Wood Definitely Work

After 10 hours, I had to drive my 12-year-old Sarah to Nikita’s (her BFF apparently) for a birthday party (my husband drove her last time for another BFF’s one). If you have made the mistake of assuming it’s just a drive, ha ha ha. It’s a 45 min drive, then waiting around for 3 hours, hanging out with the moms or dads of the other kids, and involving myself in supremely incoherent small talk. A rhetorical question, why are they so many? Not birthdays, that you can have, but BFFs.  

While she ran inside screaming, “Where’s my oldie!”, I overheard a woman talk about completing the follow ups for pending items as I closed the car door. Oh my! Another accounts person not having their customers paying premiums. I chuckled and picked up the only two cans left to share and pass my time. “Suffering from not being able to collect premiums, we are having the common difficult problem I see.” She looked at me puzzled, “Sorry, premiums?”. Now I was puzzled. I continued, “Yes, policy premiums. Sorry, for eaves dropping, but I heard you talking on phone about follow ups for pending items.” 

“Oh that! It’s fine, but I am not sure what you are talking about. I was referring to the follow up on quarterly credit reports for a meeting tomorrow. Can never put the axe down when you are an MD at a furniture manufacturing company.”, she said. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, I sighed to myself, not knowing what to talk further. So, I just stood there awkwardly.  

She took the can, thank God, and said, “If it isn’t mine, doesn’t mean it isn’t one. Tell me about it.” 

“Well, in the simplest form, we (my company and I) aren’t getting the money we need to run our insurance company efficiently. We have a lot of customers, touch “wood”, but we need them clearing their dues especially on time. Just this one thing has a massive domino effect on everything. Firstly, as a Chief Financial Officer, I would not have to get into the details of the payment defaults. Money coming right would firstly ensure that customers will not have any interruptions in service (when they actually need us), help me assess the financials better, make better investments, provide ability to insure higher risks, pay my team better, keep them happy, in turn my customers are happy with the better service. Uff! Thinking makes me delighted. Just one change, that does all of this. Sorry, I just disappeared into my thoughts. So, that is the thing”, I conjured myself back to reality. 

“Oh, you remind me of those days”, she said. I think it was her turn to teleport out of reality. “You worked in insurance?”, I asked delaying her take off. “Not in that way, but the problem seems to be the same. I guess money is your wood. Like we need wood to run us, you need money to run the company.” 

I don’t think she was teleporting to a world that had logic, but I shut my thoughts and listened. “We make quite different kinds of furniture that requires a variety of wood. Some, we receive only once or twice during a year; one kind keeps coming in periodically all via different channels of transport from our suppliers. However, we always felt short on getting the shipments and especially on time. Different sale seasons, so manufacturing must be completed for us to deliver things to stores. Delay and differences are an absolute train wreck situation.” 

The logic was odd but could be seen on the horizon, “I see where you are going. I can understand the similarity, wood is my premium, suppliers are customers having different ways and modes of shipping wood basically the payments.”, I understood the world, “So, how did you manage to get everything back on track?” 

“I looked at our setup. Yes, it seemed solid but in this new age things had to be done differently. So, I asked the persons at the center of this activity, my suppliers. The loyal ones, new ones, ones that supplied different types of wood at different times, all categories. Interestingly, everyone had different things that they wanted but had similarities overall.  

  • Firstly, the delay reasons were very unique and quite legit in many cases. We started capturing these details for analysis. 
  • They requested for more delivery modes. They suggested using third parties that were available to them nearby. We started partnering with them. 
  • Accepting different varieties at only different specified locations. We completely changed our logistics. 
  • Multiple resources wasted doing one task like we sent multiple trucks to collect different varieties. Different teams and different pick-up points, multiple inspections, verifications and on many occasions repeated at steps. We removed redundancies and focused on what was of value. 
  • ……… so much more. 

I know right, so many things but unless you change for better, nothing around you would. And so, it all happened. Not immediately, not picture perfect but on and on and on we went at it. On and on and on we improved. Now I hardly bother about our supplier shipments. My only focus is on our shipments to the stores.” 

My brain was already relating everything to my universe. I know on a larger picture; I need look to through my customer’s perspective. Collect and organize my data better. Discuss with UW and my team about bringing in flexibility to processes (touchpoints involved, handoffs, payment plans) and payments collection modes. Plan for new communications, follow up protocols with customer service team and marketing team. I already had a detailed task list forming –  

  • First, I need to initiate the setup of a survey of various customers that have purchased different products, on different payment plans, been with us for different years etc. All the data stored categorically (based on age/occupation/product lines etc.) 
  • Discuss with my team on the way to simplify payments, irrespective of policies, plans, processing, people. It must be super simple – One plan for all policies payments (1 or n) processed in just one way. Again, track the choice of plans by the categories. 

  • Assign someone to research all the popular modes of payments. Asses the amount of work involved for each to be integrated with us. We shouldn’t deny our customers the basic payment modes of today’s time, even if we must use a third-party. Let them choose – 
    • Walk in 
    • Various digital payments – wallets, cards 
    • Agents, online portals, apps, third parties 
    • Yes, track this too. 
  • Probably also discuss on finding experienced data analysts. All the tracked and saved data now comes into play. We need insights almost instantaneously on payment behavior across against different plans, products, reminder response rate etc. Then we can lay a customer distribution matrix based on their data. 
  • We will also be able to understand and predict delays during different times of the year by this distribution.  
  • Ummm, some new tech integrations would also be required for new channels of communication. Probably Mike knows techies that could help us set up communication media, content, frequencies, manual/automatic, channel by need of each distribution.  
  • The distribution will also help evaluate a customer right.  
  • The big task – Explain in detail and hopefully convince the underwriting and marketing these concepts to write new rules for policy cancellation on payment delays. Not any and every delay requires a termination. Only the absolute lost causes would seem harsh however are necessary. 
  • Include incentives like prompt service, may be a tiny discount on cumulative years of no defaults can be given. A re-organizing of customer service and protocols must be done now. 

These all should be enough to start with. Or just find that one company than can do all this for us. I definitely need to make a presentation like never before to at least get my foot into the door of this overhaul. 

“Damn, I wish I could just call for a board meeting right now! It’s work from home, maybe I can (: This was a truly great conversation. Can I get your number?”  

“Mom, let’s go, it’s a school night you know”, Sarah smirked.  

“Of course, darling! Let’s go. I hope you have more birthday parties coming up” I hugged my new friend and then zoomed off. 

Biz Tech Insights Team Manomay

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