Archive for the ‘Sun Life’ Tag

Maintaining a winning customer experience

A customer experience strategy is an amalgam of practices, systems and values that guide interactions with customers and prospects across different sales channels, platforms and geographies. In an increasingly competitive and commoditized marketplace, creating a ‘wow’ customer experience is one of the few tools left for companies to retain customers, sustain margins and build a long-term competitive advantage.

Elements of a good customer experience strategy include customer-centric process design, passion-driven employee engagement, coherent interactions across multiple touch points and operational integration. Companies as diverse as Nordstrom, Lexus, Disney and Singapore Airlines have built industry-leading market share, profitability and shareholder value by consistently delivering ‘wow’ (i.e., higher than expected) customer experiences at every interaction.

In many cases, however, designing the ideal experience is the easy part, particularly if it is built on a foundation of product, brand and service excellence. The tougher challenge is maintaining this capability over time. Companies can preserve their winning customer experience by (1) developing real-world measurement systems, (2) institutionalizing key values and (3) staying close to changing customer needs and requirements.

Dropping the ball

Ten years ago, my company worked with the functional teams of a large IT solutions company to develop a customer experience strategy for their sales, support and professional services. The model was developed by working backward from their desired client interaction, and tailored to their different segments, customer types and channels. The new customer service strategy embraced every touch point, from the sales teams scripts and customer on-boarding practices to support triaging and billing processes. After only 12 months in market, the new model was credited with boosting loyalty as well as cross selling rates.

Three years out, however, the firm’s growth stalled. The metrics showed declines in customer satisfaction, online engagement and service levels. A deeper analysis indicated that their customer experience had degraded due to a variety of factors: changing client requirements and expectations (they went higher); a lack of organizational continuity (increased turnover of front-line staff prevented the inculcation of customer experience values into new employees); and clumsy integration of new enterprise software (which reduced service levels and complicated processes). Ultimately, a gap had developed between the initial customer experience strategy and its supporting capabilities.

Sustaining your customer experience strategy

Companies can preempt these issues by better institutionalizing their customer experience management practices and values. Some ways to do this include:

  • Frequently research your customers to stay in sync with their dynamic needs and requirements as well as ensuring your customer experience is consistent through new sales and support channels.
  • Make cultural fit and internal alignment a priority. Every customer-facing employee must inculcate customer experience purpose and values (e.g., ‘the customer is always right’). Rotating customer ownership through senior leaders in key departments is a good way of keeping focus and alignment.
  • Develop early warning systems to track progress, identify problems and generate learnings that can improve existing programs. These systems should track actionable metrics that align to each department’s and individual’s performance goals.
    A Canadian leader

One company that does a good job of maintaining a compelling customer experience is Sun Life Financial. The insurance and wealth leader did all the right things when they designed their customer experience in 2012, such as linking the program to key business metrics and adopting a global and holistic business view. Moreover, Sun Life Financial did not leave the program on auto-pilot.

To ensure focus and follow through, Sun Life Financial created a global working group made up of senior leaders from many departments, including marketing, finance and operations. This group meets often to track and review a variety of customer metrics, including net promoter scores and how they are tracking against improvement measures across all lines of business, as well as to review the latest customer and brand research. Importantly, they are not a corporate rubber stamp body: Their strategic mandate includes exploring opportunities for scale economies, sharing learning between regions and businesses and recommending changes in tactics (if necessary) so that customer needs are placed first and foremost.

“Our customer experience program reinforces the philosophy that the customer is at the centre of everything we do,” says Mary De Paoli, Executive Vice-President, Public & Corporate Affairs and Chief Marketing Officer, Sun Life Financial. “Delivering exceptional customer experiences requires a commitment to asking your customers, regularly, how you can improve the products and services they depend on from you. We believe this is the number one driver of the long-term success of our business.” Although it is still early days for the working group, the program has been credited with creating a winning online experience and better enabling the channel (e.g., plan sponsors, brokers and consultants) experience.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

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The best way to grow

For the first time since 2008, the majority of executives we speak with are talking about growth, not cost cutting. Companies refuse, however, to throw caution to the wind; they want to avoid the pitfalls and high cost of an acquisition. Many leaders are looking to organically grow by expanding into new, adjacent categories. While less risky in many ways, new market entry is not a no-brainer. Success requires both deliberate planning and a start-up mindset.

Companies face many barriers when expanding into new categories or markets. Achieving meaningful brand differentiation is difficult particularly when the market has been commoditized. In other cases, competition has locked up channel partners such as retailers or distributors, preventing the new player from gaining sufficient access to the market. Finally, generating a strong ROI will be tough if the entrant is unable to achieve sufficient volume or economies of scale.

Canadian financial services giant, Sun Life Financial, provides a number of lessons for sensibly expanding into complementary markets. In 2010, Sun Life made the strategic decision to expand its investment management presence in Canada with Sun Life Global Investments, seeing it as a complement to their successful insurance franchise. Sun Life Global Investments was launched with a handful of employees, 12 funds and zero assets under management. Fast forward to 2014, the firm has grown to nearly 140 employees, 87 funds and $7.8B in client assets under management. How did they do it, particularly in a tough investment management climate?

Once the decision to add asset management to their strategic growth priorities was made, the Company moved quickly to assemble the right team. First, they recruited within Sun Life Financial high-performers who were familiar with the culture, brand and practices. To maintain momentum, this internal start-up was quickly supplemented with external hires who possessed key investment industry experience.

Secondly, the team explored and then aligned around a singular mission – to bring the best asset managers and investment solutions from around the world to the Canadian investor.

“We focus on the end investor and work closely with advisors and pension plan sponsors to build solutions that meet investor needs,” says Lori Landry, chief marketing officer and head of institutional business at Sun Life Global Investments. “We fill in gaps where other offerings may fall short, and we work hard to put the customer at the centre of everything we do”.

With a strong team and mission in place, senior managers got to work on developing a brand and marketing strategy that best leveraged their channel and addressed investors’ and financial advisors’ needs in a compelling way. The goal was to build a distinct reputation for Sun Life Global Investments as an asset manager with a unique and authentic value proposition (offering the best global investment managers and products regardless of provider) and go-to-market approach (sell through trusted and expert advisors or through employers), while leveraging the awareness and credibility of the corporate Sun Life Financial brand.

As the above example demonstrates, companies need to really understand their own business, target customer’s needs and market dynamics when looking to expand into new markets. This simplified four-step framework can help managers evaluate growth opportunities:

The market gap

  • Is there a value ‘gap’ between what providers deliver and what customers want? Changing buying habits (e.g. mobile commerce) and a recessionary mindset is shaking up the customer’s value equation in many categories, putting a reliance on thoroughly ‘knowing your customer.’
  • Does the market have untapped ‘white space?” New technologies and business models give firms an ability to reorder existing product categories or create new ones (e.g. iTunes)

The offering

Available capabilities

  • Which competencies, assets and customer relationships can be quickly leveraged? The fastest way to market and ROI is by using existing capabilities and then driving scale economies.
  • Can the resource gaps be quickly addressed? Sustaining early market success will depend on identifying resource and skills gaps early on and quickly filling them.

Competitive reaction

  • What competitive moves could hamper your plans? Many executives give short shrift to understanding their competition. The reality is that most incumbents will not sit idly by and let you steal market share without responding. Managers can analyze competitive moves by using simulation tools like business war gaming and game theory.
  • Do non-industry players pose a threat? Large and profitable companies in low-growth environments may also choose to leverage their scale, customer franchise or new technologies to compete in your target market (e.g., Rogers in home monitoring).

For more information on our services  or work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc web site.