The top customer officer role at most companies is a study in contrasts. These business leaders must balance data analysis with a human touch, corporate goals with customer needs, and process with passion.
When Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company created the position of vice president and chief customer advocate in 2008, senior leadership appointed Jasmine Green, whose first three years in the job demonstrate a deep knowledge of these contrasts. The role itself is filled with challenge, and meaning. An "advocate," according to Webster's, is one who "defends the cause of another" -or, more specifically, one who "pleads the case of another before a tribunal."
A customer advocate must nurture the customers' cause by arguing the merits of her vision and strategy in the court of corporate opinion. This endeavor requires a leader who possesses both left-brained technical expertise and right-brained savvy.
Green has both.
A seat at the customers' kitchen table
A 25-year Nationwide veteran, Green spent most of her pre-customer advocacy years in claims, the area within insurance companies that work directly with policyholders who have suffered a loss (e.g., a house destroyed by a fire), as well as other consumers who have suffered a loss (e.g., a car accident) at the hands of a policyholder. Many of these interactions can be extremely emotionally charged.
"I've handled catastrophic cases and fatalities," Green notes. "I have represented Nationwide in mediation and arbitration. When you have to deal with a customer's traumatic accident and you are sitting face-to-face with them in their kitchen or living room, you still have to deliver great customer experience. You do that by being present with them and by listening to them."
These interactions imbued Green with a passion for customer service and a personal understanding of customer experience. "I found out what it means to deliver great customer experiences when people really need it," Green says. Her time with customers showed Green how she could make good on Nationwide's promise to protect what matters most to their customers. As chief customer advocate, showing the rest of the organization how to fulfill this promise requires that she complement her passion with a rigorous focus on process.
Process discipline and software design
One of the strategic objectives Green established for herself when she took the role was to "improve the process by which we collect customer data, transform it to usable information, and get it back to the business." At the time, Nationwide had a ton of customer data-residing in records of customer compliments, questions, and complaints logged in phone calls, personal interactions, and online-but not enough customer information.
So, Green sat down with an IT colleague in her customer advocacy department and figured out a way to customize an existing business intelligence (BI) application to that it could also function as a customer experience management system. The system was launched, with the BI vendor's help, in January 2010. Today Nationwide employees can log on to the Web-based application and see any customer experience issues in their area. The system also produces a "Top Five Report," which shows business-unit leaders all of the opportunities for improvement related to customer experience in their areas. The report contains the positive comments customers are sharing, customers' questions, and the top five areas of complaints within each business unit.
Designing the system required Green's technical customer service skills; fully harnessing the power of the system requires Green's passion for service and credibility among her internal customers. In fact, the success of the customer experience management system hinges on Green inspiring all 33,000-plus of her colleagues to enter customer data into the system whenever possible. All Nationwide employees receive training on how to input customer information into the system. Additionally, Green put in place an "I Care" program through which all employees make a personal commitment to care for customers.
"I came up through the ranks and really understand all of our different departments, business units, and subsidiaries," she says. "I understand how these areas of the company work. I know the leaders and many of our frontline associates. When I speak and share our perspectives on customer advocacy, I don't encounter a lot of opposition."
As the top customer executive in a large company, "you are trying to move a culture," Green says. "It's a whole lot easier to do so when you know the culture, the leaders, and many of the frontline associates. You can come in fresh to the company and try to bring about the same magnitude of change, but it is probably more difficult and requires more time."