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It’s all about customer service

HSA’s third Survey of Bill Review in Workers’ Comp and Auto is done – final editing is in process and we’ll have the report out shortly. There’s one key takeaway – it’s all about customer service.

We will dig into the details next week, but first a couple thoughts about “customer service.”

The core of customer service is this: the customer wants to feel valued, that they are important to the seller. There are two basic ways of achieving that – thru organizational policy and by individual employee actions.

I fly American Airlines a lot, and almost exclusively. I’ve long figured that it’s best to have some “status” with an airline because something bad will inevitably happen and when it does you need some stature to get any help at all. In general, that works out. But of late, the “value” of my loyalty has dropped considerably. While I’m still piling up the miles, American seems to have made the corporate decision that it is now “Too Big To Care.”

AA is the world’s largest airline, flies everywhere, and probably thinks it can do what it pleases and we’ll just have to deal with it.

Verizon has a similar Too Big to Care perspective. As the dominant wireless carrier, they are all about maximizing revenue from each customer, and in my experience give their service staff little leeway to fix problems or come up with creative solutions.

USAA has long had a reputation as the best personal lines insurer, but of late it’s customer focus seems to have been shoved aside in favor of snappy TV ads during football games. You have to put your dollars somewhere, and it’s cool to be an exec in a company your neighbors see on the tube.

These three organizations are surveying me all the time about service, about how smiley the flight attendants are, how fast they answered the phone, whether I was happy or not with the encounter with customer service.

Wrong questions.

These are questions intended to rate, reward, and penalize the folks on the phone, at the counter, at the airport. Instead, the should be asking customers what upset them about the service or how they change their policies to do better.

Because most times it’s not the person, it’s the policy.

For example – Dumb corporate edicts about closing flight doors 10 minutes before “departure” time may help on-time performance stats, but they piss off late arriving customers. The bigwigs are missing the point – who cares about on-time performance if you can’t get on the damn plane?

What these companies are missing is understanding that people care about how they are treated as individuals, which means these huge organizations have to give their service people the leeway, training, and flexibility to solve the customer’s problem.

And this isn’t apologizing and offering to rebook on another flight sometime in the next couple of days in seats by the rear restroom. It is keeping the plane’s doors open, or giving a credit when a customer misreads a confusing policy or doesn’t exactly comply with a process designed to make the seller’s workflow easier.

So, what does this all have to do with bill review?

These three companies are all Too Big To Care.

With consolidation increasing in work comp, it’s possible some vendors may get Too Big To Care.  In fact, it’s likely. 

That opens up opportunities for others, for companies that understand what patients, providers, employers want and need, and give their front-line staff the ability to deliver on those wants and needs.

What does this mean for you?

Customer service starts with understanding that customers want to feel like you care. It’s a ton of work to figure this out, but the rewards are long, stable, and profitable customer relationships.

16 thoughts on “It’s all about customer service”

  1. Customer Service starts with ” walking in their shoes” … looking at it from all sides, then acting accordingly keeping all in mind. Not just our/their own greed

  2. Joe, You’ve made a great point. Many within the provider network space – main stream physician networks as well as networks providing “ancillary services” – long ago forgot they have two constituencies. Both are absolutely necessary to the network’s business success, but sadly “customer” service is not provided with that in mind. Shame on the many excellent medical providers who continue to allow themselves to be treated poorly and shame on the networks who do not properly value the providers’ contribution.

  3. Joe, truly one of your better articles. Seems simple to apply but so many TPA’s don’t get it. It starts at the top, it’s about leadership and the right culture, treating others the way we all want to be treaty with respect and dignity. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving

    1. Dick – thanks for the note and kind words – appreciate your readership!

      It is simple – treat your employees well, give them responsibility and accountability, and reward good outcomes.

  4. I have enjoyed your blog for years. I wanted to comment this time because I believe that so many service companies miss the mark, and its really not a difficult one to hit. I was fortunate to spend the bulk of my career as part owner in a private consulting firm whose principal owner created a culture of treating your valued employees well and retaining customers by delivering a very high level of customer service. The owner never directed our primary focus on the bottom line or on growth, It was all about quality retention of valued employees and customers. The owner also empowered employees to identify prospective customers that could detract from our commitment to existing customers and valued employees, and he readily avoided contracting with those. Both employees and customers appreciated this culture, and growth and bottom line issues took care of themselves without being the boring focus.

    1. Thanks Dan – appreciate your readership.

      Valuing employees makes everything better – people like to come to work, like to work with each other, politics are minimized, customers get a positive vibe, people want to stay and grow and get other people like them to come on board.

      Decades ago Gore Inc had a business model that capped growth at any one business at 200 employees, believing the span of control and ability to influence was diminished too much in larger organizations. Folks want to make a difference – and they can SEE that in smaller organizations. Gore itself is far larger – but all of their business units were capped.

  5. Joe, you hit it right on the head..again. Customer service is not just an inward look at how employees meet company includes doing what can be done to solve a problem that faces a customer and hopefully keeps them as a customer. And this does not mean the customer is ALWAYS right. A good manager will identify the cases and possible solutions that is fair to all parties.

    Please keep up the great work and tremendous insights!

  6. From the carrier buyer/vendor management perspective, customer service is all about how you respond WHEN things go wrong. You can have shiniest product in the market but if you can’t (or won’t) fix a problem affecting your customer I am inclined to take my business to someone more responsive; someone who really wants my business.

    Don’t throw company policy or complaint forms in front of the issue either. I care less about your internal process as I do personal responsiveness from an empowered account executive who will own the problem as well as the outcome. That, to me, is true customer service.

    1. Will = well said. it’s not about your process, it is about fixing the problem now and preventing future occurrences.

  7. Sorry Joe! But as someone that always arrives on time and early to catch the flight. I wished they closed the doors 5 minutes. What I see is people that plan poorly and do not take into account the other 150 folks that paid for seats and where there on time to board. If your late your late, doors closed go to the counter and start over.

    1. Hi Tony – I think I wasn’t clear in my post – We were an hour early for our flight out of Ithaca NY, then the ground crew delayed takeoff for an hour. That put us into Philly almost an hour late.

      SO, despite sprinting thru the Philly airport and arriving 5 minutes before flight time, American closed the doors on us.

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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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