Interview with Mara Bain, Chief Experience Officer, Western National Insurance
- Blog Post by: Jim Tincher
- January 15, 2014 - 8:11 AM
This is the second in our Aiming for the Hearts of their Customers interview series, with seven Minnesota customer experience leaders sharing their strategy for the coming year.
The Western National Insurance Group is a 500-person private company that offers property and casualty insurance. Mara is the company’s Chief Experience Officer, a role she began mid-year. Mara came to Customer Experience through an unusual route, having previously served as their Controller. She has hit the ground running, however, working with teams from throughout the company to create a Customer Experience framework, and launching programs to help further improve an experience that already has many strengths.
Defining Customer Experience
“We have three customer segments. First are our independent agencies. We recognize that many key policyholder touch points are controlled by our agents. By optimizing our agents’ experience with us, we are positively impacting the service they provide our ultimate customer. Next is our ultimate policyholder, which can be either an individual or a business. Finally, we have our employees as customers.” The employee was unique. While most customer experience programs recognize the employee as a key stakeholder, it is unusual to include them as actual customers.Mara explained how this is a reflection of the Western National way to involve everyone. “In a customer-centric culture, we believe it should be the job of those who rarely touch the external customer (IT, HR, finance) to support those who do.”
Mara defines customer experience as “addressing every touchpoint with the brand,” including both direct and indirect interactions. She distinguishes it from customer service, which she defines as a “person-to-person interaction.”
Mara coordinates the customer experience working group representing leaders from across the company. These leaders are ambassadors, setting the customer experience strategy and sharing it with the greater company. As is common with many Chief Experience Officers, Mara does not have a big team (“I used to have an intern”), but instead works with the greater organization to accomplish their customer experience goals.
“My role is to influence and organize. I pull together teams from across the company to work on key initiatives. While I have no direct reports, you could say I have a team of 500.”
Measuring Customer Experience
“We are early in our measurement journey. We use the Net Promoter Score for our agents, and we measure claim satisfaction rates. As we formalize our customer experience program, our fourth initiative is ‘Measure and communicate through effective metrics.’ Defining those metrics is a critical part of our 2014 efforts.”
Regarding their three key audiences
- Agents: “While we have the Net Promoter Scores for agents, it’s not actionable enough. In 2014 we will identify additional metrics that are actionable at the segment-level”
- Policyholders: “We have a number of different measures being used by our business units. In 2014 we will survey the landscape to create a consistent scorecard across the organization.”
- Employee: “We just completed our first employee engagement survey. We’re currently analyzing those scores to build change.”
Bringing their Customers to Life
Bringing your customers to life is a critical need for customer experience programs – one that is often overlooked. I was pleased to see that Western National Insurance came up with a unique way to help put their employees in their customers’ shoes – literally!
“We have a campaign called “Put Yourself in their Shoes” to bring the policyholder to life. A central hallway space has been reserved to display policyholder shoes. Graphical elements will be added to figuratively identify the customer and detail Western National’s impact on their home or business.” The company is adding color by a separate program of recording 3-5 minute videos of claimants to show their story and reinforce positive customer experiences.
Planning for 2014
2013 was primarily about establishing the customer experience framework and introducing it to employees. The Customer Experience team has identified four priorities for 2014:
- Rallying employees and focusing culture
- Deepening agent relationships and building customer-centric processes
- Enhance technology-enabled solutions
- Measure and communicate through effective metrics
Some specific action steps already identified:
- Creating management forums to improve employee engagement
- Further developing their large-account planning and service processes, including journey mapping to identify gaps
- Implementing a CRM system to better monitor agent relationships
- Improved use of metrics in monitoring and reporting of the customer experience
Customer Experience Advice
Mara’s advice: “Gather support – you can’t go it alone. If you want to change behavior, you need to get people on your team, and perhaps more importantly, be a valuable contributor to THEIR team. At Western National, I report directly to our CEO. While highlighting the importance of the customer to our organization, it also provides the ability to draw the cross-functional teams that are critical to our success. Surround yourself with people who know and have done it before, as well as people who are currently going through the same process. There is a wealth of material and resources out there (the CXPA, blogs, etc.) You really just need to step into the river of information.”
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