Chief marketing officers are increasingly being expected to take on the role of the chief customer officer, representing the voice of the customer to their organisation. In fact, in a recent study conducted by Simple, two in three CMOs have expanded their duties to take charge of the customer experience. But what does this mean in practice?
We spoke to Bettina Pidcock, who last year was promoted from executive general manager, marketing to become the first ever chief customer officer of QBE Insurance, about what managing the customer experience means at her organisation, and how she made the transition.
Hi Bettina. Thanks so much for talking with Simple. ‘Customer experience’ can be such a catch-all expression. Can you give us an idea of what managing the customer experience involves at QBE?
Customer experience is a very ubiquitous term. For us at QBE, our approach is to use human centred design principles. This means consciously designing experiences with humans in mind.
We do this together with our customers — they tell us what they need. To design an experience that’s going to work for your customer, it’s important to understand who they are and what’s important to them. Understanding their challenges, the pressures they’re under and their home life is key.
We use these types of insights to identify the problems our customers need solved. We then prototype the solutions and test them. This gives us a real-life, activity-based understanding of how well we’re solving the problem.
QBE has a customer experience unit that you’re in charge of, in addition to marketing. Can you describe it for us?
We have about six people in our customer experience team. It’s a very practical discipline.
People who work in customer experience design are engineers, psychologists and industrial designers. They work alongside the marketing function. The team focuses on what’s meaningful to the customer, and how we can better provide and present solutions and information to them.
The work they do is very hands-on. There are also occasions when the unit acts in an advisory capacity to other parts of QBE.
What’s an example of your customer experience team in action?
Last year we determined a lot of our documents were highly technical and very complex — it was even hard for our well-trained employees to interpret some of our most complex documentation.
To better understand how we could improve, we showed these documents to customers and watched to see how they interacted with them, talking with them about what was important when it comes to insurance documentation.
It’s not necessarily what you might think. For instance, they don’t want a 1-page Product Disclosure Statement. For many, it created concerns that not everything is covered. They also like having the weight of a document in their hand, rather than just filling out forms electronically.
We looked at a variety of formats. We developed different prototypes. Then we radically simplified the language.
Now we’ve established a team — a product wording team — that can apply these learnings and positive changes more broadly.
What’s your own background and how did you come to make the transition to managing the customer experience?
I am a classically trained marketer. I’ve also always been passionate about designing communications and our processes around how our customers and employees engage with us. They’re at their best when we make their life easier.
When I joined QBE, the first 12 months was about establishing an appropriate marketing capability. We did have one but it wasn’t sufficiently strategic.
I’d say my transition to chief customer officer was largely triggered by the businesses’ need to better leverage customer feedback. There were also some watershed moments that made me realise customer-focused design was essential for QBE’s success.
We received a lot of feedback around what we were doing well and poorly, but it was clear to me we didn’t have a mechanism for effectively gathering and leveraging that feedback, or for prioritising what we should work on. So, we started concentrating on what we call ‘voice of the customer’, and I began circulating a report with important feedback insights.
It took a few months for people to engage with it but once they did, there was a realisation that there was some distance between our desired customer experience and our actual customer experience.
How did you create your ‘voice of the customer’ report and persuade the organisation to get behind it?
I looked at the sources of customer feedback we had, including our Net Promoter Scores (NPS), social media communication and customer complaints. Through this feedback we saw what our customers wanted and when they expected it. We saw the good, the bad and the ugly — and identified trends.
For example, social is very immediate and it often results in more full-blown complaints down the track if not addressed at the outset. You can act early and limit these.
We also conducted ethnographic research. This research allowed us to identify some personas that emerged from customers with similar attitudes that we group together to form segments and adapt and tailor the way we do business accordingly.
Ours is a heavily intermediated business and most of our marketing is B2B.
One group we looked at closely is what we call ‘ARs’ — authorised representatives. They’re smaller insurance brokers.
