2017 NWCDC Keynote Preview

Caring for Workers ‘The Nordstrom Way’

Learn about Nordstrom's approach to injured worker advocacy during the 2017 National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference & Expo.
By: | June 9, 2017 • 3 min read
Topics: NWCDC | Retail | Workers' Comp

Janine Kral is known for her passion when it comes to contributing to risk management’s overall improvement and for fostering workers’ compensation and risk management programs.

Kral, the VP of risk management at Nordstrom, will deliver a keynote address focusing on injured worker advocacy during the 2017 National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference & Expo to be held Dec. 6- 8 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

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Nordstrom is a nationwide retailer characterized by a culture that emphasizes superior customer service — a hallmark that extends to caring for its injured workers.

While injured worker advocacy is currently a hot topic in workers’ comp, particularly among leading-edge employers looking to improve worker engagement, Nordstrom’s workers’ comp program developed by Kral has long embraced the practice.

“Janine is a seasoned risk manager who built a risk management program focusing on internal and external customer service, including employee advocacy,” said Denise Algire, director, risk initiatives, and national medical director at Albertsons Companies. “I am excited to hear and learn from her presentation.”

Kral oversees 75 employees responsible for mitigating a broad array of exposures and reducing Nordstrom’s total cost of risk.

Her group manages claims litigation, purchases insurance, assures regulation compliance, implements loss prevention practices, mitigates employment-related risks, improves business resiliency by coordinating crisis management and emergency response plans, and works to overcome business continuity challenges.

Kral’s tenure at Nordstrom began 30 years ago when the retailer specifically hired her to improve its workers’ comp program and to make certain its injured employees were well cared for.

Today, workers’ comp is only one part of her risk management purview, which now includes a workers’ comp director she collaborates with.

Taking care of injured colleagues isn’t just the right thing to do, according to Kral. It also has practical implications.

Janine Kral,VP, risk management, Nordstrom

“We believe that if you engage the employee and get them to trust that you really are looking out for their best interest — even though sometimes you have to make decisions that are not popular with them — then the decision is going to be easier and they may accept it better, if you have established that trust from the beginning,” Kral said.

At NWCDC, the veteran risk manager will discuss the strategies her team employs to make worker advocacy happen, the outcomes experienced, and how the customer-service philosophy described in the book “The Nordstrom Way,” could just as easily describe the employer’s recipe for managing workers’ compensation injuries.

Nordstrom practices for engaging injured workers includes recognizing which ones will need additional help and understanding what are they looking for.

“We expect our employees to have a relationship with our customers, and every customer has different needs and every employee has different needs,” Kral said. “So [we start by asking] how can we support them when they have a need, when they are injured on the job.”

To make certain that philosophy coupled with other workers’ comp practices continually produce positive results, Kral’s risk management department relies heavily on measuring outcomes.

Metrics reviewed include the number of claimants who seek attorney representation. Evaluating such information helps Kral’s risk management department gauge its worker-engagement performance as well as evaluate the impact on factors such as claims duration.

Kral’s involvement in risk management stretches beyond Nordstrom.

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She has served on the Workers Compensation Research Institute’s board for 20 years. That involvement began when Kral started volunteering her input on WCRI claims research results that proved useful for benchmarking Nordstrom’s program.

“I got so excited about it I kept calling them to say ‘what about this, what about that,’ ” Kral said.

She was later instrumental in encouraging Aon to develop a benchmarking study that allows retail-industry clients to see how their workers’ comp and general liability programs compare against their peers.

“She has been very passionately involved in different risk management groups,” said Algire, who is also an NWCDC program co-chair. “She has been a leader in different employer associations. She collectively shares information about what Nordstrom has done with other employers.”

Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

More from Risk & Insurance

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Lead Story

Improving the Claims Experience

Insureds and carriers agree that more communication can address common claims complaints.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 7 min read

Carriers today often argue that buying their insurance product is about much more than financial indemnity and peace of mind.

