The coronavirus crisis has hit the AXA Switzerland Service Center with full force. Intertours travel insurance, in particular, has received a record number of claims: in April alone, four times more claims were received than in the previous year. Support for repatriation, cancellations, or the rebooking of vacations were in demand.
People stranded abroad or customers who can’t depart on their trip turned to the AXA Service Center by phone or through online channels. Even just shortly after the outbreak of the crisis in the spring of 2020, the number of claims skyrocketed and has stayed at an above-average level through to today.
In the last week of March alone, over 3,500 claims were received by AXA travel insurance. By comparison, in the same week of the previous year around 500 claims were received. In the record month of April, the number of cases continued to increase. Never before had so many customers had to call on the help of Intertours. The case numbers remained at an above-average level during the entire summer and exceeded previous years multiple times over. Although the situation calmed somewhat in the fall, for the month of October the Service Center was still processing around double the amount of claims for travel insurance as in the previous year.
At the beginning of the lockdown, a majority of the requests related to travel cancellations and insureds who were stranded abroad and wanted to return home. “Many of our customers wanted to get home as quickly as possible. Especially those who belonged to a risk group,” said Guido Binder, Head of the AXA Service Center. Other insureds, on the other hand, only traveled home involuntarily. For example, a couple who had saved for a world trip for many years – price tag: tens of thousands of francs. Shortly after arriving at their first destination they received a rude awakening from their lifelong dream, and they had to return to Switzerland after only a few weeks. At least they were able to avert a major financial loss, since Intertours reimbursed them for most of the costs. The uncertainty regarding the extraordinary situation was felt strongly, especially at the onset of the crisis. So even emotional support was often a part of the service offered by the Service Center: “Many times it helped the customers just to know that we are there for them. In the end, many customers could then book flights for themselves or travel back to Switzerland with a repatriation flight of the FDFA,” Binder added. As the crisis developed, the cases increasingly related to rebookings due to persisting uncertainty.
What the significant number of claims doesn’t show is the additional challenges the Service Center faced. Besides staff shortfalls due to the lockdown, the situation was aggravated by the fact that, in some cases, the Swiss and foreign authorities were difficult to reach. New questions regarding coverage were raised again and again, one reason being that many major events such as the European Football Championship, tennis tournaments and carnival in Venice were canceled. And the constantly changing situation and associated measures, including the new coronavirus measures of the federal government, required a high level of flexibility and new solutions.
Proposed solutions were needed fast to ensure that the enormous amount of work could be tackled. More investments were made in process streamlining and optimization as well as automation and digitalization, and with the help of a “software robot”, some of the processes could be simplified in a short time. Many employees from various areas of the company agreed to support Intertours by taking claims for the 24-hour customer service. At times, there were more supporters working than actual team members. This helped ensure that customers could be assisted proactively and their concerns dealt with through digital channels. Most were aware of the high volume of requests and, as shown by their feedback, were grateful for AXA’s support.
Even today, the Service Center is still receiving an above-average number of claims regarding travel insurance. A majority of these claims relate to the ever-changing quarantine regulations. And turning to vacation next year, the changing situation creates uncertainty and open questions among insureds.