Here is my revised opening that uses the same theme as the original:

Dear ______,

You are an important member of our insurance family. That is why we want to be sure you are prepared for whatever the weather brings.

King County authorities warn that heavy and prolonged rain could cause flooding, even in communities that typically don’t flood, like Auburn, Kent, Renton, South Seattle, and Tukwila.

Here are steps you can take to prepare:

  • Purchase a flood policy. Your current property policy does not provide coverage for flood damage.
  • Prepare your home now and make emergency plans.
  • Make a plan for evacuating any pets and livestock.
  • Purchase an AM radio to be able to monitor evacuation plan alerts.

From the original message, I have edited the King County sentence and the steps you can take to prepare. I have put the focus on the flood policy, making it the first bullet point. It is essential that policyholders understand that their policies do not cover flood damage.

What’s your view? Did the original opening jar you? Or do you prefer blunt communication from your business family members?


Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

8 comments on “Insurance Companies as Our Families”

  • I agree with you, Lynn. The original opening is just a downer. Your revision really freshens up the message.

  • Lynn,

    I didn’t think the original opening was too blunt and it didn’t strike me as focused on a negative, either. Moreover, the important notice to policyholders was unmistakable.

    Your writing advice is perhaps the best I read on a regular basis, but I have to say, I disagree with your proposed revision in this particular case. My mother lives in Kent Valley and is dealing with this very situation—the need for flood insurance in light of King County’s recent announcments. If I were my mother and received your revised letter, I might not read far enough to see that this “sales letter” really did apply to me. (I admittedly have little patience for sales letters, especially from insurance companies who are always sending letters about “add-on” policy options.)

    I have other friends in the Kent Valley I have talked to as well, and the number one thing they are all worried about is whether or not they will be covered by their insurance. I think the original version does a good job of answering this question and leaves no room for homeowners to wonder if the letter really does apply to their current and pressing needs.

    Here’s hoping repairs to the dam happen before it’s too late.


  • Lori, thanks for offering that important perspective.

    The family theme with the “you don’t have coverage” message came across oddly for me. Yet I can see your point.

    Like you, I certainly hope people will not experience flooding.


  • I agree with your revision, in part. Warning customers that they do not have flood coverage up front, in the text of the first paragraph, is important. Leaving it in the bullets runs the risk that many customers won’t read it.

    Although the “just writing to say hello… oh yeah, I have a bridge to sell you” gimic is consistent with the family theme, I think customers would appreciate highlighting the real message.

  • Lynn,

    I think it’s odd that they say, “You’re more than just another policyholder…” as I would never have thought I was just a policy holder. It appears that they are trying to differentiate themselves from competitors that I wasn’t even considering. Missed the mark for me.

    While I agree with making the policy a top bullet in the preparation list, I think your wording, especially underlining “not” makes it more sales-y and less family-like. I’d expect a more gentle approach from a “family” member. Something like, “Because your current policy doesn’t include flood coverage, let us assist you in choosing the best option for you and your family. Speak to [Agent Name] today to discuss the options to protect you, your home and valuables from the high costs of flood damage.” A bit long for a bullet point, but what the heck – I’m no writer!


  • Scott and Kevin, thank you for adding your ideas.

    If the purpose of the letter is to sell flood coverage, I agree that the flood coverage information should not be one of several bullet points. It should stand out on its own.

    It’s possible, though, that the writer’s goal is to provide lots of suggestions about preparing for floods. If that is the goal, including the information as a bullet point seems right.

    I wonder what the writer was thinking.

    Kevin, I am glad you pointed out the “You’re more than just another . . . ” remark and your reaction to it. Unless the reader is feeling particularly unappreciated, it is an odd opening.

  • Lynn:

    From the company’s standpoint, it wants to sell additional coverage. To do that requires persuasion. One of the rules of persuasion is to make the case before requesting action.

    In that regard, your revised version delivers the more persuasive presentation.

    Take the employee who says to her boss, “I want you to send me to Honolulu for a week.” The instant gut response is “no.” And good luck getting the boss to back off a position taken.

    By contrast, the employee who says, “Remember last year when I attended that week-long insurance trade show in Omaha? You’ll recall my conversion rate was the highest in company history and resulted in $2.3 million in new business for the company. Well … they’re holding the trade show in Honolulu this year. I’ve checked on airlines fares and hotel costs and figure the total cost will be no more than $3,500. Would you invested $3,500 for a $2.3 million return? Should I start packing by business suits?”

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