We met with many of these ARs and developed a sense of what they’re like. Contrary to the stereotypical older male broker, some are young, entrepreneurial women. Understanding what their needs were informed the service model that we delivered to them and that resulted in a radical improvement in their NPS.
You can’t do everything for everybody but you can identify what the really important things are.
Was it hard to get the broader organisation on board?
Some people in the organisation were apprehensive. In some areas of the business, there was a gap in the understanding that marketing is about connecting customers with the organisation in a meaningful way — and how key a truly customer centred approach was for us.
I’ve been working hard to fill these gaps and communicate that it’s not always about advertising and selling. It’s about making your offer clear and easy to understand.
I think marketing and managing the customer experience are a strong fit. It’s very important that there’s a meeting of the minds when it comes to what we as an organisation deliver and what customers need.
QBE Insurance has been undergoing a digital transformation. What has that looked like in practice?
We came together as a lot of different companies through an acquisition program.
This meant we had lots of websites and social channels that weren’t harmonised.
To address this, we developed a digital interface and we implemented a new technology platform called Sitecore, all the while identifying how it could benefit our other divisions around the globe.
We’ve now begun a global implementation, building online portals to serve different customer groups.
For example, our broker portal offers personalised content for brokers. It’s a gateway into our system that allows people to stay up-to-date on the latest developments and access key tools and information.
Additionally, what our ARs would like is useful, fit-for-purpose content that helps them sell insurance to small businesses.
Tell us about your new strategic marketing function
Part of the new function’s development involved carefully reviewing all parts of Marketing, especially the areas in which QBE was making a significant investment.
One example is our sponsorship portfolio. We reviewed the portfolio and set a strategy for what we wanted to achieve. The strategy involved doing fewer things better, and serving more and different types of audiences.
We also critically analysed where we wanted to focus our efforts. When you sponsor an organisation — such as an AFL team like the Sydney Swans or a netball team like the Sydney Swifts — you need to think about the right ways to support the grass roots level of these clubs, where a great deal of impact is made.
Another example and one area that’s now really performing well is our Elders business — which is rooted in regional and rural communities. Our new marketing campaign generated a 40% uplift in leads and we’ve also had an increase in applications to become Elders agents.
We really hit a couple of key points for Elders — we worked hard to provide a personal touch, but also use technology to better serve the rural market.
What are QBE Insurance’s key marketing and customer experience priorities in the next 12 months?
We’re working on improving our key customer experience metrics including our NPS.
We’ve also taken a strong focus on improving execution of what we call our ‘brilliant basics’. We’re proud of what insurance is and what it does and on a basic level we are delivering on a promise in moments of truth.
Our ‘brilliant basics’ efforts are about brilliantly delivering in those moments — such as when people are making claims.
The Royal Commission into banking has shone a light on some terrible customer experiences across the broader financial services sector. What’s your interpretation of the issues that have emerged as they relate to insurance?
It’s highlighted the importance of listening to customers, and importantly, that they don’t have the same technical understanding that providers have of insurance. They need to be treated with respect and value, and the insurance sector needs to make it easy for customers to do business with them.
What advice would you give to a marketer looking to transition into managing the customer experience?
The thing I feel was a successful start for us was using our listening capability, and the analysis of the information gathered. Our mechanism for this was our ‘voice of the customer’ initiative and it was a really important step for us.
I’d recommend marketers start with something similar when looking to manage the customer experience process. You don’t need massive budgets – you just need to find a way to tap into what your customers are saying. Not everyone likes to hear the truth if it’s not particularly nice but identifying this feedback and addressing it can have an incredible business and customer impact.
I’d also add the importance of understanding where and when your moment of truth is experienced by the customer — and working to perfect that. For us, it may be transactional but it can also encompass everything from personal injury to a bingled car and sometimes a lot of empathy is required. Often you need to hold the customer’s hand and help them through it — mastering that process is important for us.
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