I started a new challenge. Here’s why & what it is about.
Sitting in the sun of the south of France last april, I decided to leave my job at Dutch insurer Delta Lloyd. I came to the conclusion it was impossible to close the gap between rising customer expectations, my ambitions and Delta Lloyd’s priorities. As I strive to be on the forefront of customer experience and innovation I decided to accept an offer from CX Company to become their first CMO. CX Company provides a state of the art AI-fueled SAAS platform that enables companies to design and operate all kinds of cool chatbots and conversational virtual assistants across all touchpoints on the Customer Journey. Chatbots and virtual assistants are not only hot topics in VC-land, but also extremely helpful for consumers and businesses to get their jobs done. You have to read the long version to read more about what led me to this decision, the key-challenges I see and my approach in this new role.
The Story Begins
I was sitting outside in the sun against the backwall of our rented holiday house in the south of France. It was late April 2016 and the official outside temperature would have been around 17 degrees celcius, but it felt a lot warmer. It was one of those moments where I could feel the inevitable tension leave my body.
I had been looking forward to this two week break with my family. Delta Lloyd, the Dutch insurer I worked for, had just finished the last stretch of a one year reorganization in three “tranches”. My unit was in the last tranche. Lot’s of insecurity to deal with for my colleagues/team-members and me. But most of us survived another round and I was appointed Customer & Brand Officer in the newly set-up CMO-led transformation unit. In this role I was leading a team of professionals with the goal to guide and steer the company’s transformation from company and product centric towards Customer centric. Not a light task for a 200 year old insurance brand in the Dutch market, but for sure a challenge that I was up for.
Or so I thought, back in January 2016. One of my peer-colleagues and me had been fighting (yes, fighting is what it sometimes felt like) six months to get the transformation agenda going. We had the support of the Board of Directors and the Executive Board for the general idea, yet the devil was in the details and in these processes nothing is done until it’s done. So we had to cope with many (last minute) changes, frustrating meetings and fruitless discussions. But we made it through.
As I was sitting with my head in the sun against the wall and the tension was flowing out, new thoughts came flowing in. And somehow it became strikingly clear, there and then, in the sun, en la douce France; clear that I needed to move on.
Reminiscence of corporate customer management
I had been working for Delta Lloyd Group for over 5 years. I started out at OHRA, the insurer’s direct to customer business. With a small management team of 5 we embarked on a journey to go from offline to online insurer. A journey that is never finished of course, but we did make a huge shift from selling to and serving 70% of Customers through the contact center and 30% via online channels (with an increasing share coming from comparison websites), to acquiring and serving 70% of new customers through our own digital channels and 30% through the contact center and comparison websites. A shift we made in just three years.
OHRA was fun to work for. Of course there were difficulties, but in general lines (of command) were short, people have a positive “can do” mindset and we were small enough not to be watched too closely by other parts of the organization. We liked it that way, and it paid out, imo.
At the Delta Lloyd brand things were different, as I discovered when I transferred there. The organization was quite larger, but I found my way around managing the complexity that was the result of this. No, the biggest problem was that there were just too many other priorities. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of people within the company that want customer centricity to be the number one priority. I’ve probably talked to and worked with most of them over the past years, and they are what kept me in positive spirits. They are the ones that I will honestly miss working with. And yes, there are also many that believe intermediaries are Delta Lloyd’s customers, but I felt things were changing for the better on that part of the challenge.
No, Delta Lloyd struggled with regulators and shareholders over the required measures to deal with Solvency II ratio challenges the past 18 months (in which stock-price dropped from 16 to 4 euro). And although it seemed to have been dealt with after Delta Lloyd issued new stock early 2016 with approval from its shareholders, that was only on the outside. On the inside there is still a lot going on to implement the measures, which draws a lot of board attention. And budget.
Thus It became obvious to me that this company had other priorities than putting the customer first. For which I don’t blame them (well.. ok, to some extent I do, if I’m honest; because they could have done a better job preparing for Solvency II in the years before all this happened), but I was not prepared to stick around to sit it out. For all of this not only took away attention and budget from the transformation agenda, it resulted in a widening gap between what Customers expect from an insurer these days and what we could be offering in the foreseeable future. Expectations that are increasingly set by the likes of companies in other, leading industries. And I’m just not the type of person that can settle for less ambition than I think could be possible (which is btw as much my problem, but we’ll not go into that here..).
I decided there and then, with the back of my head against the sunny wall, that I would need to find a new job. Because I want to be at the forefront of customer centered innovation. I want to be working in a company where they believe things can be different and that is continuously moving forward to find out what is next on the horizon, taking the occasional bold and many decisive steps towards it.
Serendipity is one of those concepts that I highly believe in, so I decided to text some people in my network to ask them for some of their precisous time to talk with me about what could be a good next carreer-step. One of the persons I texted was Dirk Jan Dokman, CEO of the CX Company and a person that I highly value and trust for his entrepreneurship and vision on Customer Experience and digital transformation. I had worked with his company at OHRA for the first time, although we knew eachother for ten years already. Dirk Jan is well connected in the Dutch business commnity as well as international communities. Nothing but good reasons to contact him.
