Customer Centric Design: How to bring customers directly into the creative process

The Chief Customer Officer (CCO) is rapidly becoming fundamental in every organisation. Over the next 5-10 years, it is expected that every organisation will have the equivalent of a CCO.  As organisations take on the age of the customer, the CCO role will be one of immense strategic importance in how organisations align innovation, product development and customer experience initiatives.

We interviewed Anand Thomas, Chief Customer Officer – Bancassurance, Digital & Direct Insurance, to learn more about this new role as he looks back at his first 6 months as CCO at MLC Life Insurance.


Corinium: You have been in the CCO role for just over 6 months.  For those about to embark on a similar journey, what have been the key lessons learned in the first 6 months as CCO in a world where customer centricity is becoming more and more important?

Anand Thomas: To me the CCO role is an ever evolving role as it is closely linked to customers growing expectations and realisation of growing possibilities as a result of advancement in technologies and capabilities from a variety of industries.

Below are three aspects I focused on in my initial months in my role:

First – create a culture of trust and respect, and surround yourself by people smarter than you. With the speed of advancement in technologies and capabilities you need to constantly have domain experts around you who can collaborate with other experts across the organisation to create magic. My role as CCO is to attract talent who are great enterprise leaders and then create an environment that stimulates and encourages the magic to happen.

Second – don’t feel intimidated by asking “those silly questions”. No matter which forum you are in, if you have a question – ask it. Chances are that someone else might have the same question but has not mustered up the courage to ask it yet.

Third – focus on connecting the dots. As CCO, you will be privy to a lot of rich information across the organisation. Make the time to reflect, ponder and connect the dots, as chances are you have the ingredients of your secret herbs and spices in front of you, and all it takes is to work through their portions to create something exceptional.


Corinium: You will be speaking on “Customer centric design – bringing customers directly into the creative process”, a really interesting topic at the moment. What are some of the key considerations companies need to take into account when thinking about CX?

Anand Thomas: The use of customer centric design in the life insurance industry is an emerging trend and at this stage quite nascent. As such the insights obtained from such an exercise can be not only quite transformational but also difficult to implement given the dependence on limitations that come with legacy technology platforms. With this backdrop in mind, I think there are four key considerations when embarking on such an exercise:

The first is to get the right Executive sponsorship and leadership support. This is critical to driving step change within and outside the organisation to deliver the targeted experience.

The second is to have the right stakeholder management and communications plan to evangelise this target experience through the organisation. This includes having advocates right through the organisation to help drive the required cultural change.

The third would be to go into the exercise with an open mind and embrace all feedback – the good and the bad. This includes being inquisitive on the findings, and adopting an active listening approach to ensure one gets the most insight from the customer engagement.

The forth and possibility the hardest is to respectfully challenge and adapt organisation operating models to deliver the target experience identified, hence the important of getting the first two points right.

Outside of these four, I would also recommend strongly to look and learn from experiences from other industries, as in most cases, customer expectations are being defined by their experiences with other industries and not just with the industry you are part off.

With Nippon Life’s recent 80% acquisition of MLC Life Insurance, we are in a fortunate position of investing in new platforms across the board to aid our next phase of growth to deliver a customer centric driven target experience. We hope that with our significant investment in digital, data, policy administration to name a few, we will be able to deliver an experience reflective of what customers have come to expect when dealing with other customer centric organisations like Zappos, Uber, Apple and the like.


Corinium: What do you think are the biggest challenges organisations face when it comes to using customer insight for product development?

Anand Thomas: To deliver true transformation based on the customer insights the challenges extend well beyond product, as product is only one facet of the end experience. The challenges tend to be more across the organisation.

In my experience, the challenges tend to be two fold.

The first being base lining the understanding of key stakeholder groups on the customer insight findings and what that means to the organisation from a change perspective.

The second being creating, mobilising and prioritising programs of work to deliver the target experience. These programs of work extend across product, marketing, distribution, service, sales, data, operations, etc…and having an overarching view on the linkages and dependencies each of these programs have with each other are critical to achieving that target experience.

This is much easier said than done, and in my experience it all comes down to the organisation’s ongoing belief and commitment of going down a customer centric approach to running the business.

The strong belief our two shareholders – Nippon Life and NAB have on centring everything around the customer has been a source of reinforcement for us in MLC Life Insurance on the importance of delivering the right target experience.


Corinium: Are there any lessons/key take aways in terms of your approach to product innovation and customer experience?

Anand Thomas: Start with the customer and realise that product innovation is just one aspect of the continuum that needs to be addressed to deliver a truly transformation experience. True transformation comes about by connecting the dots effectively across product innovation, sales, service, operations, data, channels, people, organisation culture, technology, etc…Hence the importance of having the right representation from all these functional cohorts as one attempts to undertake a customer experience exercise to transform one’s organisation.

Creating a “wow” customer experience starts way before the customer buys your product – it starts from how the customer is made aware of your service proposition and then it continues thereafter right through all their interactions with your organisation be it with just one product or other products and services offered by your organisation post that initial product purchase.

Customers have made the shift from purchasing a product to now purchasing an experience. Whilst the maturity of this logic varies by industry, I would say the tolerance of this variance in experience is diminishing as customers experiences today are shaped very much by the “wow” experiences they have encountered across the board irrespective of industry. For examples customer expectations of how they can self-serve for life insurance is very much driven by their experiences using Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Uber. Hence the significance of digital and data right through the organisation to deliver that “wow” experience.


Corinium: How do you see the role of the CCO evolving in the age of the customer?

Anand Thomas: I see the CCO role constantly evolving to be in sync with emerging technologies across industries that constantly create growing customer expectations or provide opportunities to educate customers on new possibilities.

To me it comes down to identifying trends, behaviours and patterns from within and outside the industry to deliver a simple and rich customer experience to address customer known and unknown needs and wants.

For example the way Apple revolutionised the mobile industry back in 2007 when the iPhone was launched. Overnight mobiles shifted from being a phone to now a handheld computer of which the phone is just one aspect.

What this means for me personally is digging deep into the experience we at MLC Life Insurance want to deliver to our customers, distribution partners and staff to constantly re-define the meaning of life insurance such that life protection becomes just one aspect of the overall value proposition.


Join us at the Chief Customer Officer Melbourne happening on April 4-5,2017. For more information, visit 







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