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Many insurers include a variety of risk management services and resources in their packages to position themselves as true risk partners who help clients build resiliency and prevent losses in the first place.

That’s all well and good. No company wants to experience a loss, after all. But even with the added value of all those services, the core purpose of insurance is to reimburse loss, and policyholders pay premiums because they expect delivery on that promise.

At the end of the day, nothing else matters if your insurer can’t or won’t pay your claim, and the quality of the claims experience is ultimately the barometer by which insureds will judge their insurer.

Why, then, is the process not smoother? Insureds want more transparency and faster claims payment, but claims examiners are often overburdened and disconnected from the original policy. Where does the disconnect come from, and how can it be bridged?

Both sides of the insurer-insured equation may be responsible.

Susan Hiteshew, senior manager of global insurance and risk management, Under Armor Inc.

“One of the difficult things in our industry is that oftentimes insureds don’t call their insurer until they have a claim,” said Susan Hiteshew, senior manager of global insurance and risk management for Under Armour Inc.

“It’s important to leverage all of the other value that insurers offer through mid-term touchpoints and open communication. This can help build the insurer-insured partnership so that when a claim materializes, the relationships are already established and the claim can be resolved quickly and fairly.”

“My experience has been that claims executives are often in the background until there is an issue that needs addressing with the policyholder,” said Dan Holden, manager of corporate risk and insurance for Daimler Trucks North America.

“This is unfortunate because the claims department essentially writes the checks and they should certainly be involved in the day to day operations of the policyholders in designing polices that mitigate claims.

“By being in the shadows they often miss the opportunity to strengthen the relationship with policyholders.”

Communication Breakdown

Communication barriers may stem from internal separation between claims and underwriting teams. Prior to signing a contract and throughout a policy cycle, underwriters are often in contact with insureds to keep tabs on any changes in their risk profile and to help connect clients with risk engineering resources. Claims professionals are often left out of the loop, as if they have no proactive role to play in the insured-insurer relationship.

“Claims operates on their side of the house, ready to jump in, assist and manage when the loss occurs, and underwriting operates in their silo assessing the risk story,” Hiteshew said.
“Claims and underwriting need to be in lock-step to collectively provide maximum value to insureds, whether or not losses occur.”

Both insureds and claims professionals agree that most disputes could be solved faster or avoided completely if claims decision-makers interacted with policyholders early and often — not just when a loss occurs.

“Claims and underwriting need to be in lock-step to collectively provide maximum value to insureds, whether or not losses occur.” – Susan Hiteshew, senior manager of global insurance and risk management for Under Armour Inc.

“Communication is critically important and in my opinion, should take place prior to binding business and well before a claim comes in the door,” said David Crowe, senior vice president, claims, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.

“In my experience, the vast majority of disputes boil down to lack of communication and most disputes ultimately are resolved when the claim decision-maker gets involved directly.”

Talent and Resource Shortage

Another contributing factor to fractured communication could be claims adjuster workload and turnover. Claims adjusting is stressful work to begin with.

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Adjusters normally deal with a high volume of cases, and each case can be emotionally draining. The customer on the other side is, after all, dealing with a loss and struggling to return to business as usual. At some TPAs, adjuster turnover can exceed 25 percent.

“This is a difficult time for claims organizations to find talent who want to be in this business long-term, and claims organizations need to invest in their employees if they’re going to have any success in retaining them,” said Patrick Walsh, executive vice president of York Risk Services Group.

The claims field — like the insurance industry as a whole — is also strained by a talent crunch. There may not be enough qualified candidates to take the place of examiners looking to retire in the next ten years.

“One of the biggest challenges facing the claims industry is a growing shortage of talent,” said Scott Rogers, president, National Accounts, Sedgwick. “This shortage is due to a combination of the number of claims professionals expected to retire in the coming years and an underdeveloped pipeline of talent in our marketplace.

