Insurance group Royal Sun Alliance (RSA) worked with research company Synovate to come up with a winning formula to boost research impact and get value for money. Lucy Davison, MD at marketing agency Keen as Mustard, looks at how the company has approached its customer research programme from the inside out, to great effect
In 2009, RSA embarked on a journey to embed customer experience at the heart of the organisation with the ultimate aim of improving customer engagement. This came about as the company acknowledged insurance buyers are all far more demanding and have more choice than ever before. Service is therefore high on the industry agenda and there is plenty of room for improvement in terms of performance.
Insurance isn't a particularly well-served sector. In the past, it hasn't been the bigger insurers who set the pace on service – smaller niche players were far more agile and didn't have the same weight of legacy, scale and complexity to deal with. But in recent years, the big international companies, including RSA, have started to pay serious attention to service as a means of positive differentiation in the market.
RSA’s project involved adopting a new and consistent approach to measurement and action in all parts of the business, both personal and commercial. To set it out, RSA was looking for a partner who could provide three things: a credible expertise in customer engagement, a strong methodology they could buy into and a global reach, which gave the option of scaling across RSA group. It finally opted for global market research company, Synovate.
Caroline Van Den Bos, head of insight at RSA, and Tony Smith, head of financial and business services at Synovate, worked closely to plan and structure the programme to ensure RSA’s team understood and managed expectations from the start. “Cultural change is hard to achieve”, said Van Den Bos. “We needed to influence and bring our colleagues with us in order to succeed.”
RSA’s team saw that it was vital to get senior executive sponsorship for the project and help from the business in order to reach both the broad scope and the detail right, as well as to get things done – for example in sourcing data, which is always a real challenge in the commercial world.
Van Den Bos explains, “We knew the project would be very challenging. Our business is extremely diverse. We insure everything from the family cat to international shipping, so within our 17 UK business units, our stakeholders, brokers and customers have very different needs. We were putting in place a programme to bring consistent measurement and a consistent customer language across the UK business, but at the same time it was critical that our solution met the varying needs and added value for all our different businesses”.
From his side, Tony Smith adds, “Internal stakeholders in a B2B environment are often unfamiliar with research techniques and programmes. They don’t see the need to understand the customer experience from an independent and holistic viewpoint, or the benefit such an evaluation can bring to the organisation and ultimately to the customers.
“In such an environment it is vital that the needs and questions of all stakeholder groups are addressed, so we needed to make sure every group had a ‘voice’ and a ‘ear’ in the ongoing development and implementation of the programme”.
So, getting the commitment from the outset – from named individuals for them to own and act upon the results for their area – was crucial. The RSA research team worked with colleagues throughout the business to engage them in the whole research process. In fact, in order to make the project effective, the team set up an ‘engagement’ project to work alongside the primary research project. This included interviews with 20 senior executives from throughout the business, the creation of a customer engagement working group with representatives from every major business unit, plus finance and HR, and an ongoing programme of updates and presentations to senior stakeholders.
The project has had a tremendous impact. “When we presented the results to the executive, they identified four major strategic initiatives to improve the customer and broker experience across RSA UK”, Van Den Bos explains. “We're now at the stage of running workshops at business unit level, to identify actions for each specific P&L. We have a senior cross-functional steering group that meets monthly to review the service change programme, understand broker feedback, decide whether existing initiatives have the issues covered and identify any gaps to act upon. We've moved from an approach to customers and brokers that was in silos and reactive to a proactive and strategic footing”.
B2B top tips
According to Smith, the answer is “Focus, focus, focus. All too often, research programmes, particularly the larger strategic programmes, try to do too much and many fail as a result”. Van Den Bos agrees, “Make sure you're focusing on what's important to your stakeholders. Align to their objectives. If you can truly tell them how they can win over competitors, you will have their full attention”.
Van Den Bos adds, “Above all, take people with you, don't do it to them. Communicate far, far more than you think you need to. Make the complex simple and accessible”. For example, the RSA team pre-designed all their reports, before the analysis phase. They developed a template and took it to the Customer Engagement Working Group for feedback. “They destroyed it”, says Van Den Bos. “We had made things far too complicated. We went right back to the drawing board and started again”.
Finally, both Smith and Van Den Bos agree that you need to get the balance of the relationship with your research agency right. “Work closely, but don't delegate your job to the agency” says Van Den Bos. “As a client, it's your job to bring quality and joined-up thinking to the analysis and conclusions. You have the benefit of business understanding and your existing body of insight knowledge. Use this to make clear, bold recommendations”. On the other hand, keeping your agency at arm’s length won’t work either, as Smith notes: “Get them involved in your company, understanding how the research will impact the business so that the research can be designed and reported to truly fit the needs and expectations of all parties”.
So, by focusing, involving people from throughout the business and getting the right balance between agency and client, RSA has come up with a winning formula to ensure research has real impact and delivers great value for money. These are solutions other B2B companies can use to put research to work for them.
If you are interested in learning more about how B2B research can be put to work for your business, the Business Intelligence Group (BIG) Conference is addressing this and several other issues from 11 – 13 May at the Belfry in Wishaw. The RSA case study will be one of many being presented.