The Value of Collective Wisdom Outweighs
The fact that you can do something does not mean that you should. It is perfectly possible to leap from an airplane without wearing a parachute. The consequences, of course, would be disastrous but it can be done if you so choose.
Equally, the claims industry has demonstrated that it can ‘work from home’ and still manage claims very successfully. However, the fact that you can manage claims with a home-based workforce does not mean that you necessarily should.
In my view it’s time to bring our people back to the office, and this has nothing to do with the desire by the government to see this happen for the better health of the economy. Instead it is driven by 3 key reasons – all of which are an integral part of the complex jigsaw of actions, reactions, and logistics that we call claims management.
It is suggested (by Wikipedia no less) that Aristotle was the first person to formally identify that the collective wisdom of crowds is better, in certain circumstances, than that of the individual – even if that individual is an acknowledged expert in their field.
Much the same can be said of the claims office environment, where continuous interactions in the contact centre, team meetings, management discourse and a vast range of other activities brings with it the benefit of collective wisdom. Ranging from the simple claims query asked by one colleague of another, to more in-depth workshops and planning sessions, there is every reason to believe that collective wisdom will arrive at a better answer than the current forced individual isolation of claims handlers and senior staff.
Of course, working from home is great. I’ve been doing it for 23 years and there are many advantages. No need to commute (other than to your nearest kitchen table or dedicated office ‘suite’). But when it comes to really ‘nailing’ customer service, operational delivery, and future planning I would argue that no amount of Zoom, Teams, or Google meetings is a patch on the formal and informal discourse of the office environment. How many times have you wished for that informal chat with a colleague or in-house expert who stands ready and willing to assist only to find that – when working from home – that informal circle of expertise is not available at the time when you need it most?
The easiest way to keep customers happy is to spend money on them. Particularly in the current circumstances, where the economy is disappearing into a black hole of despair and anxiety for many households, an insurance claim may come as a boost to family income.
I am not suggesting that there is necessarily an increase in casual fraud from customers (although there probably is) but, more simply, claims handlers do not have easy and instant access to the collective security blanket represented by the office environment and their colleagues. Working from home is a lonely and, at times, very trying atmosphere and it would be all too easy to settle claims in a more relaxed and less appropriate manner simply in order to reduce customer ‘hassle’.
However, the primary job of the claims department is not to secure customer satisfaction, contrary to some claims operations that I have seen. Customer satisfaction (or, heaven forbid, dissatisfaction) is a result of all the prior actions that occur in claims and supply chain management during the course of an incident. Being tempted to buy satisfaction is more likely to occur when claims handlers and their team leaders do not have instant and easy access to each other as they would do in an office environment
I have seen it suggested that the forced experiment with working from home will accelerate the trend towards digitisation and self-serve claims management.
The current WFH environment may indeed accelerate the intent of senior managers and leaders to drive the digitisation agenda. It may also persuade sceptics that claimants really can do more for themselves. It may even encourage those controlling the purse strings to loosen their grip and facilitate investment for the future.
However, we all know that technological and related change management challenges move at a glacial pace in the insurer community.
With insurers being naturally risk-averse, and the claims department too often being seen as the last stop on the bus route of investment, the claims digitisation journey is often characterised by delay, indecision and hesitation as competing interests fight over limited resources.
These tendencies can only be exaggerated by the current need to work from home.
Essential conversations that often occur in the informal atmosphere of the office cannot take place. Brain storming is intensely difficult when conducted on-line. Vital work can be delayed because operational team working normally conduced across a desk or in a meeting room is difficult to replicate when working on line.
Working from home is a blessing in many respects and for many people – but not when it comes to advancing difficult, costly and challenging IT projects. The pandemic crisis has shown us what can be achieved and it has certainly moved the goalposts as far as the digitization journey is concerned, but now we must turn digitisation ambition into day-to-day reality and that will not be achieved in a Zoom meeting!
From the Claims Director to the FNOL service agent, from the total loss manager to the team leader, from the engineer to the supplier, we owe a debt of thanks. The continuation of service to claimants has been fantastic and there is much to be learned from the way in which the claims industry has been able and willing to respond.
No doubt there will be some welcome changes to the core working environment as a result, but now is the time for normal service to be resumed for the benefit of claimants, the business and, of course, the employees themselves.