The Customer Confidential Podcast
Asia is a market of contradictions for a traditional insurance company. On the one hand, insurance products are relatively new to the region. In a fast-growth business such as this, simply delivering well and reliably on the business basics will still wow customers and help leading insurers differentiate themselves. On the other hand, customers throughout much of Asia have enormously high expectations for fast and simple digital services, because they compare them with platforms such as WeChat in China or Go-Jek in Indonesia.
For Francesco Lagutaine, the chief marketing and experience design officer of Manulife Asia, that means keeping two things in balance. His company needs to deliver flawlessly on the basics. Yet, he also needs to be thinking constantly about how Manulife can measure up to digital natives in a region where these platforms rule.
“The expectation of customers is to go to one place to get everything they need—cheap, accurate, reliable and there when they want it,” he says. “We still live in a world where we get customers to fill in forms with paper and pens. There’s a great dissonance between their expectations and our delivery. And that’s why we believe that building the customer experience delivery is fundamental to our success.”
In this episode, Francesco describes how, earlier in his career, he created a culture of storytelling and empathy in a large multinational company. He did it by turning customer statistics into stories. That helped him bring to life the customer experience for different people throughout the organization. This was especially important for his success because he didn’t have authority over the people in those different functions. That series of successes helped shape his approach to Manulife, where, he explains, he has begun creating specialized teams to improve customer experiences.
In the following excerpt, I ask Francesco where and how Manulife is investing to meet the intense expectations of customers operating in the digital, instant-gratification environment of Asia.
Francesco Lagutaine: There's two drivers that have historically been true for our business. One is we're a heavily paper-reliant business. Most of our operations and our interactions rely on paper. This is still true because we are a low-interaction business. You buy a policy, you have a series of intense meetings with an agent, then you sign a bunch of papers, and then you pay once a year for 20 years or the rest of your life. And so we've been able to live in this world of paper even in 2018, 2019 because we didn't have that many interactions.
In the world of today, if you don’t have frequent interactions, you become irrelevant. So that's the part that scares us the most. We realize that we can't continue to exist in a low-interaction world. So we need to do two things. One, we need to build a digital ecosystem or infrastructure that allows us to frequently and easily interact with our customers whilst also receiving information and data from our customers which will allow us to fine-tune their experiences.
And that's what's going to allow us to create more frequent experiences and become more meaningful in our customers’ lives. So we're seeing that as kind of crucial to our success. We're doing that in a number of ways.
In an emerging market like Vietnam, we are now going all out to digitize the life cycle of typical customers. Seven out of 10 customers—regardless of the fact that they will buy through an agent because it is still a complicated purchase—they will start their search online. So from that moment all the way to how quick and easy it is to find an agent, how quick and easy it is to issue a policy, we're building that digital infrastructure that will allow us to innovate and iterate quickly on these experiences.
In a market that is more sophisticated like Hong Kong, we are actually taking it a number of significant notches further. We have now put experience at the core of our operations. We’ve reorganized, and it’s been mind-blowing. I joined three years ago, and in my first meeting, the CEO asked me to explain to the organization how a customer-centric company operated. We have been operating in Hong Kong already for almost 18 months after having reorganized the operations away from silos and into experience and interaction moments.
So we have a group of people that look at onboarding—or “search and buy” is what we call it. We have a group of people looking at “manage and review,” which is basically servicing. And we have a group of people that are looking at claims, which is the moment of truth for any insurance company, across all our policies and all our businesses.
And we've actually broken down the organizational barriers because before you had the life [insurance] team, you have the savings team—each product had a silo all the way through. We broke that to really focus on the customers, and that gives us two things: It allows us to build the muscle and the capability in the right place; and also, the most important thing for customers, is that our experience now becomes predictable across all our products.
Rob Markey: And all your channels.
Francesco Lagutaine: And all our channels. Because before, when we had different people responsible for different products and different people responsible for different channels, even with their best intentions in mind, because they were working in isolation, what they created was by definition different. Whereas now, because we've reorganized around the interactions, it’s really helping us to focus on creating that experience.
Rob Markey: I think this is really important. I want to highlight something here: Same people, same basic jobs—but by organizing differently, you've changed their mindset.
One of the things I encounter with my clients is this question: “Why is it that I need to reorganize? All these people know that they're all working for the company. They all know that they're working for the customer and it shouldn't make any difference which functional group or department they sit in.”
A lot of the folks who are resistant to doing what you've done believe that they are already doing that. So what was different once you reorganized?
Francesco Lagutaine: Well, there are two ways to answer that question, and both are true.
One is that the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior expecting a different result. So, to a certain extent, doing things differently will create a different outcome, whereas doing things the same is not going to create a different outcome. Just telling people [to] “do exactly what you're doing, but now it all has to be about a great experience”—it's just not going to work because we all, as human beings, have this reflex.
Number two, there's actually a little bit more meaning to the transformation as well. It is exactly the same people, but is a completely new set of capabilities. These are things like Agile working methodologies, human-centered design, journey mapping, NPS®. These are actually predicated on the fact that the organization no longer comes together in vertical silos, but comes together in horizontal cross-functional groups.
And if you don't change the structure and the operating model to lift the operational group to the hero moment in the organization and the hero moment in someone's career, you're not going to change the outcome.
The biggest thing that we had to get over [was] explaining to some of our experience owners that they were actually much more important in the organization and that we were giving them a role and a skill set that was going to accelerate their career beyond their imagination, whilst at the same time reducing the size of their teams. In a traditional organization, you know, the size of my portfolio, the size of my team determines how important I am. Now, it's about intensity and focus.
Rob Markey: And that's a very big difference in the determinants of career success for most of these people, and it also involves trusting that the way that they get evaluated, the way they get rewarded is going to be consistent with that. So I get that.
I still think when I try to convince people that this is a better way to do things, one of the things that they will push back on is they'll say, “Look, I have a very complex organization. We have a large number of products. We have a large number of customers that we deal with, a large number of constituents to satisfy. I can't just scramble my organization like that. I'm going to bring everything to a screeching halt. And anyway, I just don't see how it's going to be that much better because we're all smart people and we've done our journey maps. So we're all good.”
How would you respond to somebody who said that to you?
Francesco Lagutaine: Well, the true part in that statement is you can't underestimate the change.
So you need to think through the change carefully and plan through it. This is not about telling the same people to work in the same way, but come to work wearing jeans. This is much more.
Rob Markey: Or report to a different team with a little sign over the area. We’re all going to have desks together, and we can have a little sign over our area now. Good, go!
Francesco Lagutaine: Exactly. Or we all have standing desks, and therefore we're all creative. [Laughs] This is a more fundamental reorganization that goes to the core of how we're operating.