Insurers aren’t immune to the types of events we provide cover for. AMI’s Richmond branch was one of many businesses hit by the rains of 21 April in the Nelson region. Our Richmond branch manager Nigel Heath tells us first hand what it was like to mop up the mess while still providing a service to a community devastated by the deluge.
I’ve been in Richmond since 1998 and the floods experienced on 21 April were the worst I’ve seen by a long stretch. December 2011 is an interesting comparison when the Tasman Area as a whole was badly hit by a very large storm. This situation differed in that the damage area was much more confined to mainly the Richmond/Stoke urban areas and the flooding affected a number of areas/properties that we have not previously encountered any flooding problems in – even new subdivisions experienced serious flooding.
The branch was closed all day on Monday 22 April while flood damaged carpets removed. Staff from Richmond were re-located to Motueka and Nelson branches and a skeleton staff stayed on at Richmond on clean up duties. We recognised the best way we could be of service to our Richmond customers would be by getting our doors opened as soon as possible. We called on favours from other business such as Jaes, local carpet removers and floor grinders to make this happen. After a marathon effort the branch was open for business again from 9am on Tuesday 23 April.
The branch premises have dried out, although with the carpet removed and concrete floors showing, and still with an ongoing need for replacement of the vinyl, skirting boards, architraves and some internal fittings. The building has a definite ‘work in progress’ appearance.
We experienced some technical issue getting our phones switched out to our contact centres so it is fair to say that all direct channels – phone, email, and customers calling into the branch were stretched. Many claims were directed off site to Motueka, Nelson, Greymouth, Blenheim, Ashburton and even as far south as Otago for AMI colleagues to load, and arrange trades-people and loss adjustors. This help, and access to the wider IAG network, was invaluable. It helped in the early stages considerably, and will help longer term with the speed of the recovery.
Our busiest day was last Friday, 26 April, where the full weight of customer inquiries was felt, involving claims already lodged, new claims, and ‘business as usual’ activity. Since that time, combined contact centre call rates are have been averaging between 300 and 450 calls per day, so it is still incredibly busy.
Most of the branch claims to date involve carpeting, and damage to anything else that would normally be found at ground level such as appliances, books and boxes of clothing. It is still too early to fully quantify the cost of damage. There is also recognition that financial help through insurance still can’t replace some precious items. In that regard the consequences are likely to be felt for some time.
Branch assistance is provided in a multitude of ways. Our team in co-operation with our loss adjusting colleagues and motor assessors, have given emergency response advice to customers, prioritised serious loss cases, assisted in making accommodation arrangements for those who were displaced, coordinated emergency repairs and cleanup work, advised customers on what recovery actions they should take, provided assessing advice, and started making claim payments, with a number of total loss vehicle claims already settled. All this is on top of usual business inquiries and looking after our non-flood affected customers
We are dealing with a reasonable number of displaced customers, the exact number of whom I can’t confirm due to many claims being handled off site. Flood waters peaked in a number of houses to a depth of over a meter and many properties will be under repair for months with full strip outs required. At least 20 vehicles in Richmond alone were written off as a result of flood waters.
The community spirit was strong and everywhere apparent. I was struck by the many reports of customers who went out in the storm to clear drains, house gutters, fences and other barriers that were holding back flood waters. These actions often saved properties from flooding, or significantly limited the severity of the flooding that did occur. Almost immediately after the water receded, many people immediately went to work to help relocate the displaced and clean out houses of silt and water.
In an emergency the branch really comes into its own as a hub for customer inquiries and many people feel more comfortable approaching us on a face-to-face basis. This in turn increases our efficiency in managing their issues.
The lights of the Richmond branch were, and still are, burning late into the evening and starting very early in the morning as we work hard to get this disaster event managed and our customers lives returned to normal.
Nigel came to work at AMI in 1987 as a Customer Service Officer in Motueka, having been a farm worker for 3 years prior. From 1991, Nigel moved up the ranks and around the country working in Nelson and Napier before settling in as AMI’s Richmond Branch Manager in 1998, where he’s been ever since. Nigel resides in the heart of Richmond with his family surrounded by neighbours who suffered in the flooding.
*Nigel’s account of the flooding also appeared in The Leader on 2 May 2013.