Although complaining customers can sometimes become a company’s best advocate if their complaint is handled well, avoiding complaints in the first place is a far more effective way of driving customer loyalty. Assistance providers on the front line of (often complex) travel insurance claims abroad, know this only too well. But how can they ensure that customer service is so good that complaints are pre-empted?
Covid-19 has thrown up unprecedented challenges for the assistance sector, not least closed international borders, quarantine requirements and a squeeze on the availability of hospital beds. But it has not diminished customers’ high expectations. “While the pandemic is unlike anything businesses and their customers have been through before,” says the UK’s Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), “it’s clear the fundamentals of customer service matter more than ever.”
The FOS also says that managing customers’ expectations effectively can help generate goodwill and pragmatism, rather than distrust and frustration – and this is the cornerstone of good customer service.
Managing expectations effectively means communicating transparently and regularly with a patient from the start of an assistance case, even when there are challenges beyond a provider’s control. Clear signposting is essential, covering everything from what is going to happen next, to how regularly a case manager will get in touch.
The very best managers will put themselves in their customers’ world; for instance, explaining the logistics of a repatriation and why it may not happen instantly, or talking through the implications of flying home with an injury. They won’t forget to keep the customer updated, even when they are busy managing behind-the-scenes issues.
The digital world and customer assistance
Digital doctor, mobile health and security alerts, bespoke telephony technology and automated medical claims for non-urgent cases are just some of the services now supporting customers’ assistance journeys. But digitisation doesn’t always need to be customer-facing to have a positive impact on service.
Single-platform technology that gives assistance teams a 360-degree view of a customer’s claims and medical assistance journey can ensure that needs are met proactively. Social media search tools can accelerate genuine claim payments and remove unconscious bias, finding impactful intelligence to validate medical claims. Digital health risk assessments can help determine individual risks, align them with medical provision abroad, and drive appropriate risk mitigation.
Meanwhile, tools such as automated hospital billing and bespoke claims dashboards also play an important part in ensuring that patients’ access to medical treatment is not delayed and that insurers have useful management information to help them better understand their customers.
Pre-empting complaints is all about pre-empting customer needs, and the development of agile, relevant technology is critical to this.
People power - training and development of staff
Effective technology aside, continuous staff development is the backbone of good customer service. Development doesn’t just need to be about industry qualifications or meeting targets. It can, for instance, also include proactive initiatives for call handlers, such as first-hand experience of repatriations, bite-size medical training with doctors, or sessions with Samaritans; all of which will help assistance teams hone their empathy skills and relate to customers’ situations.
Feedback, both positive and negative, also plays an important part in pre-empting complaints and assessing the impact of new service initiatives. Post-repatriation calls to customers, Net Promoter Score online surveys, and even honest sessions with colleagues can help to gauge customer and client satisfaction, assess communication skills and improve service delivery.
pre-empting needs is critical to pre-empting complaints
Partners overseas, on whom the global assistance sector often depends for medical, transport, security services and more, need to be subjected to similar scrutiny to ensure they provide real value. During the pandemic, these partners have provided real-time intelligence and resources on the ground, enabling hospital beds to be booked, accommodation to be found and government guidance to be met in rapidly changing environments.
Going the extra mile
Today, it’s not unusual for assistance providers to go that bit further for customers; be it by laying on a birthday cake for an isolated individual during Covid, filling the fridge for a patient returning home, or negotiating with a hostile local government for flight clearance.
But what if a customer has needs that regularly go above and beyond the usual assistance remit? For instance, the high-net-worth individual who expects to feel like their case manager’s only client; the anxious person wanting to chat about worries without actually making a claim; or the vulnerable patient needing extra support (more than half of all UK adults now have characteristics of vulnerability, according to the Financial Conduct Authority).
Again, pre-empting needs is critical to pre-empting complaints. Niche training such as ‘vulnerable customer’ modules can enable assistance teams to look out for triggers early in the assistance process and identify communication, medical or other needs. Meanwhile, specialist teams can take the pressure off frontline assistance staff by dedicating themselves to a particular client, providing ‘white-glove’ treatment, with no distractions.
Each customer is different – and the best service is rooted in skilful communication that makes everyone feel valued, whatever their demands.
Creating opportunities to offer great service
It’s never too late for great customer service, even when a complaint has been made.
Findings from the Complaints Outlook 2021 show that 17 per cent more customers will recommend a company to others if they feel valued when making a complaint. They also show that communication is essential to maintaining a positive relationship throughout the complaints process, and that three out of four customers feel angry when they have to chase for an update on their complaint.
In addition, carrying out root cause analysis after a complaint demonstrates that action has been taken. It can also help prevent future complaints if results are fed back to staff and negative trends identified.
All this goes to show that there’s always a reward for investing in customer service – whatever the stage of the assistance journey.