When I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin, arm wrestling was a big deal. I’m not exactly certain why, but my guess is that it was because the winters in Wisconsin are really long and really cold. I think everyone ran out of things to do at the local tavern — so, arm wrestling it was!
In my career in the insurance industry, I have seen a lot of arm wrestling matches. Perhaps not functional arm wrestling, but arm wrestling in spirit.
One of the longest-standing reasons for an arm wrestling match has been over the topic of who owns the customer and the customer experience. In some instances, departments such as marketing and, more recently, e-commerce feel they own the customer experience — and they are going to protect that turf. I have witnessed situations where IT was vying for ownership of the customer experience because it could install software that would make the customer experience appealing and functional — in one way or another.
I have also seen a good number of departments madly running away from a customer experience ownership arm wrestling match. Customer experience can be a really scary topic, and having it weigh into your performance appraisal might be daunting for many.
See also: Payoff From Great Customer Experience?
Recently, a number of insurers have realized that ownership of customer experience isn’t a department issue; it’s a person issue. A person needs to be responsible. To make it a top priority — which it absolutely should be — the responsible person needs to be at the upper level of the organization, within the C-suite or at least directly reporting there.
Responsibility is a good thing, but that’s not the whole success factor.
To truly institutionalize customer experience, organizing around it is imperative. A recent press release involving Farmers Insurance organizational changes brought the theme of this blog into clear focus. The reporter understood the issue; The title of the article was “Farmers shuffles execs to improve customer experience.” Now, there isn’t a magical formula for customer experience organizational structures. Farmers elected to place the responsibility for customer experience ownership with two people: the newly appointed personal lines chief product officer and the person assuming the role of head of service operations for the company, who reported to the COO. The whole point is that an insurer needs to have a vision and a strategic goal for customer experience and then enforce it through its organizational structure with an accountable person or persons.
While I don’t live in Wisconsin any more, I’m pretty sure arm wrestling is still a big deal. But when it comes to customer experience, insurers need absolute clarity on what the corporate direction is, not arm wrestling — and sound organizational structure around customer experience will make that happen.