Canadian Underwriter

Your Brand, Your Promise

August 4, 2010   by Chakib Bouhdary and Seth Halpern

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How much is a strong brand worth? Just ask any corporate executive or key decision-maker: A strong brand can help achieve price premiums, promote customer retention, and attract top talent to the workforce. Yet in times of economic ambiguity–when growth is uncertain and costs are rising–there is a temptation for companies to trim costs around efforts such as brand building.

Branding should be considered an integral piece of the business plan and a key component to overall growth. If a key decision-maker views branding as the promise companies make to their customers, and then work to keep that promise, then branding will be given the attention and resource required for strong market presence.

There are many elements that impact a company’s brand. Concentrating on a select few lets you control financial investment while maximizing the returned benefit. In order to establish key areas that will strengthen brand value, decision-makers must answer the following:

  •  How can your business ensure delivery on your brand promises to customers?
  •  How can your company respond to growing sector concerns and protect brand value?
  •  How can your company develop the type of workforce associated with a world-class brand?

Target Your Brand Improvements
Branding is typically associated with marketing elements such as advertising, logos, and events. But a brand is actually defined by a combination of factors, and like an iceberg, only a small piece is exposed to customers. While traditional marketing is an essential component of branding, there are other actions companies can take to help deliver on their brand promises. By making targeted investments in select areas, companies can continue to improve brand perception. This includes exceeding customer expectations through the strategic use of customer information and supply-chain excellence, and hiring, developing and retaining talent that is driven towards delivering the brand promise.

Keep Your Customers Close
Every interaction with customers or prospects influences their perception of your brand–a sales meeting, a customer service inquiry into a call center, or even an invoice. Yet delivering a consistent, high-quality customer experience is increasingly challenging, especially for large organizations with geographically disparate operations and customer locations. To do this well, consider the following best practices:

  •  Ensure you have a consistent customer master data strategy in place, so that you can easily collect and summarize customer data gathered across web channels, call centers, e-mail contacts, and face-to-face interactions.
  •  Provide an integrated and consolidated 360-degree view of the customer to your externally facing workforce. Today, customers expect companies to have their information available during sales, service, and marketing interactions.
  •  Make the 360-degree view available wherever your employees need it. Employees in the field should be able to access relevant information remotely, through handheld devices and so forth.

Companies with the strongest brands truly know their customer and are committed to delivering an excellent customer experience at every opportunity.

Take a Holistic Approach to Customer Processes
Brokers, customer service representatives and producers know that the efficiency and effectiveness of the back-office operation is tied closely with customer experience. And customer satisfaction issues, such as data accuracy, premium consistency, and policy availability definitely reflect on a brokerage’s brand reputation. The ability for customer-facing resources to quickly and accurately look across the business, for example, enables a company to promise satisfactory solutions to customers with greater confidence.

To deliver the right output to a customer, it is essential to consider the end-to-end business processes supporting that delivery.

To deliver the right output to a customer, it is essential to consider the end-to-end business processes supporting that delivery. Various functions that contribute to the process must be tightly connected. For example, customer support should be able to check on a policy request or a policy amendment without having to go through the same process as a new quote request.

When solving a particular back-end problem, consider the upstream and downstream effects of that problem within the end-to-end business process–even if they occur in different business functions. Thinking through such issues holistically and ensuring end-to-end data integration can have a strong impact on your ability to serve customers and drive brand success.

Develop Your People, Grow Your Brand
Ultimately, companies depend on the strength of their workforce to grow their brand. Your employees drive the innovation required to stay a step ahead of the competition, and they represent the face of your company to customers. Even when finances are tight, there are several things a company can do to grow talent:

  •  Continue to invest in training and development. Lower business levels can create available capacity in the workforce. Many companies are using this temporary bandwidth to invest in their employees. Industry-leading companies such as Motorola, Coca-Cola, and SAP have invested in structured training programs to develop their employees. Training to re-skill and up-skill employees builds capabilities and shows a true commitment to personal development, improving morale and long-term retention. Often this training can be delivered via e-learning to help control costs, enabling even smaller brokerages to invest in employees through education and training. Effective Training Can Reduce Employee Turnover
  •  Establish effective feedback mechanisms. Measuring and managing employee performance remain crucial. Timely and actionable feedback helps employees hone their skills and ensures that talent remains focused on top priorities. The right feedback also helps create a culture of continuous improvement. Make this a priority and establish relationships with internal and external HR specialists that can help develop and guide employee action on review processes and encourage structured and actionable feedback.
  •  Use an economic downturn to acquire the best talent. Hiring now might seem a bit counterintuitive, but after years of fierce competition for talent, there is an abundance of qualified candidates in the job market. The key is that your company can acquire talented employees right now at a lower cost than before the subprime credit crunch.
  •  Focus on employee engagement. Make sure employees stay engaged and informed. Your employees must be prepared for shifts in corporate and market strategy. Knowledge management and corporate communication efforts can help on this front, even in the smallest brokerage house.

Your employees drive the innovation required to stay a step ahead of the competition.

Provide Needed Insight
Even the most talented worker needs the right tools for the job, and in rapidly changing times maintaining the status quo is not an option. For example, sales and marketing organizations must understand changing buying patterns. Carriers (and reinsurers) need current data to effectively match supply and demand amid mercurial business conditions. And brokerages developing new customer segments require insight into emerging markets that will drive new business. Putting the right information in the hands of your best people also provides a sense of empowerment and helps smaller firms compete and larger firms become more nimble.

By supporting customer service initiatives and attracting and retaining top talent, brokerages and carriers can nurture their brand and become value-leaders in the minds (and hearts) of their end-user client: the policyholder.

Adapted from “Protecting and Nurturing Your Brand: Maintain and Grow Brand Value in a Time of Crisis,” a SAP Executive Insight paper, written by Chakib Bouhdary, chief value officer at SAP AG and founder of SAP’s value engineering framework, and Seth Halpern, senior principal in the SAP value engineering team.

Steps to Nurture Your Brand

There are a number of specific steps that companies can take to protect and nurture brand value relative to the customer service focus and nurturing top talent. These include:

  •  Enhance the customer experience. A company’s customer data resides all across the organization–in different departments and geographies. Leveraging that data through effective customer relationship management solutions is essential to providing a truly differentiated customer experience. Solutions must be developed based on a customer-centric approach.
  •  Commit to top talent. Excellence in recruiting, performance management, and training can all be technology-enabled. Additionally, analytics tools can empower employees to make the decisions necessary to support a strong brand. In fact, effective use of your corporate data can be a key step in optimizing the value of your top talent. Such investments can return tangible rewards. For example, Interbrand, SAP’s branding consultancy group, releases an annual assessment of the 100 most valuable global brands. This research indicates a clear relationship between brand value and share performance when comparing the top 100 brands to other broad indexes. The conclusion: It pays to stay focused on brand management–an invaluable asset.

© Copyright 2010 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the May 2010 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.