According to the 2013 Insurance Operations Best Practices Survey, conducted by ReSource Pro Analytics in conjunction with Insurance Journal, service staff members indicated they are spending most of their time on back office processing tasks instead of providing proactive client-facing services that the customer places values on.
According to the survey, service employees are spending between 51-75% of their time processing or transacting data yet the majority of survey respondents indicated service employees should ideally spend 25-50% of their time processing or transacting data.
Reviewing the survey results, coupled with recently achieving a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt designation, I have been reminded of the value of process improvement and Lean within our industry.
To begin addressing the challenge of how the time of service staff is spent, here are five helpful process improvement philosophies:
1. Lean methodology
Often misunderstood to mean “cutting,” lean methodology in actuality is growth focused strategy, it is about being effective and efficient.
The value of Lean in insurance operations is:
- increased speed
- improved quality
- enhanced customer satisfaction
And ultimately, cost reduction in the delivery of our products and services that the client values. This focus will help to attract and retain more clients.
2. Continuous improvement
Many of our clients expect that process improvement efforts must always big and disruptive. However, Lean methodology suggests that organizations experience the most sustainable and meaningful results from process improvement initiatives when a mindset of continuous improvement is adopted.
Lean defines continuous improvement as “incremental improvement of products, processes, or services over time, with the goal of reducing waste to improve workplace functionality, customer service, or product performance.”
3. The“Deming Cycle”
It is important to first understand the issue at hand prior to jumping to a solution. In addition, the best solution is not fully discovered with the initial solution for many process improvement initiatives so piloting the changes can reduce disruption.
A project management best practice for process improvement is the four phases of the “Deming Cycle”:
- Plan – identify and analyze the problem.
- Do -create a potential solution and begin testing.
- Check – measure the effectiveness of the solution, determine if improvements can be made and/or if another solution should be explored.
- Act – implement the improved solution fully.
After step four is completed, the cycle should be repeated to ensure continuous improvement.
4. Quick wins
Again the key is incremental change, not all process improvement initiatives have to be a “big bang.”
Projects that are large undertakings can be daunting and result in procrastination. In practice, we have seen quick wins benefit organizations because they manageable and allow them to get started.
We define quick wins as items that are:
- relatively easy to implement
- would have a meaningful impact
- are not reliant on broader organizational changes or process improvements
5. Team involvement
A concern that many of our clients share is that the leadership team does not have the time to focus on process improvement.
By design, Lean is not intended to be a burden of the organizational leaders. Leaders should set the tone and expectation for process improvement efforts but the most successful results come when the staff is empowered and expected to regularly improve the processes they use.
Are you ready to improve your processes to redistribute the time of the service staff to directly interact with clients?
We do not believe that you have to be a Lean Six Sigma expert to benefit from the philosophy of process improvement. However, from our experience Lean methodology can give you a common language and toolset to begin becoming a process excellence organization. A few valuable resources and tools to get you started include:
Follow the Learner: The Role of a Leader in Creating a Lean Culture by Sami Bahri – a personal story of learning how to apply Lean principles to a dental practice. This is a quick read but the content is engaging and easy to follow for application.
iSixSigma – a Lean Six Sigma focused website that offers variety of resources including: toolsets, articles, information and a community of practitioners.
Lean.org – similar to iSixSigma, a Lean education focused website offering toolset, articles, etc.
Lean Cheat Sheet – a quick reference guide to the basics of Lean