'We look at everything we do through the eyes of the customer, rather than the insurer'
Peter Kilcullen, chief customer advocate with Allianz, tells John McGee how clients' needs are changing dramatically
With more and more companies putting customers at the heart of their sales and marketing strategies, it's probably fair to say that the insurance sector needed to do so more than most others.
The German-headquartered Allianz, the largest insurer in Europe and one of the largest in the world, has more than 600,000 customers in Ireland, ranging from home and business owners, motorists, and right through to pet lovers and boat owners.
With 1,400 staff and gross premiums of €590m last year, it is also operating in a very competitive market that has seen a number of market failures in recent years.
Spearheading the company's customer-centric initiatives is Peter Kilcullen, who has held a number of senior sales and marketing roles over the past 14 years and now serves as its chief customer advocate.
What does your role as chief customer advocate actually entail?
"My mission is to continuously challenge Allianz to increase customer engagement and satisfaction. That's dependent on the 'sum of the parts' - as in the expertise and experience of our sales and underwriting professionals and the supporting and understanding nature of our post-sale customer care teams."
What are the marketing challenges facing Allianz and how does it overcome them?
"We face the same challenges as most other organisations. Our customers are becoming busier and so our products need to become personalised and more easily accessible.
"In simple terms, we live in an always-on, always connected world and that means consumers have greater access to information and choice than ever. Part of our challenge is to re-evaluate the total customer experience and enhance it. This means looking at everything we do from the eyes of the customer, rather than the eyes of the insurer. That is part of what we mean by 'true customer'."
In 2015, the company launched its Allianz Renewal Agenda. What is it and how has it worked out?
"The truth is that it's a renewal journey that is only just beginning, but it's also something that is really quite simple. With the advent of new consumer pathways, we are using the Allianz Renewal Agenda to ensure we maintain our leadership position in this market and every market where Allianz operates.
"The renewal agenda is focused on the pillars of digital capability, technical excellence, growth ambition, inclusive meritocracy and customer-centric experiences. These pillars are key to the future sustainability of our business model, how we interact with customers and how we deepen still further our relationships with our customers."
Insurance is perceived as a commoditised but necessary product. How does Allianz try to differentiate itself from competitors at a time when insurance costs are spiralling?
"Perception is often misleading. Premiums for private cars have risen substantially and that also follows years of unsustainable pricing by some competitors - culminating in some failures and market withdrawal. We also operate in a continuing uncertain claims and legal environment and would be welcoming of reform that helps alleviate the cost burden on businesses and consumers alike.
"But insurance is a tough sell, no doubt about that. Some insurance products have become commoditised but we remain committed to quality of offering and consistency.
"What takes Allianz out of the commodity segment, and what makes Allianz different, is our technical expertise and our genuine focus on satisfying the customer need. We instil this in our people every day. That's part of my role in keeping what we call 'true customer centricity' at the very core of every step we take in every community where we are present."
Where is the customer mindset at the moment when it comes to purchasing insurance?
"It is certainly changing. Over the past few years - and in fact probably since the early 2000s - customers have been faced with, and responded to, a deluge of price-driven marketing, with premiums pushed ever lower and ultimately to unsustainable levels. Price does not always equate to value for money.
"And consumers have seen recent examples of some insurance providers not having sufficient financial strength to pay claims. This is just not acceptable for someone like me or a company like Allianz, where our ambition is to protect customers throughout their personal and working lives."
What are the key trends at play in the wider insurance industry?
"The focus on digital is clearly evident everywhere. But, in more detail, advances in technology such as driverless vehicles, telematics, drones and the Internet of Things will have huge implications for insurance, as will the mega-issues of climate change, geopolitical risk, population growth and technological convergence.
"Across the Allianz group, we are harnessing our depth of knowledge, our breadth of resources and our technical excellence expertise in order not only to meet the challenges of the future, but to do our best to stay ahead of them and move toward and participate in a very exciting future."
Sunday Indo Business