At The Co-operators, we recently updated our strategic plan with a bold statement: “We will be THE industry leader in client engagement.” This means offering a superior customer experience that builds long-term relationships based on mutual value (and values).

Based on our J.D. Power rankings, Net Promoter Scores, multi-product sales and robust client growth, we are making good progress; however, the journey to better understanding and meeting the needs of clients has been challenging. As a result, we have become big believers in using a combination of art and science to conduct research and implement solutions.

Getting started
Our efforts to better engage clients go back almost a decade. Despite a strong national brand and an excellent reputation for social responsibility, The Co-operators was not gaining market share. When we joined the J.D. Power home and auto customer satisfaction studies in 2008, we were discouraged to see middle-of-the pack rankings in virtually every category and region. It was a hard lesson to learn that a positive and friendly corporate culture does not always translate into a great client experience.

An in-depth analysis of the J.D. Power data plus subsequent client focus groups revealed a dozen “points of pain” for our clients. The issues spanned the entire operation, including price competitiveness (in pockets), turnaround times, policy documents, payment options, communications and more. In short, clients generally liked the company, but it was not easy to do business with us.

Building support
This was the wake-up call that the organization needed. The quantitative and qualitative data were consistent, taking precedence over anecdotal stories and personal opinions. We introduced a series of metrics to focus on the points of pain and deliberately addressed each one. Some issues were relatively straightforward (e.g. claims communications and managing expectations), while others required a few years of process and systems work (e.g. improving policy and billing documents).

While we worked to enhance the client experience, the culture of the organization began to change as well. With better transparency and metrics, we started to focus on client experience as a key driver of success. Within a couple years, metrics related to client experience were being mentioned in the same conversations with revenue, profitability and expenses.

Getting serious
By 2012, The Co-operators had established a balanced scorecard of client engagement metrics. We had addressed 10 of the 12 pain points and had seen a corresponding improvement in customer satisfaction studies. In fact, the improvements in the J.D. Power rankings could be directly linked to the pain points that had been resolved.

Client experience was now one of three key focus areas in the corporate strategic plan and every area of the company was accountable for supporting specific and measurable initiatives. As client satisfaction continued to improve, we saw corresponding improvements in client growth, retention and multi-product ownership.

Adapting to change
By 2013, two major business forces started to hit the insurance industry: big data/analytics and digital technology. These forces had already transformed many industries, but the myriad of legacy systems and entrenched distribution networks had slowed the tide in insurance. As a direct writer, The Co-operators had an advantage in being able to consolidate client information in a CRM system. This allowed for improved client interactions and customized offers; however, the science and tools now available could do much more. We established a business intelligence team to work on advanced modelling, segmentation and analytics.

At the same time, digital technology was making great advances, especially in terms of the mobile experience. In a business ruled by traditional distribution methods, the advent of the omnichannel distribution model was nothing short of revolutionary. A truly seamless experience—where clients can move between physical locations, contact centres and the Internet—is extremely difficult to deliver in a highly regulated and fragmented industry. We believed that clients wanted a “call, click or come in” experience, but could we be sure?

The “deep dive”
To advance our strategy, we used the new tools at our disposal to gain even deeper insight into our clients (and potential clients). We partnered with Forrester Research on a major project to develop client personas and journey maps. The Co-operators provided client data and Forrester overlaid its demographic/psychographic segmentation. This was supplemented by lengthy personal interviews with both existing and prospective clients. The end result was a set of five client personas that represent roughly 80% of insurance consumers.

Each persona represents a segment of clients with similar preferences, needs and behaviours. To truly “personify” the segment, each persona is given a name, age, occupation, photo, location and backstory. Supplemental information about lifestyle, goals, technology usage, etc. is aggregated. The result creates a sense of empathy for clients, while offering practical insights on how to meet their needs and expectations. While personas do not (and are not meant to) apply perfectly to each person in the segment, they are powerful clues on how to engage and satisfy clients.

To “introduce” the personas to staff, an internal campaign was rolled out nationally in 2014, including:

  • Life-sized posters of each persona (including a summary of key traits);
  • Short videos of each persona, showing a glimpse of into their lives;
  • Online training, customized by role (sales, service, claims); and
  • An interactive client experience exhibit that toured all major offices.

The personas are highly valuable in several areas of the organization, none more so than marketing and communications. Both policy communications and direct marketing offers are customized in terms of features, language and graphics based on the client’s persona. By applying additional segmentation and analytics, we achieve greater net results on campaigns with far fewer contacts. This is not only efficient from the company’s viewpoint, but it improves the client experience by only presenting relevant and valuable offers.

Mapping a new world
If personas described clients and built empathy, journey mapping gave us a whole new level of insight into the actual experience of clients. We created journey maps in two stages. First, we used company experts to map a specific client journey; for instance, a Millennial making their first auto claim. The group started with the accident and then mapped out each incremental step until the client received their repaired vehicle. A visual representation of this “journey” was created, including what our experts deemed to be the most significant events.

We then convened a group of actual clients (from the target persona) who had made their first auto claim in the past six months. We put them through exactly the same process. Although many of the steps and experiences matched up, about 25% did not—and this is where the real learning happened. For instance, one might assume that after an accident, a client would immediately contact the police, their Co-operators agent or our 1-800 claims line. In fact, we found that almost every Millennial in the group called their parents first. And their parents, we learned, often gave them poor advice that hampered the claims process. In short, they were completely unprepared to make a claim and their expectations throughout the process were much different than we had assumed.

Similar insights were gained when mapping the purchase of insurance for a new home, the assessment of life insurance needs and several other journeys. By comparing the expected journey (compiled by our experts) with the real experience of our clients, we found the “disconnects.” Some of these issues dealt with sales and service, but most were related to communications, expectations, processes and access. As a result, we have made significant changes to each of these client experiences. Metrics are now in place to measure our progress.

The future is OMNI
This fusion of art and science has profoundly affected how The Co-operators approaches client engagement. It has confirmed our belief in a truly seamless omnichannel experience that puts the client at the centre of our business. From our clients’ perspective, this means three things:

  • Know Me by understanding my needs, wants and preferences;
  • Show Me by providing personalized advice and offers; and
  • Empower Me by providing access and tools that fit my lifestyle.

At The Co-operators, we believe that we are one of the few companies in our industry with the breadth of products and distribution channels to make this a reality. And we will let our clients lead the way.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Direct Marketing magazine.

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Paul Mlodzik

Paul Mlodzik is vice president, marketing and communications, of The Co-operators Group.