Opinion Forums Customer experience as a competitive tool By Mike Nelson / March 22, 2017 Share 1 -- Former Mercedes-Benz USA president Stephen Cannon put it this way: "Customer experience is the new marketing," he told Gartner for a report the consulting group was planning. That report ultimately concluded that by 2016, 89% of companies would compete mostly on the basis of customer experience. That's up dramatically from 36% just four years earlier.I think Cannon and Gartner are onto something. Although many companies talk about improving the customer experience, few have a plan to address it. We decided that we would be one of the companies that did, and as a result, we can demonstrate a significantly better experience for our shared customer, the travel agency client. Let me tell you how we did it.Mike Nelson At Allianz Worldwide Partners, we provide travel insurance and assistance to millions of customers every year through thousands of travel agents. Our travel agency partners count on us to provide great service at every touch point, including purchase, policy service interactions, travel assistance and claims management.These touch points help define how the customer feels about Allianz as the travel insurance provider as well as about the travel agency that has partnered with us. So how do we measure and improve the experience? We use software to survey and gain insight from thousands of customers every week, and we employ speech analytics tools to monitor customer service interactions that are handled over the phone. We use this "voice of the customer" data in a continuous feedback loop that informs decision-making. The software tools enable us to sort and review all this information to identify pain points and, more importantly, to prioritize actions designed to improve the customer experience. There are many tools that can help manage all this data. Two that we use are Qualtrics, to manage customer feedback, and Verint, for speech analytics. With these tools, we do the following:Record every call and use speech analytics to identify patterns and opportunities for improvement.Monitor and track all comments received on our social media platforms.Survey every customer who files a claim about their experiences.Each week randomly survey 30,000 customers who might not have interacted with us beyond the purchase of the policyCollecting data is crucial, but what's most important is having the mechanisms in place to act upon it. Listening to the feedbackWhat's the payoff? Frequently, we get very specific suggestions about how to make our processes more customer-friendly. For example, in a recent survey we asked our customers, "How could we have made it easier for you to understand your benefits and services?"There was overwhelming feedback suggesting that we include a bullet point list of benefits on insurance policies and simpler, shorter descriptions. This is a simple fix but something we didn't consider until seeing the frequency and consistency of the feedback.Another outcome was to address concerns over "insurance-speak." We completely rewrote our policy documents to make the language more intuitive and easier to understand. In addition, we created a "declarations page," a brief list that summarizes our coverage and benefits. This initiative was largely driven by our focus on listening to customers and working to find ways to improve the touch points. It was another simple change that resulted from consistent feedback. Customer experience done right can also drive product evolution. We are able to sort the data we receive to identify potential gaps in coverage to make our products more useful to our customers. As a result, we have made changes that our customers want, such as adding coverage for existing medical conditions to more products as well as coverage for customers who must cancel their plans because they are required to work. We've even made our popular Cancel Anytime product, which allows customers to cancel their trip for almost any unforeseeable reason, available to more customers booking trips on our agency partners' websites. Since we use real data to drive these decisions, we are confident that the resulting changes will make our products and services even more valuable to our customers. Finally, the ultimate example of employing the feedback loop to improve the processes: We use surveys and other analytics tools to coach our front-line associates on how they can better serve our customers. Only by carefully listening, analyzing and reporting customer feedback can we provide our people with the information they need to make our service even better. The battlefield of customer experience will yield many winners and losers. Which side will you be on?If you want more information about our innovations, visit us at allianzworldwidepartners.com.Mike Nelson is CEO of global travel insurance and the Americas region at Allianz Worldwide Partners. The company's products include its flagship Allianz Global Assistance brand of travel insurance, which is offered through travel agents, airlines and other leading travel suppliers.