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Nathan Golia
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Organizational Strategies, Role of Social Discussed at IBM Customer Experience Luncheon

Carriers are forming cross-functional groups to decide how to leverage technologies to improve the customer experience.

For insurance carriers, the customer experience is generally "owned" by one person within the enterprise, panelists said at an IBM-sponsored luncheon and discussion, Controlling Customer Churn: Smarter Insurance for a Smarter Planet, which took place at the Harvard Club in New York last Thursday.

Even if there isn't a designated chief customer officer, the panel adds, there tends to be one executive sponsor of customer experience initiatives, who leads the way in bringing other sector heads to discussions around the issue. At Prudential Retirement, that role is filled by SVP and CMO Kara Segreto, who spoke on the panel.

"We are using the virtual team model," Segreto explains. "It's run out of marketing, but has other competencies in it. We didn't create the role but we created the function.

"But ultimately," she adds, "the customer owns the experience because they decide how and why they want to interact."

Segreto says customer experience at her company is a partnership between marketers and technologists who work together on data-driven marketing and "e-media" initiatives: social, mobile and podcasts.

"We've been working along all lines of business for social engagement, but a few months ago, [management] turned off to it — too many problems in finance," she says. "So we switched the conversation to e-media."

Even though corporate wasn't thrilled with the notion of using social media, "you can't avoid it," Segreto adds. Rather, she says, companies should take steps to own the conversation. She related a story about a large client who noted low adoption rates for its Prudential 401(k) plans among its employees age 21-35.

"They said, 'we're going to tweet to them,'" Segreto recalls. "Then they asked us what they should do."

Now, the client's plan doesn't include Twitter, but includes a hosted social community. Segreto also notes increased spending on customer analytics, research and strategy; and that Prudential is looking toward social media more on the b-to-b side — its relationships with agents — with b-to-c customer experience initiatives focused on mobile.

Chad Mitchell, senior managing consultant for IBM Global Business Services' financial services strategy practice, says that having a group devoted to customer experience issues like Prudential can head off issues before they crop up.

"Before a new call center procedure is released, or a new product is launched by distribution, this group looks at it from the customer perspective," he says. "You may say it's more bureaucracy, but it's a good thing."

Bringing people into the organization that understand modern channels is imperative as well, Mitchell adds.

"Whether it's strategy, information or product, everyone needs to have an understanding of how data works," he says. "The traditional way was hiring veterans, but now you may have to bring people in with skills around analytics, data insight and new media. You may be hiring from agencies or other different groups."

Mitchell named two carriers as leaders in using social media: Seattle-based PEMCO, whose social media strategy we took a look at last month; and Lincoln, R.I.-based Amica, executives from which will present on customer experience at Insurance & Technology virtual event.

"The new strategy is listen, understand who your customers are and why they're profitable," Mitchell says. "If you look at a PEMCO or an Amica, they don't have a huge marketing chest. They looked to social media as a way to get together and share an affinity for the brand."

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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