But for Riney, president and CEO at Risk Enterprise Management Limited (REM), a national TPA based in Cranbury, N.J., words alone just don't cut it.
"As a TPA, we're in a somewhat unique position. We're responsible for representing our customers to their claimants, who are often their customers, as well as their employees, while managing our customers' money," says Riney. "When you play such an important role--dealing with companies' brands, reputations, employees and their loss dollars--you can't take customer loyalty for granted."
To stay on top of changing customer needs, for years REM conducted its own customer feedback surveys, and used them to the best of its in-house ability. Two years ago, however, the company made a decision to outsource the process, turning it over to experts who know how to get the most critical, useful information possible from clients.
In 2008, REM teamed up with Inavero, a Portland, Ore., research company focusing on satisfaction surveys for professional service firms.
Inavero sent the first survey to REM customers' primary decision makers. REM had an exceptional response from clients and earned overwhelmingly positive feedback.
REM learned that 4 out of 5 responders would recommend REM over any other TPA they had worked with, that REM earned very high scores for customization and quality, and that the respondents enjoyed exceptional customer service.
"It's all part of a continuous process of personalizing and improving our services," says Riney. "In that first survey, our customers told us they really valued the personal experience we delivered up and down the line--from the way we design customized services and provide data that fit with our customers' own practices--to front line claims handling protocols."
But, Riney says, taking claims personally means not being complacent.
"Inavero gives us an objective perspective," he says. "They are the experts, and they know how to elicit objective and meaningful customer feedback. But most of all, it frees us up to concentrate on what to do with the information after we receive it. Even though we were thrilled with our scores, our customers showed us where we still had room for improvement."
REM made some broad changes, Riney says, like developing a new risk management information system and enhancing its Account Management and Analytics practice, but REM's managers also responded to specific clients regarding their feedback.
"Every customer is important to us," says Riney. "We reviewed each response, and reached out to individuals to discuss their suggestions and resolve any concerns raised in survey responses. The depth of action we took from our customers' suggestions, I think, was key to making the program a success."
Eric Gregg, managing partner and Inavero's founder, says that is exactly why REM has succeeded, not only in meeting and exceeding customer service objectives, but also in reducing turnover and boosting new business.
"What it comes down to is not necessarily the importance of the survey, but what you do and how you act on the data," Gregg says. "REM's approach is inclusive, both REM-wide and within individual accounts. Most of all, they have the flexibility to make changes and recognize that Account A may need something that Account B does not."
REM's success is evidenced by their customer retention. In 2008, REM earned an impressive 97 percent client retention. However, in 2009, the year after the first survey, REM's retention increased to 99 percent.
"REM has adopted this strategy wholeheartedly," Gregg says. "They already had good client relationships, but they worked hard and focused on areas where improvement was possible."
In the spring of 2010, REM launched a new survey, and this time invited a wider range of customer contacts to participate, including brokers and customer support staff in addition to risk managers and program managers. Again, REM clients welcomed the opportunity to give feedback, with more than half weighing in with ideas, praise and suggestions.
That says a lot, according to Gregg. "You can tell a lot by the engagement clients have in the process. People don't have time to take surveys unless they truly believe the company is committed to acting on their suggestions. REM's response in 2008 paved the way for more participation in 2010."
Gregg says REM is well on its way to joining the customer service elite, companies such as Southwest Airlines and FedEx, in terms of customer satisfaction rates. But what matters most is how they perform in their space, directly against the competition. In that way, they already are the elite.
"When we looked at the results, REM earns high scores because customers really like the personal attention, responsiveness, and ability to customize," Gregg says. "Most of all, REM is seen as 'easy to work with,' to the point that several responders wrote that they felt as though REM's adjusters work as an extension of their internal team."
"In 2008, REM really started living this and pushing it down to all levels within the organization," he says. "That's what sets elite service companies apart from the rest. It's not that they are unique in their desire to give great service, it's their commitment to measuring performance and acting on the information that separates good from great when it comes to service."
Gregg is speaking about the fact that REM significantly increased the number of "very satisfied" (scores of 9 & 10) in 2010, compared to 2008, and also cut in half the small percentage of responders who gave any low scores.
Riney, though, believes there are many benefits of customer research beyond satisfaction scores.
"Customer surveys not only tell us how we're doing, but also how to get ahead of the curve - to learn new marketplace needs and identify new hot buttons."
For example, says Riney, customers more and more are commenting about the growing importance of information and analytics expertise--no surprise, but in his view, a validation of one of REM's key initiatives.
REM also recently launched a survey specifically for new customers, asking questions about the sales and transition process, and first impressions of REM's account management and claim adjusting.
According to Riney, the survey itself fosters a spirit of open communication, while the results help uncover and address any potential snags early on, and serve as a springboard to growing the partnership. He explains that although the REM account manager monitors all of these things, formal surveys are a good way to encourage customers to really evaluate their experience.
"Our performance management process is not based strictly on surveys, but if one office, adjuster or account manager comes in for praise, we can learn from that," he says. "The more opportunities for communication that we provide, the more opportunity we have to exceed expectations."
"We learn what we're doing right, so we can reinforce it and apply it elsewhere. And maybe more importantly, we learn where we can improve," adds Riney.
Using customer surveys not only is a gauge for improving customer service and products, but it also can serve as a window into REM itself. It tells everyone, customers and brokers alike, that taking care of the customer and driving satisfaction upwards is what matters at REM.
"We design services to help ensure customer satisfaction from the get-go, but if there is a problem, we own it and fix it," says Riney. "We don't need to tell our customers that we do a great job, we need our customers to tell us that we're doing a great job. That's what taking claims personally means."
(The above piece is part of our continuing Insights series designed to highlight key products and services to our readers. This paid-for Insights was written and edited by Risk & Insurance®
on behalf of our marketing partner. Additional Insights can be found on our Web site at www.riskandinsurance.com/.)
September 1, 2010
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