ICAE – Savannah, GA – Spring 2000 Exchange – The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Complaint Handling

Dealing with Customer Expectations

  • Expectations impact renewals.
  • Customer contact is critical to understanding and shaping expectations.
  • Regulatory agencies and private companies are both impacted by unreasonable consumer expectations, and such expectations don’t simply go away by themselves.
  • Understand: What influences initial expectations? What has changed in customer expectations since the initial purchase? Why did those changes happen?
  • What recent changes in insurance products affect current perceptions of older products?
  • Media coverage of class actions change expectations for insurance products.
  • Communicate with long-time policyholder; continue a dialog with long-term customers; update customers.
  • Mergers and acquisitions in the insurance industry have caused a “brain drain” regarding the history and rationale behind older policies presenting a significant support challenge to customer service personnel who have had little or no exposure to older policies.
  • Make policy information widely available through easily accessible information databases.
  • There’s a need to clearly explain parents’ policies to children who may know nothing of them, and may be unfamiliar with the differences between contemporary policies and those from decades ago.

Root Cause Analysis

  • When doing trend analysis, beware dividing possible causes of problems into too many categories. You can overlook significant data in the many fragments which could belie identifying some important problem causes.
  • Know who’s doing Department of Insurance Market Conduct exams, and to have knowledge of their criteria and results.
  • Maintain control of agents. Ensure adequate training, do regular monitoring, do field audits, assure compliance.
  • Conduct on-going training of agents.
  • Marketing surveys can reveal discrepancies between what the consumer purchased (the actual product as presented in the complete policy) and what the agent appeared to have sold (the product as described in the sales transaction). Determine: Does what the agent presented and the actual policy match?
  • Recognize that many customer service representatives do not understand some policies. Need to break policies down into simpler terms that CSRs and customers can both understand.
  • Call center personnel turnover is a problem.
  • Keep current with problem sheets; analyze summary reports for trends.
  • Discriminate between true customer complaints and annoyances. True grievances are different from minor issues.
  • Track information about complaint sources.
  • Look at complaints regularly to see trends.
  • A trend is relative to the whole—small problems could hold the potential to be big problems.
  • CSRs must be good listeners to detect true source of complaints. Inquiry skills are rarely instinctual—training must address interview and listening skills.
  • CSRs must complete forms or computer screens accurately for good trend data to emerge. They must understand what the categories mean and then select accurately to obtain valid data.
  • The state insurance agency may have predefined complaint categories. Using those categories internally can help to get a sense of larger trends.
  • Compiling information into categories takes time but is necessary to discern trends.
  • Human insights from the front line are also important. Relying on numerical reports at a distance from the front line may give an incomplete picture. The human insights, impressions, need to be validated with follow-up research to more accurately scope the anecdotal impressions.
  • Communication can be a key factor in root cause: Did people misunderstand? Official notices and communiqués from companies need to be more conversational. Formal statements in legalese usually serve only to confuse and alienate customers.

Changing Internal Policies

  • Communication is vitally important. Top management needs to obtain insights from the trenches and seek feedback for improvements in products and customer service.
  • Top management must also do a better job in communicating to the front line, especially the “why” underlying changes in policies.
  • Top management expects employees to change, that must be supported by information and training.
  • Historic knowledge must be captured; the trend toward more outsourcing can siphon away the “why” behind the history of products and company rules and procedures.
  • Use the influence of power brokers: gain access to top management through other influential people who senior management trusts.
  • Present proposed changes in a way that clearly demonstrates “what’s in it for you” to top management.
  • Build relationships to secure credibility.
  • Establish credibility, and the trust that follows, by being accountable, by delivering on what’s expected of you consistently.
  • Advocate change by drawing on the persuasive powers of both logic and emotion.
  • Greater progress is possible with top management that wants to be involved in improving the business.
  • Plan and coordinate change efforts. Hold people accountable.
  • Correlate loss ratios and complaints. Make the case that there is impact to complaints.
  • More positive change is possible when upper management is committed to listening.
  • Show top management appropriate data. Make the case for change in the context of “the risk and costs of not changing.”

Employee Hiring and Training

  • Hiring: Hire without age limits. Many over-50 folks are losing their insurance industry jobs because of downsizing, mergers, etc. They may be great resources for understanding and handling decades old policies
  • To attract qualified people, consider some flex shifting to appeal to more people; while there are few part-timers on most payrolls now, this configuration may hold the promise of getting more competent people to serve customers
  • Initial training: Four week orientation and training by listening to phone calls handled by experienced CS reps. To become “fully trained” on complex insurance products is a multiple year process.

Root Cause Analysis*

This paper takes you through the process of identifying the root cause of problems so you can really fix what’s wrong.

* Adobe® Acrobat® Reader is required to view this PDF file.

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