“The lack of investment in ensuring a positive work environment, training, and technology for claims professionals is finally catching up to the industry.”

The pool of adjusters gets stretched even thinner in the aftermath of catastrophes — especially when a string of catastrophes occurs, as they did in the U.S in the third quarter of 2017.

“From an industry perspective, Harvey, Irma and Maria reminded us of the limitations on resources available when multiple catastrophes occur in close succession,” said Crowe.

“From independent and/or CAT adjusters to building consultants, restoration companies and contractors, resources became thin once Irma made landfall.”

Is Tech the Solution?

This is where Insurtech may help things. Automation of some processes could free up time for claims professionals, resulting in faster deployment of adjusters where they’re needed most and, ultimately, speedier claims payment.

“There is some really exciting work being done with artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies that could yield a meaningful ROI to both insureds and insurers,” Hiteshew said.

“The claim set-up process and coverage validation on some claims could be automated, which could allow adjusters to focus their work on more complex losses, expedite claim resolution and payment as well.”

Dan Holden, manager, Corporate Risk & Insurance, Daimler Trucks North America

Predictive modeling and analytics can also help claims examiners prioritize tasks and maximize productivity by flagging high-risk claims.

“We use our data to identify claims with the possibility of exceeding a specified high dollar amount in total incurred costs,” Rogers said. “If the model predicts that a claim will become a large loss, the claim is redirected to our complex claims unit. This allows us to focus appropriate resources that impact key areas like return to work.”

“York has implemented a number of models that are focused on helping the claims professional take action when it’s really required and that will have a positive impact on the claim experience,” Walsh said.

“We’ve implemented centers of excellence where our experts provide additional support and direction so claim professionals aren’t getting deluged with a bunch of predictive model alerts that they don’t understand.”

“Technology can certainly expedite the claims process, but that could also lead to even more cases being heaped on examiners.” — Dan Holden, manager, Corporate Risk & Insurance, Daimler Trucks North America

Many technology platforms focused on claims management include client portals meant to improve the customer experience by facilitating claim submission and communication with examiners.

“With convenient, easy-to-use applications, claimants can send important documents and photos to their claims professionals, thereby accelerating the claims process. They can designate their communication preferences, whether it’s email, text message, etc.,” Sedgwick’s Rogers said. “Additionally, rules can be established that direct workflow and send real time notifications when triggered by specific claim events.”

However, many in the industry don’t expect technology to revolutionize claims management any time soon, and are quick to point out its downsides. Those include even less personal interaction and deteriorating customer service.

While they acknowledge that Insurtech has the potential to simplify and speed up the claims workflow, they emphasize that insurance is a “people business” and the key to improving the claims process lies in better, more proactive communication and strengthening of the insurer-insured relationship.

Additionally, automation is often a double-edged sword in terms of making work easier for the claims examiner.

“Technology can certainly expedite the claims process, but that could also lead to even more cases being heaped on examiners,” Holden said.

“So while the intent is to make things more streamlined for claims staff, the byproduct is that management assumes that examiners can now handle more files. If management carries that assumption too far, you risk diminishing returns and examiner burnout.”

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By further taking real people out of the equation and reducing personal interaction, Holden says technology also contributes to deteriorating customer service.

“When I started more than 30 years ago as a claims examiner, I asked a few of the seasoned examiners what they felt had changed since they began their own careers 30 year earlier. Their answer was unanimous: a decline in customer service,” Holden said.

“It fell to the wayside to be replaced by faster, more impersonal methodologies.”

Insurtech may improve customer satisfaction for simpler claims, allowing policyholders to upload images with the click of a button, automating claim valuation and fast-tracking payment. But for complex claims, where the value of an insurance policy really comes into play, tech may do more harm than good.

“Technology is an important tool and allows for more timely payment and processing of claims, but it is not THE answer,” BHSI’s Crowe said. “Behind all of the technology is people.” &

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]