The Medallia Team

Customer-centric companies are winners.  Customers can feel it when organizations bring them to the table for every business decision.  Friction is reduced and processes are streamlined, and the quality of customer experience just goes up.

Auto & General Services, an insurance company in Australia, exemplifies customer-centricity, and was named an ABA100 Winner for Service Excellence at The Australian Business Awards 2014.

We recently sat down with Auto & General’s Chief Customer Officer, Gerry O’Shaughnessy, to find out why and how they connect customers to their business.

How did customer experience become a core part of Auto & General?

When we started 15 years ago, we were relatively bootstrapped.  We counted the pennies before the dollars, and we measured everything meticulously as we grew the business and invested in those early days.  And we thought we were getting everything that we needed.  As an insurance company, we were collecting a lot of customer statistics.  But we soon realised that we were missing a critical component: the voice of the customers themselves.  While we had all these numbers about them, we also needed to know how they felt about us.  We wanted to bring them directly into the conversation so that we could get a 360 view of our business from their perspective.  Our great customer service was already a market differentiator, but we had to make sure that we were leveraging it well, and we needed a whole business approach to back this up.

How did you achieve this organization-wide transformation towards the customer?

So we can divide businesses into two sides: the customer-facing frontline and the non-customer-facing corporate.  The way we see it, you’re either serving customers, or your serving coworkers who are serving customers.

The frontline is the face of our company.  They’re the ones talking to our customers every day, and since they’re so in touch with the customer, they immediately saw the benefit of incorporating customer feedback to their work.  They understood the benefit of being able to listen to the customer and be immediately responsive to them.  And they also saw customer feedback as a way to learn how to improve and coach.

Then there are people who help those who serve the customer.  These are the people in our head office who we call our “Inside Out” team.  There’s this mindset that only the people who actually interact with customers should get customer feedback.  But now that they have an extra “customer filter” in their usual bank of information, they’re seeing how invaluable this additional information is.  Now they think, “What impact will this have on how customers feel about us?”  And we’re seeing this mindset settle into business planning, design, project delivery, product innovation, and pricing.  They get that every decision they make will eventually have an impact on the customer.

And we’re able to drive customer-centricity organization-wide because of executive support, especially from our CEO Ram Kangatharan.  Customer experience is one of our top areas of focus at the executive level.

As CCO of an award-winning business, what are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of how we were able to prime our entire organization towards customer-centricity.  Now, whenever anyone makes a business proposal, they automatically include data from customer feedback.  And that’s including people who don’t have direct contact with the customer.  While decisions are being made at head office, you hear people ask, “What do customers think about that?”

It’s this constant “customer filter” that people have in their heads and their understanding that, “Yes, I’m having a real impact on customers.”  At the end of the day, having an end-to-end customer philosophy put into practice in our day-to-day operations makes us a better business that’s good for customers and great for our employees.

Photo credit: Bert Kaufmann