5 Tips for Better Claimant Interviews

I’m sure that most of us, if we’re being completely honest, actively avoid talking on the phone. We’d much rather message or text; actual phone conversations can be awkward or time-consuming. Given this natural aversion, it may be hard to believe that I’m spending more time than ever on the phone in my role as a disability claims professional.

I spend a good amount of this time conducting claimant interviews, an important tool in the disability claims management process. In a world full of forms, letters, medical records and other paperwork, speaking with claimants directly is the most helpful way to set mutual expectations, gather facts, get current updates, clarify information, answer questions, and to begin building a working relationship.

Not only am I engaged in longer discussions during these interviews, but I’m finding that I’m more productive as a result. I’ve seen evidence that by spending more time talking to the claimant up front, I’m reducing my call volume and claim decisions are being made more quickly. So what’s my secret?

First – What is the Goal?

Before I even pick up the phone I like to establish a goal or objective. What is really important about this call? Setting a goal helps me stay on track while demonstrating respect for their time as well.

A few questions to consider as you set your goals can be:

  • Have I established a relationship or is this our first conversation?
  • Is there work to be done to build a little more trust?
  • Have I established mutual expectations or do these need to be set?
  • Do I think they understand the process or the contract provisions? Can I offer clarity on anything in addition to obtaining the information I need from them?

How Do We Balance Productivity and Digging Deeper?

Many claim professionals would likely agree that a common performance measure is caseload management. It’s a top priority for us to manage our workload in order to meet time commitments and service standards. That’s partly why we have templates and processes in place helping us stay on track and work a claim file as quickly as possible.

However, sometimes it feels like the pressure to be productive outranks anything else. We might find we’re looking for shortcuts to the process so we can keep up with our caseload. It may be tempting to stay “on script” with our calls in order to move on to the next part of the process and not fall behind. What many claims professionals may not realize is this could come back to bite us down the line.

I know it seems counterproductive to spend more time on the phone. But I’ve learned there’s a lot to gain in keeping the conversation going, especially in claimant interviews. When I spend time digging into their background and story (not just following my scripted questions) I often uncover useful details that aid me in taking the right next steps for the claim.

Without this extra time, I may not arrive at the same decision or at the very least, I may need another round or two of follow-up calls. That’s time well spent for both parties in the long run.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind to maximize the results of your next claimant interview:

Tip #1 – Do Your Homework

Making the conversation productive is the number one goal. Take the time to review the full claim file and don’t be afraid to look beyond what’s in front of you. Doing a little research prior to the call will help you clarify your line of questions, keep the conversation fluid, and facilitate an efficient and effective use of both parties’ time.

As an example of digging a little deeper, I like to look for more information about where they live. This can be useful as a means of making them feel more comfortable talking to me, but also helps me consider what could be part of their activities of daily living. The more you know about their background, the better prepared you can be to ask relevant questions that could reveal helpful information related to the claim.

Tip #2 – Gauge Willingness to Talk

Sometimes it may be challenging to get the necessary information – maybe it’s clear the claimant doesn’t want to talk. He or she may not feel up to it or they may be uncomfortable with insurance companies in general.  Other times they might question why we’re calling and need to know more before they’ll engage.

It’s important to know when it’s ok to push a little or when it might be best to step back and consider a different approach. Maybe this is a good time to revisit the claim process with them or explain the contract provisions again. Redirecting the conversation to ways you can provide information can build trust and create a comfortable environment for them to talk openly.

Also, be sure you’re clear up front about why you are calling. Share what you already have for information before jumping into requests for further information. The more the claimant understands that you’re familiar with the claim and aren’t just filling in blanks on a form, the better the chance you’ll have a valuable conversation.

Tip #3 – Rethink Your Wording

Ask questions that require more than just a yes or no answer. This should be a conversation with questions customized to the claimant’s situation. Once the sharing begins, ask for confirmation of what you’ve heard from them and ask for it often.

Direct and specific questions will ensure you aren’t misunderstanding or missing important details: “So if I am hearing correctly, you are stating you are able to do all activities of daily living; however, it takes you much longer to complete each task and doing X, Y and Z wears you out to the point where you need to nap daily?”  Always give them a chance to ask questions of you.

Tip #4 – Listen for Helpful Details

Try to listen to what’s going on beyond just the conversation. Is there a dog barking in the background? What type of dog? Who takes care of it? Tuning into what’s happening in their living environment can give you a picture of their day-to–day activities while also helping to “break the ice” when you asking questions. Observe and listen keenly in order to gather additional information about their current situation and lifestyle.

Also, listen for mentions of situations or events that might impact them, i.e. how they spend their time.  One good example would be renovations in their home. Perhaps the renovations are to help accommodate a mobility issue he or she is having. Don’t be afraid to press for clarification: “You’ve moved your bedroom to the first level of your home so you don’t have to climb stairs. Do you have issues with climbing stairs? Can you tell me a little more about that?”

Tips #5 – Take Handwritten Notes

If something is said that you would like more information on, jot it down and bring it up again later in the conversation. Try not to interrupt the flow of the conversation at that specific point in time.  Believe it or not, trying to type notes and listen is harder than writing them down, so using the old fashioned pen and paper approach may work best.

Summary

As a claim professional we work in productivity based environments that often push us to take a perceived easier path.  As a result taking time to have in depth conversations can seem daunting.  However, taking the extra time needed while speaking with a can ultimately facilitate the best possible outcome.

At SALT we believe how you communicate matters. We’re strong proponents of the telephone as a key tool for effective claim outcomes, and communication skills as a critical factor in claims management success. Read more in our “Make the Call” blog.

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