At Mercer, we’re putting the customer at the centre of everything we do and it’s redefining our customer experience. This customer-centricity is only possible through the use of technology.
A technology-led transformation project that started three years ago cemented this shift in customer focus. Here are some of our learnings from the consequent change management journey, and advice for others affecting similar technology-led change.
In Australia, the superannuation market has reached saturation point and there’s no organic growth left – outside of system growth. This means superannuation funds need to compete with one another to grow market share in an industry worth more than $2 trillion.
In the ’70s, American academic Michael Porter developed a framework for corporate strategy which endures today. He theorised two genuinely meaningful dimensions of competitive strategy: price leadership and the delivery of differentiated customer value.
Historically, the superannuation industry has evolved over the past few decades to compete primarily on price. Competition to develop the greatest efficiencies and lowest-cost business models created a ‘one-size fits all’ customer experience – and rarely a great one. On the other hand, a competitive strategy based on delivering superior customer value hinges on being able to treat every customer as an individual, delivering value in a personalised and contextualised way. But the challenge has always been: how do you scale one-to-one, personalised, contextualised ‘corner-store’ experiences across a customer base of millions?
Technology is now delivering on the promise of scaling great customer service cost effectively, opening up all kinds of possibilities. Finally, we can create the world that we’ve always wanted to for our customers – one that delivers great customer experiences at scale, but more importantly, where those experiences add real value.
About three years ago, Mercer reimagined the capabilities required to win in our industry. We mapped out six core organisational capabilities that any organisation in the superannuation industry, or any consumer industry for that matter, would require in order to compete effectively and win market share. One of these capabilities was having access to a leading-edge customer relationship management (CRM) platform.
For our focus on customer-centricity to be more than corporate rhetoric we needed to transform our technology infrastructure and re-platform five core customer-facing platforms. It also meant we did away with a CRM platform we’d developed ourselves and used for several decades – a big decision, but one that was crucial to our success.
We turned to Salesforce as a partner because they’re global leaders in CRM technology, and we wanted access to the best. Salesforce could also bring to life our vision of physically having the customer record at the centre of our technology ecosystem, enabling us to build new capabilities around that.
With a program that’s costly and spans several years, it's easy to become disenchanted – and even easier for your stakeholders to become so. You need to demonstrate quick wins, and these achievements need to link back to the bottom line. With any technology change project, it’s critical that you can talk to the commercial benefit.
Our investment in customer management, CRM technology and marketing automation paid dividends from day one. We’ve achieved millions of dollars in incremental revenue that we wouldn’t have otherwise. On top of the financial wins, we’ve delivered value-add experiences for millions of customers, resulting in exponential increases in our net promoter scores.
At the end of any project, it’s important to reflect on the lessons we can learn. Looking back on our transformation journey, the big lesson is that prioritising the change management aspect of a technology transformation is vital. What we did wasn’t actually a technology project; it was a large-scale organisational change project.
When you introduce cutting-edge technologies into a large organisation, effective change management across people and process is more important in achieving the desired outcome than the technology itself. We've developed a change management framework called ‘People, Process and Technology’. Technology is intentionally third for this reason.
The impact new technologies have on employees is profound, and humans are resistant to change if the deployment of new technology isn’t properly managed. When you’re in the middle of a large-scale technology transformation, backed by significant investment, it’s not something you want to have underestimated. Transformation projects that simply seek to apply new technology to existing business architectures, processes and organisation structures are likely to fail because they don’t acknowledge how deep the change needs to go within the organisation for success.
The biggest lesson I’ve taken from customer transformation work has been the importance of change management, and prioritising incrementalism over ‘big bang’ projects. People often say we're not changing fast enough or we're not aiming high enough.
I'd challenge that the only true way to achieve the full potential of these technologies is to embed them slowly, manage the flow-on change required throughout the business, consolidate as you move forward, and achieve those quick wins by building upon a strong foundation of prior successes.
Despite the challenges with change management associated with transformation, I’m energised and excited about the leading-edge technologies that are now in the hands of our colleagues. Our staff dealt with legacy platforms, legacy systems and a manual environment to deliver our purpose – of creating better lives for our customers – for many years. You can see people’s energy and excitement grow when they get access to the new tech. They’re passionate about what's possible, and it’s rewarding to see the exploration and experimentation that’s starting to occur
The implementation of Salesforce technologies is also facilitating career development for our people – they’re learning the skills required to be on the cutting-edge of technology. But it’s not just on-the-job training they’re benefiting from: they’re also scaling up their learning with Salesforce University. Our whole consumer marketing team will be certified in Marketing Cloud by the end of the year. This ensures we’re following through on our brand promise by delivering only value-adding marketing communications for our customers, and only quality leads to sales.
It starts by having a conversation about people, process and technology. Can the technology you’re looking to implement deliver the desired outcome without your people and/or processes having to change? If the answer's yes, then you're the luckiest business on earth. If not, then you need to explore an optimal change management solution.
With this in mind, I encourage you to forge ahead and blaze a trail of change. Let the natural resistance cope with that, rather than be an impediment to the creation of change in the first place. I believe we all need to be braver in our ability to effect change in an organisation.
Now that we've completed our transformation, we're starting to produce great commercial results and outcomes for our customers – we’re out in front of the market. We’re poised to capitalise on future technological advancements, such as predictive capability and artificial intelligence, and are naturally able to be more inquisitive and experimental in leveraging these technologies. It’s a luxurious position.
I think back to our strategic decision to pivot away from being owners of technology to being renters of best-in-class technologies and see now how transformative that was for Mercer. It’s given us unprecedented agility, and agility is what’s required to deliver true customer-centricity – it’s going to be key in achieving future success.