What Would I Do? - Episode Two

Another recent experience occurred recently where it prompted me to think once again, “what would I do?”.  

From a customer perception, this situation wasn’t a terrible howler like the first example in this series. This interaction could be one that as a customer, be brushed aside and justified as acceptable actions. However, I think this is a great example of an industry that has seen some massive improvements and changes in the way it delivers its services, yet there is always room to do more.  Having the opportunity to improve on improvement, not being content with the status quo. Finally, this story will also be about empowerment of front line staff.

The Industry: Insurance companies

The scenario: 

Add one small puppy, two pairs of prescription glasses and a couch.  Yep the image you are coming up with is exactly what happened.  We accidentally left our glasses on the side of the couch overnight - a curious puppy felt these were fair game and went about creating a small area of destruction.  My glasses that were only two weeks old were in a thousand pieces.  The part of the couch he had his little party, now exposed to the frame with a scattering of foam across the floor.

It was Saturday morning, my partner immediately took a range of photos and contacted the Insurance company.  With a minimal wait on the phone, all was looking great.  Then the details hit.  First catch, “we have changed our policy on animal damage, you should have noticed this on your renewal”.  Yep, we should check the fine print, but honestly who reads all of the fine print!  Surely if there was a significant change in details, would you not go to the extra effort to highlight the change.

Second issue, although there was general agreement by the company representative and ourselves that these items would be covered, considering this was the first claim we had made in many years and relatively low value items. Still we had to wait for a decision to be made by the approval team on Monday, possibly Tuesday.  Hang on, what?  We now have to wait for another team to make a low-risk decision 3-4 days later.  We could go out right away, being the weekend when we have time, to organise replacements. But no, claims can only be submitted and acknowledged during the weekend.

This raised a whole lot of questions about their processes, lack of empowerment to staff when it really could add value to the customer experience.

So what would I do? If I was invited to support this company to create an improvement / operational excellence mindset, where would I start? I should add here - I have not yet worked with an Insurance Company, so if there are compliance or regulatory restrictions, please let me know.

I would begin by establishing what the guiding processes and policies of the insurance company in addition to the delegations of authority for both teams and individuals, then calmly go and break each one.

Let me explain.  

More often than not, in my experience limitations placed on teams are due to the poor actions of a team member most likely many years ago.  We can all appreciate that this is combined with the low risk environment of insurance companies.  However, most of the time, processes, such as approvals by another team are put in place because of :
  • Lack of trust
  • Limited cross training of staff
  • Lack of transparency from one team to another
  • A culture of micromanagement and delayed decision making
  • Mistakes made by teams or individuals in the past, and often well in the past.

The first action I would take is to gather representatives of all the teams involved and set an agreed vision, from a customer perspective, of an ideal outcome.  Create a cross-functional understanding of what it would take to achieve a great outcome.  In other words, establishing clarity on the desired outcome.  This would include speed of decision (ideally same phone call or within the hour), quality of decision making and confirmation of all the relevant information all parties needed. Lego Serious Play is a great tool I use with teams to create this picture quickly with 100% people actively involved and heard.

The next step I would do is to sit back and listen.  Listen to the institutionalised view of why it COULDN’T happen.  Putting each reason on a post it note and placing it on the wall.  I have used a similar approach to this, but it wasn’t a ‘can’t’ wall but “what pisses you off wall”. 

Once that process has exhausted just about all of the reasons the team members could think of which would block the ideal outcome.  Then the rest is easy.  Using tools such as ‘5 whys’ or A3 problem solving framework, go about systematically fixing each “Can’t”.  There doesn’t even need to be a priority of the order in which they are achieved.  Just start with one, any one. Though I would recommend identifying the quick wins to help build momentum. Celebrate each time a team or individual has looked at one reason and gone about solving the issue, then coming up with a solution and implementing it.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a fast approach - creating change like this never is.  Nor is it comfortable or easy.  Many of the solutions will require cross-team collaboration, negotiation……. change.

But step by step, you are slowly creating an environment that excels at operational excellence and continuous improvement that is focused on improving the customer experience.  Creating a team culture that encourages team members to try new things, be inquisitive, creative and be OK if the ideas don’t work out.

This approach also requires a strong element of empowerment.  Allowing team members to make decisions with decision tools in place.  In the case of my situation, I can imagine a decision matrix looking at level of claims, dollar value of potential claim, level of risk and if it is within scope, allow that person we first talked with to make a decision there and then.  

Later on, I would introduce process mapping so teams could proactively view the whole system.  They could identify bottlenecks, areas where delays are unacceptable, understand where handover of information or processes may occur that isn’t needed.

Bit by bit, the approach I would take is first solving the immediate opportunities, but then building in an understanding and skill set that enables teams to continuously review performance  Outcomes of each improvement may focus on quality, it might be about reducing time or improved compliance. Importantly each team member will be always thinking how they can improve the system each day.

Going back to the scenario that prompted this reflection, we are now chasing manufacturers, repairers, retailers two weeks later. The experience has moved quickly from an opportunity to do something awesome, to one that is frustrating!  Which is the whole point of this post.  Avoid these customer experiences!.


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