As you probably know where I’m going with this I wil cut it short: Dirk Jan answered my text-message quite quickly saying that we should probably be talking about working together, because CX Company was in the midst of making some strategic choices. You can read how those played out here.
Dirk Jan, his partners in business, and I had several talks, and it became clear to me that not only was the company and its partners an excellent fit with my personality, also their vision, their technological capabilities and the strategy came together in a way that I wanted to be part of it.
CX Company? What do they offer?
Here’s what they do in a nutshell: CX Company’s SAAS solution “Digital CX” is a technology platform that offers companies the capability to design, implement and operate contextually aware and personalized conversation automation by means of chatbots, virtual assistants and pro-active notifications across all touch-points of the customer journey. A sophisticated level of automation is enabled by an artificial intelligent business rule engine tapping from the knowledge base, natural language processing (in 30+ languages) and machine learning in one cloud-based, enterprise ready, platform. A platform that connects easily with enterprise (CRM-)systems, databases and third-party applications like e.g. Facebook messenger, to drive seamless and conversational customer experiences accross digital channels and devices.
Now, that’s a whole lot of technobabble which is not unimportant, but the outcomes it enables is what really speaks to me, having spent a lot of time on the Client side of the business. The possibilities are endless, but in general, with Digital CX, companies can:
- reduce their cost-to-serve from customer contact,
- activate customers to self-serve,
- scale their business without scaling costs,
- improve conversions throughout the consumer decision journey, and
- improve the customer’s experience
And the greatest thing is: CX Company clients can do it themselves (if they want to, if not there’s services, from CX Company and/or our partners in business). The platform is easy to use so that also the non-techies in the (marketing, service and operations)-room can do the majority of tinkering (i.e. designing & implementing conversations, contextual dependent notifications etc etc) themselves. This platform wil enable them to closely monitor digital conversations and optimize on the fly. Much like online marketeers have been optimizing conversions through A/B-testing of advertising, sales-funnels etcetera, they can now continuously optimize digital conversations and their outcomes in a similar way, without any need for support of the techies. To me this is what tech is all about: seeking to enhance human capability to do stuff they could not do before, with an aim to better serve customers.
The job and its challenges
My challenge as CMO and part of the leadership team of CX Company will be twofold. First of all there’s the challenge of marketing the company and the solutions we offer. The company is not well known outside The Netherlands and as we have big plans to grow outside of it, this is going to involve getting to understand international markets and potential clients (UK and Germany are first on the list, because we do have clients there) and their dynamics. In the end this is (B2B) marketing, thus it needs to result in leads, new business and loyal clients. This will feed directly into my result oriented personality. I missed that direct influence on commercial results in my last roles at Delta Lloyd.
The second challenge will feed into my innovative, creative, holistic thinking mainspring. This challenge is to drive and develop CX Company’s Value Propositions, including the Digital CX-platform technology roadmap.
Now, as you may know, I’m a big fan of the Job-to-be-done innovation methodology. I’ve used it to gather insights and guide ideation to design new/improved touchpoints in the Customer journey for insurance customers. I haven’t yet got the chance to use it to drive product development in a tech-environment. Can’t wait to get started.
On top of this I also believe that no company is defined by the value proposition of it’s core offering (i.e. The Product). Companies in general and SAAS providers in specific, need to understand that, from a Client’s point of view, they are being defined by how clients experience the end to end service AND by how well the client is able to meet their desired outcomes from using the service. We therefore need to understand the jobs clients and their customers are trying to get done and the outcomes they desire throughout the entire decision journey. Following this we need to identify the key journey’s (or job-steps), the gaps there are in meeting their desired outcomes and consequently redesign touchpoints to close the gap where it matters most.
And this is where challenge one and two come together. I know that by starting on challenge number one I will come across many insights and opportunities to fuel challenge number two, and vice versa.
So, this is where I’m currently at. This is what makes me tick. This is what I come to do at CX Company, and what I left Delta Lloyd for.
I do realize that I did not explain why I believe in chatbots, virtual assistants and conversational commerce as major contributors in fueling customer experience and digital transformation strategies. I will do so in a next post, hopefully in the first half of january.
One final note:
If I hadn’t convinced myself completely after I announced this at Delta Lloyd on October 1st 2016, just two days later Dutch insurer NN announced their intention to bid for Delta Lloyd stock. A deal which has been confirmed to have the support from the Supervisory Boards of both companies and will likely take place in Q2 2017. The consequence being that the Delta Lloyd brand will cease to exist, whilst OHRA is seen as an industry best practice and will continue to exist also after the take-over. My decision feels like it has been the most timely I ever made.
Thank you for keeping up with this long story. I hope you enjoyed it. And if you have any suggestions for me on my key challenges, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment.
You can find me on LinkedIn (I like to keep track of my contacts so I only accept invitations from people that I’ve consistently interacted with, have actually met or otherwise worked with), my blog at wimrampen.com and on Twitter of course. More personal pictures and notes can be found at Instagram and if you want to know where I hang out, you can also follow me on Swarm.