Arun Sinha, group chief marketing and communications officer of Zurich Financial Services AG from 2007 to July 31 this year, spoke at last week's CMO Council event in New York about what it took to do the impossible: give positive brand equity to a global player in an industry that many view as a faceless, paper-shuffling, cubicle-choked, check-cashing, and nefarious commodity that is, at best, a necessary evil.
Sinha and his organization did that in September 2008, when it launched Zurich HelpPoint, making its essence -- treating each customer as an individual and not a policy number -- the fulcrum for changing management ideals.
Making the changes that allowed the company to become more humane meant sailing into a stiff headwind. Though Zurich Financial was founded something like 150 years ago, it didn't have much brand identity -- partly because it wasn't a brand. Sinha said even after the company had consolidated from two holding companies to one in 2000, it was overrun with logos. "We had 63 different brands, and we consolidated it all. That means CEO's became managers. And there was a lot of resistance to that."
Once the company had whittled its presence to just three global brands -- Farmers Insurance (in the U.S.), Zurich and Zurich Connect -- it embarked on a global market research project around what consumers thought of the category, and of Zurich Financial itself. "Fewer than 15% trust insurance," said Sinha. "That's half the approval of George Bush before he was voted out. In Italy, it was about the level of the mafia. And when we asked them what we should do, people said, 'Deliver the basics. If you just deliver on what you promise, you will go a long way.'" That, he said, was the genesis of HelpPoint.
Sinha, now a professor at Yale University's School of Management, said the process of launching HelpPoint meant changing the culture at the company. Starting in 2008, the company launched a three-year plan for change. First came a repackaging and its largest global campaign in 2008, then in 2009 developing best practices. Then, in 2010, innovations related to that under the broad purview of Desired Customer Experience.
Sinha had a problem with internal resistance, since regional managers translated "customer-centric" to "costly." "My biggest challenge was internal, with management saying, 'You want us to be customer-centric; that will cost.' They wanted relief on profitability. I said, 'Absolutely not. You have to be customer-centric and remain profitable.'"
TNS customer satisfaction and loyalty research in every market helped regions cut costs and figure out where to spend more to give customers what they actually cared about, such as proactive communications with policy holders. "In Spain, we did lots of things really well, but found out that we didn't do well in areas that were important. Consumers didn't want a courtesy car, for instance. They wanted someone saying [Zurich] is on the case. We said you could reduce repair and garage costs but dial up on the notification aspect. By reducing services in one area you can maintain the same level of profitability. That was a huge cultural change."
As was the company's marketing strategy which, Sinha said, had to become 360-degree with lots of touch points, reflecting the ubiquity of
information and access and a change within the organization, which required training on customer-centrism. "I started a 20-minute e-learning program with the board of directors, then with the group
executive committee, and the top 450 managers. We passed it down and created grassroots involvement, and leveraged social media to disseminate it to employees," Sinha said. "The real key is execution.
Every conference room at Zurich has one chair that says 'customers' chair.'"
In addition to its giant global campaign comprising dozens of TV ads in 23 or so languages,the company changed its media strategy for marketing. "Online, for example, we drive deeper campaign interaction with tailored content. It helps connect with consumers directly since we don't have a direct retail channel," he said.
Sinha said Zurich, which almost went bankrupt eight years ago, is No. 1 in reputation and is the second-most admired company in the industry. "We have found that there is a 10% higher loyalty rate among customers who have gone through the claims process versus ones who have not. Our brand KPI's are up, brand attributes related to customer service are up. We have found a differentiator in a segment that has commoditized."