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Mutual of Omaha employees buy into customer focus

Employee buy-in is a critical component of any enterprise-wide change -- whether that change is a process or a project like CRM, says one expert.

When insurance giant Mutual of Omaha Co. decided to switch from a product-centric focus to a customer-centric focus, it expected to encounter some technical challenges. What it didn't expect was employee resistance.

It didn't take long for the first sign of trouble to appear, either.

"So we went to our people and said, 'You know, we're not going to be product and distribution-driven anymore, we're going to be a customer-driven company,' " said Mutual of Omaha's Martin McCaslin. "And you could see about 80% of the people's eyes rolling back in their heads."

Mutual of Omaha based its new customer-centric approach on the so-called Balanced Scorecard Methodology, which places as much emphasis on employee satisfaction and innovation measures as it does on more conventional metrics such as financial analysis and customer satisfaction.

Even though the Balanced Scorecard gives equal weight to employee satisfaction, it was viewed skeptically by the rank-and-file because it was the latest in a long line of management programs adopted by Nebraska-based Mutual of Omaha over the years. By the time managers introduced the new program, customer service representatives and agents were feeling a trifle programmed-out, said McCaslin, project manager for the company's customer service division.

Cultural shift

Often, the problem isn't with the number of programs adopted, but rather with the degree of investment management puts into each program, said Dutch Holland, a change management expert and author of "Red Zone Management," a guide to navigating "make-or-break" situations in organizations, such as strategy changes.

"It is possible to move too quickly, to have so many different programs going on in an organization that the next one isn't taken seriously anymore," Holland said. "It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Holland likes to use the metaphor of organizations as theater companies. Changing an organization's culture is similar to a putting on a new production, he said.

"When a company says it wants to do organizational change, it's like saying to a theater company that's been doing 'Oklahoma' every night for two years, 'Gee, we're going to change to 'Rent.' ' You go through the process of identifying what the new play is ... telling each actor what role they're going to play -- and you only pay them their salary if they act out the role."

If Mutual of Omaha had to do the process over again, McCaslin said, he would make more of an effort "to validate that natural skepticism that happens when you do too many programs, and do a little bit better job up front of saying, 'Here's why (being customer-centric) is important and here's what this means.' "

Integrating homegrown apps

Currently, Mutual of Omaha is attempting to improve communication within divisions with a multi-media approach, including e-mail newsletters and an internal Web site with information and activities such as quizzes, assessments and games.

The company also plans to tie together its homegrown software applications so that customer reps and agents can have access to a single data repository.

"We are in the process of looking at vendors to bring in a new system to bring all that information together in a central location," said Karol Ulmer, a lead specialist in the customer service division who has been working with IT on the enhancements to the extranet.

McCaslin said that ultimately, the most important thing is to recognize and reward behaviors -- not people.

"That's the only way to go about it," said Dutch Holland, who serves as an expert for searchCRM. "What they've got to do is to define what the new ways of doing business are, what the new ways are that employees must play, and then put the rewards behind those. So if you play in a customer-centric way, you keep your job and you have a chance for incentives."

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