Seeing Opportunity in Expansion
In 2014, Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated announced it would be expanding its territory over the following two years, but didn’t specify by how much.
“The information trickled out slowly, and I got the sense that we were going to grow much more than I originally anticipated,” said Steve Richards, director of claims and litigation for the company.
His premonition was correct. He expected Coca-Cola to grow its workforce by about 50 percent, which would bring the payroll up to roughly 10,000 employees. Instead, it almost tripled in size, increasing the number of workers to upwards of 14,000.
Since the initial announcement, the company also acquired 25 new locations across six states. With a massive influx of new workers — both union and non-union — and varying state laws to contend with, the workers’ compensation program faced some growing pains.
In an effort to head off the expected spike in workers’ comp claims, Richards conducted a comprehensive review of the program, allowing him to identify the primary drivers of claim costs, the suitability of network penetration, and inefficiencies in claims management.
“We had an unbundled program that wasn’t scalable,” Richards said. “Some of our partners in the unbundled model couldn’t handle the flood of new employees. We needed partners with more providers so there were more in-network options for our workers, which also leads to greater cost savings. Bundling the program expanded our access to these providers.”
Implementing stricter loss control measures was also a key feature of the program overhaul. But overcoming cultural differences among the new workers and locations took persistence and consistency of message.
“We lead with safety,” Richards said. “Some of the new territories were not accustomed to strict loss control and were more skeptical of leadership. They were used to different claims-filing procedures, different payment methods … a totally different work injury experience. We want to make that experience as easy as possible, and it took time to convince them that the changes were in their best interest.”
“We needed partners with more providers so there were more in-network options for our workers, which also leads to greater cost-savings. Bundling the program expanded our access to these providers.” — Steve Richards, Director Claims & Litigation, Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated
Prior to the expansion, 6 to 7 percent of the employee population would be injured at any given time. Since acquiring the new locations, that figure initially jumped to 10 to 15 percent, but has since dropped down to 8 to 9 percent.
“The longer workers stay on with us, the more I expect to see that number drop as they grow more used to our safety program,” Richards said.
He also streamlined the approach to claims management in an effort to improve cost control and speed up claim closure.
“Steve’s engagement and expertise, not to mention his great communication skills, provided the foundation from which we were able to meet CCBCC’s needs during the transition process,” said Sharon LaCour, account principal, Gallagher Bassett. “Partnering with Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated — and especially working with Steve Richards — demonstrated the value of true strategic collaboration.” &