Building your positivity muscle and the impact it can have on customer experience – Interview with Matt Prowse of IAG


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Today’s interview is with Matt Prowse, Customer Enablement Director at Insurance Australia Group (IAG). Matt joins me today to talk positivity, why we should add a little more of it into our own organisations, what they have done to with their ‘With Thanks’ programme amongst other initiatives, how they got senior executives talking to customers and the impact all of this has had on IAG.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Playing the customer experience game to win – Interview with Nienke Bloem – and is number 292 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my chat with Matt:

  • IAG is Australia’s largest general insurance company with brands operating across Australia and New Zealand (core markets) and employ about 12,000 people across the region.
  • Matt’s Customer Enablement team’s role is to help the business make decisions through the lens of their customer.
  • The way that they do that is by focusing on the organisation’s head, heart and hands:
    • Head: making our customer insights consumable across the organisation
    • Heart: helping our back office leaders and people connect their role to the customer experience
    • Hands: helping the organisation to be able to focus and prioritise on the things that matter most to our customers.
  • Matt is known affectionately across IAG as the “happiest man in insurance”.
  • Positivity like any other muscle requires discipline and daily focus if you are to build and maintain its strength.
  • Humans are ten times more likely to retain a memory of threat in their hearts and in their heads than other news.
  • There is a tendency across customer experience programs across the globe to focus in on the negative parts of the programme i.e. detractors and pain points.
  • But, the majority of customers in most organisations are, in fact, having a positive experience. And, much of those stories are not getting heard.
  • It’s all about getting the balance right – good and bad. It’s about being focused and deliberate.
  • And, just importantly how do we celebrate and acknowledge the front line people that are serving our customers brilliantly day in and day out.
  • The IAG ‘With Thanks’ programme was inspired by a talk by Disney at a conference Matt attended.
  • The programme started a couple of years ago by exploring some simple activities that they could start to highlight the bright spots in their organisation.
  • The first thing they did was get 15 back office staff, colleagues that weren’t interacting with customers in their normal day to day job, into a room under the guise of a new customer experience prototype program.
  • However, the first thing they had them do was call some customers.
  • What Matt asked them to do was call a list of advocates that had provided some very positive feedback that morning and say “Thank you very much for completing our survey this morning. We want to acknowledge that we’ve received your feedback and wanted to thank you for being a valued customer of one of our insurance brands.”
  • At that point most customers are waiting for the up-sell.
  • However, they coached their colleagues to say that they were writing a Thank You card to the consultant that delivered that experience to you this morning and if there was anything that you would like to pass on to “Dustin”.
  • The vast majority of customers are surprised by this very human approach and go on to provide some great feedback and kind words for the consultant in question.
  • A couple of days later the consultant would then receive the Thank You note in the internal mail.
  • It is a very simple premise and ticks three really simple things:
    • 1. The customers who have taken the time to complete a survey feel valued and listened to;
    • 2. Frontline colleagues (the real magicians in our organisation) are recognised for doing great things; and
    • 3. Leaders and back office staff that, through speaking to real customers, are connecting their back office role to our purpose as an organisation.
  • This activity created a buzz and the folks that were involved were sharing lots of stories on their Yammer internet page saying that they had just spoken to a customer, got great feedback and calling out the consultants that were responsible for the great service.
  • That got picked up by IAG’s Head of Internal Comms who asked Matt to come and explain the ‘With Thanks’ programme to 140 of their most senior international leaders and executives from around the globe at an upcoming two day strategy meeting.
  • At that meeting Matt went further and arranged to take all of the leaders to their contact centre site in Parramatta, where they had each and every one of them talking to some customers.
  • Out of the 90 minutes on site they spent a good 45 minutes calling customers and ended up reaching 450 over the session and generating 450 handwritten thank you notes, many of which were hand delivered by the leaders themselves to the consultants upstairs within the contact centre.
  • They are now working on how they build this, and initiatives like this, into their organisational DNA, such that every one of their 12,000 people are given the opportunity to be able to go and talk to an actual customer.
  • Another initiative they have developed is Customer Love week, which is centred around Valentine’s Day.
  • As part of that week they have set up phone booths so that colleagues, as they come into building in each of our head offices or in our contact centres, can make a simple call on the way in to thank a customer or one of their fellow peers.
  • Not all of the 140 leaders are doing this as part of a weekly discipline but they do have a group of highly engaged leaders that that have built it as part of their ongoing discipline and use it in their storytelling across the organisation, with their teams, with our shareholders and with our board.
  • The key learning: make it easy and simple to help make it a discipline.
  • There is charity-based research which highlights that when leaders and parts of the business make thank you calls within 48 hours of receiving a donation, those people that were called gave on average 39 per cent more than those that weren’t called and 12 months later their donations were 42 per cent higher than the groups that weren’t thanked.
  • Quote from one of our back office colleagues that participated in their first ‘With Thanks’ session four weeks ago:

“It was such a great opportunity for everyone to connect with the real life IAG customer and say ‘thanks’. Heart warming, tears welling and such a sense of pride and our purpose being brought to life.”

  • Quote from a consultant:

“Thank you for your acknowledgement. It’s nice to be recognized. I always make sure I give the customer a great experience in getting the card from you shows that what I do can and does make a difference. Thank you.”

  • Their programme has evolved over time and only last week Matt was invited to facilitate a whole day their program delivery team who are embedded in projects right across our organization. To finish the day on a positive note and be able to bring to life what all these projects actually mean, Matt created a bespoke session for them where they gave each of the participants to be able to thank customers combined with a session on customer experience frameworks (customer journey, common language, customer insights etc) so they could relate that all back to the projects and initiatives that they were supporting.
  • One of the biggest lessons out of this experience is that empathy is a discipline/habit that has to be nurtured and developed.
  • The next one is that to create momentum you need to find and enlist the strongest advocates and they may come from the most unlikely of places. In IAG’s case they come from their risk team, from their underwriting team and from their program delivery team.
  • If you can get them you can effectively create a loudspeaker for your voices.
  • Matt’s best advice on the first thing you should do: ask yourself when was the last time you genuinely spoke to one of your customers. And, if it’s more than a week, the first thing I would be doing is going out there and speaking to one of your customers and then deliberately and purposefully put that in your calendar to make that part of your own discipline and DNA.
  • You too can set up your own customer connections programme with little or no budget.
  • One of the simplest and cheapest things that they started was the IAG customer heroes programme, where you have your frontline team managers nominate their peers or their team members who are delivering great customer experiences to individuals or businesses. The winners get to wear a simple customer hero cape that cost USD15 that had a logo on it that they sourced from the US.
  • Team managers across our business still wear those capes with pride and it generates hundreds of stories each and every month that they can use to be able to showcase across their business.
  • There is a really important link between customer experience and people experience and the power of emotion to be able to create differentiated experiences.

About Matt

Matt Prowse Matt Prowse is Customer Enablement Director at Insurance Australia Group (IAG) and is a Customer Experience evangelist charged with bringing the voices of customers and colleagues into organisations through stories. In his current role he is helping Australia’s largest general insurer IAG to be customer-led and data-driven through the creation of customer-centred routines, rhythms and resources. He has managed Customer Connection programs at organisations like FOXTEL, Rolling Stone Magazine, Sydney Morning Herald and most recently IAG.

Check out Insurance Australia Group (IAG), say Hi to them on Twitter @IAGAust and connect with Matt on LinkedIn here.



Thanks to for the image.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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