This blog post comes to you live from the second annual Forrester Research Customer Experience Forum 2010 at the Grand Hyatt in New York. The theme of the event is creating breakthrough customer experiences. Through an energetic keynote, Patty VanLammeren, chief customer experience officer of Allstate Insurance, discusses the Allstate customer experience journey. (She emphasizes “journey” because she knows the process of pleasing a customer is one of never-ending improvement.)
Allstate began its customer experience journey about six years ago with the creation of a customer loyalty index and a dedicated team to look after customer experience. In 2008, Allstate made a critical decision: improving customer loyalty would be one of only three corporate priorities. In Patty’s words, “That’s when the game began to change,” and when she was appointed to the role of chief customer experience officer.
Her first task: get facts in front of her. She studied Allstate’s previous efforts to satisfy customers. She reviewed details like the average amount of time Allstate takes to resolve a customer conflict. But, she decided that the metrics had limited value “because customers do not experience averages.” She realized that Allstate needed to do something that data was not measuring: “shift our culture to focus on the customer.” So how to do that?
One of her first steps: create a customer experience forum, which is a monthly meeting where Allstate execs (including the CEO) have a spirited discussion on how to improve customer service. She also enacted monthly “customer staff meetings” with managers at a more tactical level to come up with ways to improve service. At one of her first meetings, she required managers to role play as if they were Allstate customers — from angry to happy.
She also dedicated customer satisfaction specialists to specific business units (like embedded journalists) in order to focus on day-to-day management of customer satisfaction.
But the process did not stop there. In the ensuing months, she:
1. Made customer satisfaction everyone’s business by linking employees’ 401(K) profit sharing matching contributions to improvements in Allstate’s customer loyalty index.
2. Improved customer service standards and held agents accountable to them.
3. Acted as chief customer experience evangelist throughout the company. She made 54 presentations to 9,000 employees in 2009.
4. Clearly communicated throughout Allstate customer wants and needs in the voice of the customer. She asked every business unit owner to develop and refine actionable and measurable “declarations” for improving customer service.
5. Changed Allstate’s public reporting. On earnings announcement day, Allstate began reporting its customer loyalty index scores along with earnings results to send a message: customer satisfaction is intertwined with business results.
6. Improved the customer complaint management process to be faster and more responsive. “We decided we needed to view customer complaints as a gift” — a way for Allstate to learn and improve its operations.
7. Began to attack the company’s operating processes. She discovered that Allstate has too many processes for servicing customers inside business units — but not across business units. Allstate is now examining all its processes and figuring out how to make them span the entire company — not an easy thing to do because “at Allstate we have a process for everything except eating and going to the bathroom.”
8. Improved metrics mostly by examining other companies’ best practices. She realized that Allstate needed to do a better job tying customer satisfaction measures to company leading performance indicators. As she says, “We are just scratching the surface on measurement.” Also, Allstate now compares its satisfaction results with other companies inside and outside its industry (something Allstate previously never did).
Some lessons learned:
1. Allstate needs to move faster to keep pace with customers’ rapidly changing needs.
2. Allstate needs to let its customers lead them instead of trying to lead its customers.
2. Allstate must empower people. As Patty says, “Customers do not want a relationship with technology. They want a relationship with people.” Empowering employees means “hiring people who like people” — sounds obvious, but Allstate realized it was hiring too many technicians who really understand the content of insurance but lack adequate customer service skills. She also enacted a self-selecting employee ambassador program. Ambassadors receive special attention from Allstate. (For instance, ambassadors received a preview of the company’s social media guidelines before the guidelines were launched throughout the company.) To date, more than 3,000 employees have volunteered to be ambassadors. (She likes making the program voluntary because employees who sign up are more likely to be motivated.)
Results so far: the best-ever one-year improvement in the company’s customer loyalty index.
“But we are not even close to where we want to be,” she concludes. “We have made the customer experience a part of everyone’s jobs.”