‘Today’s customers are better informed and have more power in the consumer relationship than ever before,’ says James Merchant, chief client officer (CCO) for Crawford & Company’s Australian operations.
‘In a marketplace like the insurance industry where there are no barriers to movement, customer service is an important factor in the choices they make.’
This shift in focus has led to the rise of the customer’s champion in the shape of the CCO.
CHIEF CUSTOMER OFFICER, DESIGN THINKERBased in Atlanta, Georgia, Crawford & Company is the world’s largest publicly listed independent provider of claims management and outsourcing solutions to carriers, brokers and corporates.
It introduced the role of CCO into its global structure in 2016. The following year, the company appointed a CCO specific to the Australian market and Merchant took over in September 2019.
‘I think of a good CCO as a “design thinker” — someone who can apply his or her skill set and mindset in many ways within an organisation,’
‘Wherever you have people, you will find products, services and processes they find frustrating, or goals they are trying to achieve, and these are all opportunities for CCOs to create human-centred solutions.
‘By facilitating closer interaction with the customer and fostering much more effective collaboration, CCOs are helping to support the development of more innovative, relevant products much more closely aligned to the specific and changing needs of the customer.
'This, in turn, helps secure the relationship and reduce the risk of the client turning to another supplier. This is where a CCO can have the biggest impact.’
INNOVATION IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19Merchant is well equipped to develop new approaches to customer service.
Before joining Crawford, he founded and ran an innovation consulting business, coached design thinking at an innovation college and worked as an innovation manager for CGU.
But few would have predicted that his creative thinking would be called on to help navigate the challenges of a pandemic on the scale of COVID-19.
‘COVID-19 has certainly been a time of great learning and innovation,’ he says.
‘Adaptability has been key as we moved to maintaining relationships via virtual communication tools such as Skype and Microsoft Teams.
'We’re also using a remote claims management solution with video streaming and a self-service app, which has proven critical to delivering an adjuster-led solution for existing and new claims.
‘I have no doubt that COVID-19 will have an impact on the future, with policyholders, insurers and clients being more open to technology solutions and desktop and remote adjusting.’
Crawford has also created solutions in response to new demands. In Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, for example, it has introduced a decontamination service. This is helping organisations that have been exposed to the coronavirus get back to business by cleaning and restoring affected sites.
‘The CCO is a key person in gaining insights about the new needs of clients during the COVID-19 crisis,’ says Merchant. ‘We’re the voice of the business to our clients, and, in turn, we pass client requirements back to the business.
‘My priority has been to use the time to share our innovations with clients, maintain a growth mindset and look for the opportunities that adversity inevitably creates.’
A WORK IN PROGRESSWhile clients were driving the move to customer-centricity by wielding their new-found power, forces were at work within the industry itself.
‘The collapse of HIH Insurance in 2001 triggered a raft of regulatory changes that had far-reaching repercussions,’ says Merchant.
‘These included the introduction of an ombudsman, the implementation of the voluntary Code of Practice and improved processes for the handling of complaints.’
These changes were already in progress when the Australian Government established the Hayne royal commission (HRC) in 2017, though the findings and resulting actions certainly increased their momentum.
‘The HRC recommendations span a number of customer-critical components designed to recognise vulnerable customers and introduce measures to help ensure that they are protected,’ says Merchant.
‘I would, however, raise a note of caution. Some findings may result in increased operational costs, and we must ensure these are not passed on to the customer.’
He is also optimistic about the impact of the new General Insurance Code of Practice.
‘This is very much focused on enhancing levels of trust between insurers and customers, and implementing measures designed to boost the overall customer experience.
'It aims to place the customer front and centre and includes new sections on vulnerable customers and financial hardship provisions, as well as providing greater powers to the governance committee to tackle breaches of the Code.
‘It could also serve to elevate the role of the CCO and promote greater collaboration between insurance companies and their service providers, heightening the focus on delivering a better service to customers.’
A NEED FOR COLLABORATIONMerchant is a great believer in the phrase attributed to the Greek philosopher Epictetus — that we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
‘This certainly applies in this context,’ he says. ‘Within the organisation, the CCO must work alongside the executive committee, playing a central role in the development of new programs and systems that will help improve the customer experience.
‘It is imperative that their role as the customer’s champion is recognised by everyone and that they ensure executives are not making decisions based on outdated assumptions about the customer’s needs.’
He sees the roots of the CCO role in the human-centred design concepts from the design thinking movement popularised by Stanford University.
‘Fundamental to that is the ability to adopt a creative approach to challenges and opportunities based on discovering new knowledge rather than exploiting existing knowledge,’ he says.
'To achieve this, the sales and marketing functions must evolve into customer-centric, problem-solving functions which naturally involve a high level of collaboration with customers.
‘Essentially, it is about facilitation, questioning, listening, creating and experimenting — and COVID-19 is putting that thinking to the ultimate test.'