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The Customer Indebtedness Advantage

As seen on LifeHealthPro

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How many insurance and finance industry leaders are truly harnessing the power of customer care? Many companies say they do this, but few actually do. (Photo: iStock)

It’s supremely intuitive that customer focus is the key to business success. It is also something that industries that have typically focused on products or distribution are now aware they need to change. Bravo!

However, how many leaders are really harnessing the full power of customer focus? If after reading that question you immediately thought “big data,” please stop, put your smartphone down and back away from the table. This is not the kind of power I am talking about.

The type of customer focus that I am talking about is better referred to as customer care — not just caring for customers, caring about them. Maybe a good way to describe this would be customer indebtedness. These are companies that truly live, breathe and feel grateful for their customers, and put them above all else. Very few companies actually do this. They may say it, but being it is completely different.

I was very inspired while attending a recent LIMRA conference in Barcelona. One of the speakers, Artemis Pantelidou, general manager from EuroLife, owned by the Bank of Cyprus, very humbly told the story of how her company was on the brink of collapse during the economic crisis in 2013 when Cyprus faced an EU and IMF bailout.

EuroLife was badly hit by these market conditions. People were in a state of panic. They wanted (and oftentimes needed) their money, and the company faced the risk of losing a significant amount of its customers, thereby jeopardizing its financial position for those who stayed.

However, it managed to weather the storm by staying focused on the customer and doing everything it could to make sure its customers were taken care of. It was in constant, open, honest dialogue with its customers, employees, agents and regulators. The company asked for all constituents to stay focused on customers and find new and different ways to satisfy as many as it possibly could. While some suggested it shut down to prevent a “run” the way banks and stock markets do, Artemis insisted that EuroLife stay open for business and deal with each situation one customer at a time. After all, an insurance company is there to help with risk, not run away from it. Once customers understood the situation and how it could impact so many people, they were even more grateful the company did so much to help them. And they weathered the storm.

When it was time for the Q&A segment of the presentation and attendees were looking for the magic bullet that helped it succeed, Artemis repeated there was no more to it than doing what’s right for the customer — each customer. She gave credit to her leadership team and to everyone who worked together, but that was it. Without saying these words specifically, the sentiment was that the company owed a debt of gratitude to its customers, whether they stayed or didn’t stay.

They emerged stronger than ever, with advantages in the following areas:

  1. Leadership team trust and respect for each other
  2. Employee respect for leadership
  3. Customer loyalty
  4. Confidence in its abilities to handle volatility and uncertainty
  5. Regulator trust
  6. Public image
  7. Ability to innovate new solutions

While nobody wishes to have an experience like this to achieve a competitive advantage, what lesson can be learned in the chaos of the everyday?

If your company seems to be wrestling with any of the seven issues above, running around frustrated with leadership alignment, uncertainty or business barriers to innovation, perhaps adopting an attitude of customer indebtedness now could help your culture overcome those issues sooner rather than later. If you are longing for the everyday chaos to calm down before you can adopt this attitude, you’ll need a real crisis to break the cycle. Why wait?

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