At Nordstrom, injured-worker advocacy is not a recent strategy. Over the years, this retailer has worked to perfect its customer-focused approach to engage injured workers and advocate for their care. At the 2017 National Workers’ Compensation & Disability Conference, Janine Kral, Vice President of Risk Management at Nordstrom, described how the company’s practices have evolved over time to deliver a service level that has become crucial to the company’s bottom line.
Nordstrom has one rule, which is prominently published in their employee handbook – use good judgement in all situations. But what does ‘good judgement’ look like in workers’ compensation? It means keeping the employee front and center in everything that they do. Nordstrom accomplishes this in three ways:
1. Treat each injured worker as a customer.
Nordstrom maintains one rule with the premise that the more rules you have, the farther you separate from the customer. The company was built on this mentality and has not wavered from it for over 100 years. This is their culture. It eventually occurred to them that, if they are expecting their employees to follow this rule, management should follow it as well when their employees become injured. Therefore, treating their injured workers as their customers became the basis for their workers’ compensation program.
To develop the program, Kral immersed herself in the stores working side-by-side with employees. This is how she learned what good judgement truly means and what employees expected from Nordstrom as an employer.
They empowered their examiners to make the decisions that provide the best resources and solutions for the injured worker. Big or small, the examiner can make decisions on the spot to get the injured workers what they need. It does not mean that they approve every claim, but when a claim is denied, they sit down and have a conversation with the employee to explain. It is a relationship based on respect.
2. Manage claims with a set of core principles that makes the injured worker the priority.
Nordstrom established claims management guidelines, with the first being customer service. They believe the initial contact is the most-important conversation they will ever have with the injured worker. It directly impacts outcomes. Another requirement is to maintain ongoing contact, determining how often they need to talk to each injured worker.
After building trust and establishing a relationship with the workers, they expect their examiners to monitor red flags in claims. They can code claims that they think will have high exposure in the system, which provides useful predictive data.
Medical management is also a critical component of the program. They strive for quality outcomes by identifying issues early and communicating these issues to the medical providers to prevent delays in care.
3. Select a claims team that exemplifies exceptional customer service.
Workers’ compensation is complex, so Nordstrom focuses on finding the right team from the start. The basic elements for this team include having good judgement and a positive attitude. This team also needs to have a strategic mindset. They must have the ability to take information provided on each claim and change gears very quickly, which is challenging and complicated.
Nordstrom incentivizes for this behavior. They hold competitions between the examiners for great claims outcomes and also spotlight extraordinary claims regularly.
To instill this culture, they start with entry-level examiners who learn from the ground up then are promoted through training and mentoring. Their average claims examiner retention is 13 years.
Finally, Nordstrom selects vendors who support their corporate values. They make it a priority to choose vendors and physicians who will work closely with them and can take a flexible approach. They encourage ongoing communication and welcome new ideas that can improve outcomes for their injured workers.