Think Your WC Claims Strategy Can’t Burn Your Brand?

Top employers discuss how organizations can optimize their brand presence by enhancing their claims management strategies.
By: | July 21, 2022

In a world where a company’s reputation can be easily tarnished through a simple social media post, how does a major brand go about ensuring their principles are reflected in their workers’ comp claims management process?

Top-tier organizations are already asking this question, but organizations of all sizes should keep their brand front and center. National Comp conference is pleased to open up the discussion as part of this year’s program agenda. Workers’ comp professionals from Albertsons Companies, International Paper and Sedgwick take the topic in-depth during Claims Management Is Part of Your Company’s Brand. How These Strategies Can Help Elevate It at Mandalay Bay on Oct. 20, 2022. Panelists shared their thoughts with Risk & Insurance in advance of the presentation. 

“First impressions are formed at the time an injury is reported, and the initial contact with the injured worker is critical, “ explained Max Koonce, chief claims officer at Sedgwick.

“These initial experiences set the tone for the claims process and largely define the path any given claim will follow. Care and compassion for the injured worker are essential. Showing empathy for the injured worker’s situation and the challenges ahead is invaluable.”

According to experts like Koonce, providing timely treatment and medical care is just one piece; it is also important to understand the injured worker’s specific needs, whether it be transportation to medical appointments, assistance with prescription pick-up, or home accommodations.

Helping the injured worker understand what to expect from the claims process and taking time to answer questions can help alleviate some uncertainty and redirect energies to healing and recovery.

Treating Every Claim with Care

For Albertsons, originally founded in Boise Idaho in 1939, and now the second-largest grocery chain in North America, the key to longevity has been understanding their customers’ needs and how they want those needs met; workers’ compensation claims are no different. 

“It is our expectation that claims are handled in a timely, cost efficient manner. For both workers’ comp and general liability, it is important that both our injured workers and our customers are contacted as early as possible and communication is key,” said Kelly Webb, senior director of national claims at Albertsons.

“We have implemented an initial contact template, which ensures examiners are using initial contact not just as a means to investigate a claim and ask questions, but to also provide information and education around what to expect for the claims process.”

The initial contact template, which Webb calls “a critical touchpoint,” also includes additional elements to foster that family feeling.

“Initial packets that go out to injured employees include a ‘hello’ cover letter that has soft/caring language and also includes information on how else to communicate with the claims team on the website, in addition to the claims process video link, which is a simple video that outlines the claims process and what to expect,” said Webb. 

Albertsons handles customer claims with the same level of care. The Albertsons Contact Team (ACT) is the front end of the program with a focus on contacting the customer to ensure that they understand the claims process and to determine whether the matter can be resolved at the onset, in situations where the damages are minor.

Webb said the Albertsons Contact Team is trained to handle the initial contact with empathy and understanding and to resolve any stress or anxiety that would result from the claim process.  

They frequently use Albertsons gift cards to resolve incidents on the initial call. In situations where liability is questionable, they look for ways to give the customer the benefit of the doubt and focus on resolution.

Memphis-based International Paper has also seen success with carrying its reliable brand into claims management.

Kim Pfingstag, manager, occupational care & recovery, global risk management, International Paper

“Our program starts with the understanding that getting injured can be a stressful and complicated process, not only for the employee, but for their family,” said Kim Pfingstag, manager, occupational care & recovery, global risk management at International Paper.

“We owe it to them to make sure that they have easy access to information and resources immediately after their injury and through their entire recovery process.” 

The International Paper Claims Team drives this through early intervention, education and treatment facilitation, and the team includes an internal group of employees called Regional Recovery Coordinators, Nurse Triage Resources, 24/7 call center access and Care & Recovery Specialists.

The specialists manage workers’ compensation benefits, and Nurse Advocates guide an employee from their first doctor’s visit to their return to full duty work.

“Although we have a dedicated team to manage our workers compensation process, this team is truly just an extension of an employee’s management team. By offering consistent training, corporate resources and dedicated claims management resources who handle only International Paper claims, we ensure consistency across the program that allows us to feel confident that we are reflecting and maintaining our culture and principles at all levels of the organization,” Pfingstag explained.

Recruitment Poses Challenges

While these processes have seen success, Koonce, Webb and Pfingstag’s organizations have all seen the same talent acquisition challenges faced by the industry and the larger economy.

Recruiting young people to address the talent shortage head on, and maintaining strong partnerships with vendors have been key to alleviating the problems high turnover can create and newly-minted claims staff provide another layer of opportunity to reinforce the training that make these programs successful.

“The claims team is the face of our company.  We want our customers to continue to shop in our stores and we want them and our injured workers to be satisfied with their experience with the claims process,” Webb said.

While technology is often seen as a magic bullet, for Koonce and Sedgwick, it’s no substitute for the personal touch that remains the core of their advocacy model, just as it does for Albertsons and International Paper.

“The use of technology will continue to expand and improve the efficiency of the claims process, the need for personal care and attention will not diminish,” Koonce said. “Many are finding meaningful work as they embrace the claims profession, and this is a story we will continue to repeat and amplify.” &

Hear more from these speakers and other workers’ comp industry leaders at National Comp 2022 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Oct. 19-21.

Nina Luckman is a business journalist based in New Orleans, focusing primarily on the workers' compensation industry. Over the last several years, Nina has served as Editor of Louisiana Comp Blog, a news site she started in 2014 under the auspices of a group self-insurance fund. She can be reached at [email protected].