Column: Roger's Soapbox

Desperately Seeking Service

By: | April 7, 2017 • 3 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Every financial services provider promises first-class service. Yet, broadly speaking, the 21st century service mantra is: The customer is always wrong. And is usually a pain in the neck.

The insurance industry has somewhat unfairly had a poor reputation in this regard since the 18th century, because it only pays claims for risks it has insured, which has not proved to be a hugely popular policy.

Customers have grown accustomed to the run-around (please hold); the denial (see paragraph 14b); the refusal (claim denied); and finally, if the stars are aligned, the settlement (now go away).

These tactics often offend retail customers who live in a delusional world where they expect attention, but lawyerless and ignorant, find that when service is denied, they do not stand equal in power to the giant corporations.

It’s based on a revolutionary model: treating customers as if they were not vermin. Imagine that!

The extent to which I expect laughably poor service has been driven home to me by my bank of the past 49 years, from whom, like Rodney Dangerfield, I don’t get no respect …
— in search of which I first visited another old-style retail bank. Wait three weeks for an appointment, they said. Nah, I thought.


On a whim, I waltzed into Metro Bank, a newcomer, and breezed out half an hour later with a new checking account — and a smile.

My old bank couldn’t tell me if my debit card would be renewed, and bridled when I suggested that was no help. Metro made me a card on the spot, and I’d never been in the store before. From customer services rep Michael Jones’s window, I could see my old bank, 200 years across the road.

Metro is the first national retail bank opened in Britain in a century, apparently. It’s based on a revolutionary model: treating customers as if they were not vermin. Imagine that!

Mr. Jones was downright friendly, even charming. He called my home later, to make sure everything was OK. Experiencing actual customer service almost brought me to tears, and I’m impermeable.

Oddly, Metro Bank doesn’t refer to itself as a bank. It’s a group of stores, which is exactly what retail banks are in the here and now. It’s where people who don’t bank online obtain the necessaries. American founder Vernon W. Hill II runs the stores, which are open seven days a week. Other banks, until recently, opened for only a few hours, five days a week.

If this sounds like an ad for Metro Bank, it isn’t. Come to think of it, I had to give them money (to put in my account).

It’s banking 2.01, an industry disrupter. The hardest part for Mr. Hill must have been persuading potential investors that treating customers as if they mattered made any kind of economic sense at all.

Insurers of personal lines, take note. We, the people, are widely starved of first-class service. Offer us some, and we’re yours. Do it soon, or someone will disrupt you.

Once the dust had settled, Metro sent me a letter. It said, “Thanks for joining the revolution.” Now I’m a comrade, not a customer. Dasvidaniya. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]