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Work comp service companies – Don’t do this.

Call centers often use average call time (ACT, also known as Average Handling Time or AHT)) as a metric to measure customer service “efficiency”.

That is a really dumb idea. 

Especially in workers’ comp.  In fact, one could make a compelling argument that the lower the ACT, the worse the outcome – defined as customer loyalty and likelihood the customer will “buy” again.

In the real world outside of work comp, there are lots of ways customers can get answers to questions about products and services; YouTube, reddit, websites, and even Yelp are just a couple. In that “real world”, customers who call service centers have a specific question, which MAY lend itself to a pretty quick answer.  But it’s just as likely the customer has a complex question which does NOT lend itself to a quick answer…This from the article linked above:

AHT might have been a fine way to gauge performance on simple issues like address changes, balance inquiries, or delivery tracking, when throughput was the name of the game, it’s a terrible way to assess performance on complex issues that by definition take more time to handle. [emphasis added]

While YouTube et al do provide customers with helpful info, those “alternative customer service resources” don’t really exist in work comp.  The business just doesn’t lend itself to automation, because:

  • issues are often jurisdictionally-related and those regulations often change with minimal notice.  Moreover, many states are pretty small in terms of work comp claim totals, so it’s hard to justify allocating big business analyst/programming resources to automating answers about new state claim reporting requirements in Montana (no offense to my many esteemed colleagues in Big Sky Country)
  • answers may have significant downstream legal implications so nuance and opinions can matter a lot
  • patients rarely know much at all about workers’ comp and want to talk with someone who does.  The interaction is really more about listening and empathy than just providing correct answers.
  • Calming down an angry, confused, or upset customer takes time

More importantly, treating call center workers as machines who must produce X widgets (defined as handled calls) per hour isn’t likely to make those workers love their jobs, care about their customers, or want to stay at your company.

In fact, they’ll “perform” to expectations, working hard to get off the line as quickly as possible, regardless of whether the customer’s happy or not.

So, you’ll get what you want – “efficiency”.  And your customers will go elsewhere.

What does this mean for you?

Do you like it when a “customer service” rep hurries you off the line, can’t seem to understand or care about your problem, or even if they do, turfs you off to someone else or, heaven forbid, the company’s website?


5 thoughts on “Work comp service companies – Don’t do this.”

  1. Totally agree Joe. When I managed the programs at Progressive Medical and Modern Medical we tracked AHT but it was only to understand the FTE we needed. We never held agents accountable based on this metric.

  2. You are exactly on point. I have managed staff in self funded health plans and Taft Hartley TPA as well as a TPA of FSAs and COBRA. Similar challenge – all call management software programs are designed for big retail companies (think Amazon). Additional challenges are: older participants clearly resist using websites, etc. and in many cases the person may have limited literacy or often there are multiple languages involved (not just English/Spanish).

  3. Hey Joe,
    I’m very interested in your blog. l like to see others opinions and insight regarding the Work Comp industry.

  4. Great post Joe and this reminds me of the book by Zappos founder Tony Hseih. They basically took the rule book on call centers and threw it out the window. Employees are encourage to stay on the phone as along as it takes to help a customer and ensure a great customer service experience. A very good read and a refreshing way to create a customer-centric culture and engaged workforce.

  5. Another dumb idea…outsourcing!!!!! How can any company honestly find that outsourcing call centers to other countries where the language barrier prohibits callers in getting clear or correct answers for that matter is a good idea????!!!!???!!! Forget about the time handled, that alone increases the time and frustration!

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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