We talk a lot about the importance of communication in this industry. We stress how critical it is when managing claims. We don't always, however, talk about what happens when communication is poor or altogether absent. We talk about what we should do, and not necessarily what happens when we don't. I was reminded of that with a seemingly unrelated event earlier this week.
I have belonged to a local health club for many years. It is part of a chain called Lifestyle Family Fitness. Rumors have been circulating for several weeks about a possible acquisition of Lifestyles by the larger chain LA Fitness. LA Fitness would be a new addition to Sarasota, although they are currently building a fitness center in the area. The rumors were confirmed in the local paper last week that there is indeed an agreement by the two companies for LA Fitness to acquire the existing Lifestyle locations.
The interesting thing about this is that, beyond the cursory acknowledgment of a pending sale, the companies are not talking. About anything. They have even distributed flyers telling members that the club employees know nothing “beyond the information that has been released” (so don't bother asking them!) The implication of course is that there is clearly information that “has not” been released. The resulting vacuum has left ample room for speculation, misinformation and panic among the gym members within the clubs. Will memberships be honored? Will “our” club remain open? Will we be allowed to visit other facilities? This entire situation is made even more ridiculous when you consider that for some people, the gym is the equivalent of a religion. Watching this unfold has been like watching Southern Baptists being told their churches were being bought by the Mormons. I spent a couple hours there Saturday morning, listening to members discuss their concerns and strategies, including other clubs that they could join. And EVERYONE was talking about this.
What are some of the things I've heard, presented as “fact”?
- All the existing clubs will be closing (or)
- all existing memberships will be cancelled (or)
- we will be locked to the one facility where we now “belong”, unless we cancel our current memberships and join at the new LA Fitness facility under construction nearby (or)
- existing memberships will remain but our rates will double
As a business person none of these make sense to me, but I don't really care. I work with a trainer twice a week in a private gym and only use the Lifestyle facility to supplement my workouts. I can wait to see what happens. There are several other facilities where I can access the same equipment. Clearly others at the gym now feel the same way.
The point is, in the absence of good communication, resulting in a void of usable information, bad and counterproductive ideas germinate. With those bad ideas come negative actions and reactions. Those negative reactions will ultimately hurt everyone, but particularly the one who should have been communicating properly in the first place. In the example here, LA Fitness is losing customers before they even have them.
This is no different in our industry. When we are dealing with something no less important than an individual's security and livelihood, a lack of communication will only damage our efforts. Don't leave that recovering worker in the dark. Do they know what you are doing regarding their case? Do they know why? Do they know what the planned outcome is? If they don't, bad things can start to happen in their psyche, and you will be the one left picking up the pieces – and the tab.
Sometimes there is not an answer to be had, or defined information to share. It is possible the folks at LA Fitness have not determined what if any clubs will close, or what their membership policy will be. In that event they could still issue a reassuring statement about their “commitment to serve their customers, both established and new”, with a promise to update everyone as soon as decisions were made. This would not be unlike a Recovery Specialist (adjuster to the uninitiated) telling a recovering worker they don't know about a particular procedure or policy, but promise to find out what they can about it. And then actually doing what they promised.
Effective communication is critical in all business processes, and the people who employ it properly will benefit as a result. Don't leave an information vacuum. Fill that vessel with accurate, straight forward and complete information. If you don't, if you leave that void, others will fill it for you. And there is no telling what crap they will find on their own. You will lose that recovering worker before you even have them.