Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid gets bad service


I might be a bit lazy and easily distracted, but I can tell you I am a productivity ninja compared to the people I have to work with. Let’s take my colleague, Lazy Susan. For her, work is just a place to catch up on her social media. Susan’s career aspirations run only to getting out of the door as fast as possible. My manager, Big Bad Boss, spends most of the day planning his next golf outing, that is, if he is not out actually playing golf. The girls in organisational development couldn’t organise a development of paperclips, and as for the recruitment team, well, let’s just say we’ve had a hiring freeze for the best part of two years so they are not exactly run off their feet.

Outside in the big wide world it seems no better. I’ve been trying to get through to our healthcare provider for ages. An email to our usual contact bounces and a barely polite note suggests that because he is on holiday, I can try his assistant. The assistant is off sick and her out-of-office response suggests I call the dreaded customer service line. Please, anything but that.

I pity the poor members of our private medical scheme who have to deal with customer services when they are unwell. I am in the full flush of health, yet I am ready for a lie down after 20 minutes in the queue. By now I am position one, so I hang on in there, holding the phone away so I don’t have to listen to that dreadful music interposed with unnecessary excuses about call volumes. If call volumes are excessive, sort out the answering process to deal with them. Finally, I am connected to a dreary-sounding woman called Deirdre. She demands my policy number and assumes I want to make a claim. I explain that I am the benefits manager in charge of the scheme, not a claimant, but this information does not seem to sink in. Finally she cuts me off, no doubt to keep to her call-answering metrics.

I call again and eventually go through the same process with another person. This one asks me to put it all in an email, which I type out immediately, only to get another out-of-office response. That’s it; I am definitely looking at another insurance provider on renewal. Yet, experience tells me that most of the private medical insurers are the same when it comes to customer service. Also, I suspect the big providers put their larger clients ahead when it comes to account management and leave the rest of us floundering about to deal with the call centre. Our modest medical scheme just doesn’t figure that high on their priorities. Disgusted with the lack of progress, I move onto the next task on my list.

Chasing up responses

I have to remind our pension advisers that it owes me a response to some pension administration errors. I am getting quite wound up over this. First of all, there shouldn’t be any errors of that nature, and secondly I shouldn’t have to chase up about it. Again, my call goes to voicemail and my email remains unanswered. Aagh.

Next, I chase the response from a firm that is making a video about our benefits for the website. It seems everyone is using video communications right now; even our accounts department has one to explain the expenses process (although I can tell you it hasn’t helped). Big Bad Boss didn’t want to be outdone in digital trendiness, so he got approval for a video out of the employee communications budget. We’ve engaged a local creative firm for this because the quote from our usual advisors, Smarmy Consulting, made my eyes water. I assume we’ll be quite a big account for this small firm and they will be keen to keep us happy. Wrong.

Now I chase up its first draft, the firm tells me it has decided it can’t do the work after all. Really? It seems incredible that after going through the request for proposal (RFP) process and even providing a working outline based on our existing benefits web data, it can just say it doesn’t want to do the work. Apparently the firm sent an email to that effect last week. I check my inbox and junk mail, but there is no mail. Perhaps it thought about sending one but then forgot to bother. Even if there had been formal notice, I really don’t think much of this treatment. I’ve had some pretty awful suppliers, but this is the first time I have actually been fired as a client.

I wonder what I’m doing wrong. With anyone we work with, I do my very best to make the request clear while allowing the flexibility to suggest changes. I am friendly, and make a big effort to be pleasant to work with. Still, it seems so many suppliers are letting me down. Don’t they need the work? Isn’t it still a tough and competitive marketplace out there?

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All I know is that I wouldn’t get away with such a shoddy approach. I couldn’t leave emails unanswered, tasks undone, deadlines casually missed. I couldn’t just decide not to do a piece of work on a whim. It just isn’t like that round here. Or is it? I look across the office at Lazy Susan who is sorting out the contents of her handbag. Big Bad Boss appears to be flicking through a golf magazine. Perhaps I am the only one all that bothered. I comfort myself in the knowledge that in this mediocre world, it really isn’t difficult to shine.

Next time…Candid applies for another job.