How Farmers Insurance CMO And CIO Helped Rebuild For The Digital World

linton-guerrier-farmers-insuranceChange isn’t easy.

Just ask Farmers Insurance Group CMO Michael Linton and CIO Ron Guerrier.

About three or four years ago, the company had a dismal digital presence. Its Net Promoter Score, which ranks customer loyalty from -100 to 100, was in the gutter at -30 and its website bounce rate was about 40%.

“Our theory at the time is we can’t compete as a company without true multichannel or omnichannel,” Linton told AdExchanger at Salesforce’s Dreamforce gala. “This was demanded by the marketplace and we frankly had to catch up.”

Linton laid out a four-year road map for Farmers CEO Jeff Dailey. “I said if we don’t start improving the customer experience, you can think about not funding us, but we’re not going to leave the road map,” he recalled. “We would alter it only if the customer told us something wasn’t working.”

Crucially, Farmers expanded what had been a small analytics team, placing renewed emphasis on research and measurement.

Linton – who previously served as CMO at eBay and Best Buy – compared the process to an iceberg.

“You see the site and the TV advertising with JK Simmons,” he said. “What you don’t see, below the water, is all the analytics and insights that make that iceberg taller. The consumer and the press see the fun stuff, but not the analytics – but that’s what makes everything work.”

Linton and Guerrier – who previously held the CIO role at Toyota Financial Services – spoke with AdExchanger about the process of rebuilding.

AdExchanger: So where do you start?

MICHAEL LINTON: First, you build systems around the customer.

Second, you start measuring around the customer. We’re big believers in Net Promoter Score, because of what you can learn. It lets us see customers move through the system and allows us to focus on pain points.

And third, you build platforms that allow the company to start dealing with the customer. And that’s where the data comes in. You consolidate data and put it in the hands of employees and agents. It’s really important our agents have it as well.

What does that mean from a technology standpoint?

RON GUERRIER: Companies get mired in legacy systems and have a woe-is-me attitude – like they can’t get this done because it’s so old and archaic. We’ve been partnering more and introducing bridge solutions. We also shifted the way we do projects to a more agile methodology, building in an iterative process. Finally, Mike has digital and I have IT, and we’re co-located.

Was that co-location part of the original design?

LINTON: If you’re all looking at the same data with the same objectives, co-location just sort of happens. We didn’t mandate it.

How did you get marketing and tech-related KPIs aligned?

LINTON: We put a road map together, but we didn’t commit to exact financials. We committed instead to customer deliverables. We built in service first, sales second and marketing last. That was based off of how the consumer used the site. I mean, you’re not buying insurance every week. The bulk of customer touches are on service. The second is on selling. You don’t go on someone’s website to be marketed to, which is why that was last in our build.

How’d you choose your vendors?

LINTON: Salesforce is relatively new for us, about a year old. We first had to get our own house in order. If you don’t have the infrastructure and some of the back end, it doesn’t matter what you put in. We were bouncing 40% of our customers, so my goal was not to bring a huge amount of customers into the site in order to bounce them. Now, by the way, our transactional Net Promoter Score is well over 40, and our bounce rate is very low – so we can drive all the traffic we want and feel good about it.

GUERRIER: We were looking for a platform and not a point solution. If you want to do omnichannel, the platform is the right choice. We looked around, but we already had a favorable experience with Salesforce with something called Enterprise First Notice of Loss, so we decided to build on it. Thus far, Salesforce has proven to be a good pairing, but we’re constantly looking at what is the best platform for us.

How do you decide whether to buy or build?

GUERRIER: We like to buy out of the box as much as possible. Most CIOs are going down that path. When you build, you have to have an army of developers and there’s the total cost of ownership. We do the metrics, and nine times out of 10 the best option is to buy it out of the box.

You could have an agency or vendor build it for you.

GUERRIER: There’s a risk when you have a box implementer build something custom for you. Then you become customer one of one. Being customer one of 2,000 makes more sense than being customer one of one.

A lot of vendors extol clients who want to be first to market. How do you reconcile staying ahead of things without being the first mover?

LINTON: From a marketer perspective, realize there’s so much stuff going on that you can’t test it all. Ask yourself: Am I advantaged by being first? If so, test it while using the least possible money and time. If you’re not advantaged by being first, figure out who is going to test it and just watch them. And if there’s no penalty for being late, then don’t rush it at all. Let someone else hammer out the problem.

GUERRIER: I’m comfortable being a fast follower with certain technologies. In a highly regulated industry, it doesn’t always add value to be on the front lines. It’s okay to sit in the background and see what others have gone through. In the interim, we do a lot of proof-of-concepts and partner with startups in the Bay Area. So we’re exploring, and when the time’s right, we can just get moving on it.

Have you guys thought about uses for the Krux DMP, now that Salesforce just acquired it?

GUERRIER: We’re keeping an eye on it.

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