Jeff Palm

Chief Information Officer, Allianz Life Insurance

Within this B2B organization, the CMO and CIO work hand-in-hand to better define and serve the end customer. With strong support coming from the top, these two are making great progress

Palm explains customer centricity as a company-wide point of view on how each touchpoint—direct and indirect—impacts the customer. He feels the first step in customer centricity is defining the end customer. They follow by exploring the various initiatives and technologies in play to determine what each means to the customer, how each touchpoint affects the customer experience, and the impact of each.

As a B2B company, Allianz distributes products through financial professionals, who in some ways are the first customer. As a result of this structure, the enterprise has many layers when looking at customer centricity. 

From a strategic perspective, marketing is the owner of the customer at Allianz. However, customer service and distribution play a major role in processing the business.

Palm adds, “Marketing owns the customer. Granted, other people touch the customer for various reasons in an end-to-end business model, but I like the notion of having it anchored somewhere, and in my view, that is in marketing.”

Corporate and senior management mindsets pose a challenge during their journey of becoming more customer-centric organization, though educational programs have shown progress in this shift.

An additional roadblock may be the enterprise’s legacy systems, which make data mining complex. Nevertheless, both marketing and IT are in agreement that marketing leads the effort to manage the use of customer data while IT is the architect and keeper of the raw data.

“There’s a notion of a data owner and a data steward, and generally speaking, one is a business person, and one is a technology person. Technology is responsible for the stewardship of all the data in our company; however, ownership responsibilities still reside with the business,” Palm says. “Technology is more of a support function than say marketing, especially relative to the customer, so there may be a layer or two of insulation between us and direct interaction with the customer. We are not quite as customer facing in that regard, but hopefully we are proceeding forward instead of backward.”

Appropriate investment is a key element in customer centricity, which ties highly to IT solutions to support marketing initiatives.

“We tend to be project focused in the way we invest; projects are generally designed to  augment a capability such as, building a better general ledger system, launching a new website, or automating a system,” Palm explains. “I think you’ll find a lot of them are not necessarily customer centric in their orientation. They are more around executing a particular project.  Therefore, I would say appropriate prioritization of investments is key.”

Having robust research, analytics, modeling and mining abilities are also critical to the success of becoming more customer centric.

Palm says, “Every now and then over the last couple of decades, something has come up in technology that turns out to be the next great thing and is a reality. And there are some terms you can look at that were all the rage for a little while, and then they turned out to be nothing but hype that eventually fizzled.  Take “Big data” for example.   Big data falls into that category in that, despite what some people may tell you, it is still on its training wheels as people are trying to figure out how to think about it. It could go one of two ways. It could take off like crazy and be the next big thing, or it could fizzle out and be a passing fad for thinkers. But without any sort of practical, tactical implementation, the jury’s is still out regarding big data.”

At Allianz, data is gathered from transactional systems and funneled into a series of locations—operational data stores—that then feed into a data warehouse. Some of the data that’s gathered from those transactional systems is then acquirable and usable from a combination of the operational data stores and warehouse. In addition, they would ideally like the data stores to be other sources of information beyond just transactional systems.

ROI made to improve the customer experience is measured across the enterprise through financial metrics, quantitative and qualitative metrics, and consumer research. Teams tasked with specifically driving the customer experience get measured and compensated based on their results.

Due to a strong emphasis on customer experience at the top, both the CMO and CIO at Allianz feel valued by their C-suite peers.      

“My perception is that the CMO role is highly valued in the C-suite, and the notion of customer centricity is obviously something that gets a fair amount of airtime. However, generally speaking, I would say CIOs and CMOs probably have a bit of an under-appreciation for what the other actually does. I think in order to continue to enhance a strategic partnership between the two—not just here at Allianz, but in general—we probably need to make sure that CMOs and CIOs develop a greater appreciation and understanding of what the other does in their organization. I do not know exactly in what areas this relationship will grow, but I know it is going to deepen quite substantially,” says Palm.

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