Caroline Van Den Bos is Insight & NPS Director at UK insurance giant RSA. She joined the company four years ago as part of a move to make it more customer-centric, heading a small insight team that replaced a much larger existing customer research function. She spoke recently at IQPC’s Customer Insight & Analytics Exchange event in the UK, and afterwards I spoke to her about the challenges she’s faced in establishing the value of analytics and insight to the company.
CMO.com: There’s always been market research, but the idea of taking data from the organisation and using it to derive insight seems to be relatively new.
CVDB: It is new. My sense is that in most big companies, much of the analytics is centred on customer marketing, working mostly on transactional data from their own databases. There’s still so much that hasn’t been tapped there and, for most companies, it’s going to be a long journey. Even things like integrating web stuff really effectively, wielding social media in any meaningful way, feel like stage two.
At RSA, my team isn’t responsible for database analytics. We have a separate analytics function and having that capability has made insight much more powerful. We connect into their data sets for things like proving the return on NPS investment. We’ve been able to link that very securely through to retention – a key driver of profitability and growth in insurance – making it really clear that it’s an imperative for the organisation.
We’ve also been able to link customer research into operational metrics to create a really strong business case for change in our call centres.
For instance we found some years ago that the biggest irritant for customers was not having their problems resolved in one call. By linking through to operational data, we showed that the things our people were focusing on were not the things that drive outcomes for customers, which was really powerful.
Then we linked through to cost, because every dissatisfied customer is calling back, and the cost of that can be phenomenal. But these things are hidden within the organisation until you get the connectivity between customer discomfort and analytics.
CMO.com: But you had executive-level buy-in from the start?
CVDB: Our CEO felt very passionate about customers, but as an organisation we hadn’t yet coalesced around a strategic intent. So there was tremendous willingness to support the development of a customer-centric culture from the top.
Financial services has got itself into a very unhappy spot. Through failing to focus on customers, a lot of financial services companies are in a place where they can be accused of being selfish, only serving their shareholders, or worse, themselves.
There is now a much bigger recognition across the industry – and definitely within RSA – that the secret to sustainable, profitable growth is in win-win with customers.
CMO.com: What challenges have you faced?
CVDB: The first barrier was the huge volumes of data. When we counted the customer surveys that gave a view on RSA’s performance, there were 28 a year.
So first we helped the organisation to understand where we were. You’d get very different views about whether we were great on service, or really broken, and it was hard for people to see the actual situation. So we did massive job of synthesising all this data and turning vast complexity into extreme simplicity. All of the data on our 17 different business units became one sheet of paper: our customer dashboard.
That looked at three things; the key drivers of customer satisfaction in each of our P&Ls; our performance in our customers’ eyes; and our benchmark position. That sheet of paper really helped us to change the script: we would have liked the dashboard to be green, but in many places it was red.
After that, we put a lot of effort into creating a comprehensive customer measurement framework and that allowed us to support the business on an ongoing basis.
One of the biggest issues that big companies face is the operational silo. Customers don’t see us the way we see ourselves. They see us as one organisation; we often work as different business units with our own conflicts and priorities. So it can be very hard to get people aligned to fix things across silos.
Another really important learning for me has been that we need to get the right agenda and stick with it, because the business can’t cope with constant demands to change. Business change takes a long time, especially when it touches on core systems.
CMO.com: What’s your relationship with the marketing department at RSA?
CVDB: Everyone always talks about marketing as being the key customers for insight, but for us, it’s more about the P&L. The P&L is the key decision-making unit and marketing feeds into that. About 75% of my team’s resource goes on driving the NPS and the customer agenda.
CMO.com: Does insight always need to be able to show an ROI?
CVDB: You should do it where you can and build a portfolio of compelling showcases. That will win you the latitude to say “I don’t have an ROI for this, but you can see where I’m going with it, so come with me”.
And if you can’t build a business case that’s statistically robust, you can still frame what you’re talking about in the language of money. At MBNA I built myself a three-tier way of doing that. The first tier is to say “This insight project can save us money because...”.
The second tier is to say “This work will help the business either to identify or confirm an opportunity of £Xm”. The classic example would be product development work. You put a financial number to it and you’re part of the process for delivering that number.
The third way is to talk about risk mitigation. “I’m doing this continuous work because the risk of me not measuring this could cost us £Xm”. Even if the maths is not robust, it frames the discussion; that’s very helpful.
CMO.com: Finding the right vocabulary to talk to the business seems very important.
CVDB: If you’re not speaking their language, it’s your fault if you can’t be understood. You can’t change the business yourself, so you’ve got to talk in terms of the levers that they pull.
CMO.com: And does the gap between insight and the rest of the business narrow as you prove yourself and show the benefits of what you do?
CVDB: A real breakthrough for us has been having senior customer champions appointed for all the P&Ls. That was a massive statement of intent and it’s been crucial, because you need people in the business who share your agenda.
The business also needs to take a leap of faith, because if we’re entirely data-driven, and we abandon intuition, then it becomes a rather sterile place. I’ve worked in places where insight was continually dismissed, but you’d see our competitors had the same insight by the fact that they took action.
The insight teams at my competitors are probably just as good as my insight team, their insight is probably as good as mine, in fact it’s probably the same insight. What differentiates us is whether and how we use it. And it’s not just about the insight team: the organisation has to step forward too. The winners will be those companies that obsess about listening to customers and taking action on their needs.