’What we are doing is moving a whole super tanker that’s used to working one way to work in a different way,’ says group chief customer officer 

After spending three decades in various senior leadership roles at toy construction firm Lego, Conny Kalcher is no stranger to innovation.

This period between 1985 and 2018 marked a seminal time in her career, helping to crystallise her understanding of customer needs and how these evolve.

Fast forward to 2024 and Kalcher has been Zurich’s group chief customer officer since July 2019. She was appointed to lead the insurer’s customer office, which was newly created in June that year, to elevate the insurer’s customer experience proposition.

Alongside the day job, Kalcher is also one of 10 global executive judges for the Zurich Innovation Championship – the insurer’s annual accelerator programme that aims to foster collaboration between Zurich and startups, now in its fifth year. 

Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times, Kalcher says: “There were so many things that you could try out at Lego because of the growth of the business. But what people forget is that Lego hasn’t always been an amazing success story. There was a time where we lost sight of the customer and we had to find our way back.”

To do this, the firm had to reassess playtime for children and explore how to service the needs of its customers to ensure Lego wasn’t considered “just a toy”.

This approach “led us to be more of an entertainment company that was engaged with children’s various needs”, she adds.

Kalcher believes that “insurance is going through a transformation” too, following a similar trajectory to the one she saw at Lego.

This involves moving from being a ”product focused company to a customer focused company”.

She explains that the industry is being disrupted by insurtechs that are “doing things differently”, alongside wider technology companies setting a different standard about what is a “good customer experience”.

Kalcher continues: “We can’t lean back – we are not Amazon or Netflix. We have to move with the customer.” 

Customer focus

Kalcher believes that across industries, “customers are the same” in that they want to be served fast and well understood.

“How do you understand [customers], work with customers and address their needs – it is universal. What we are doing is moving a whole super tanker that’s used to working one way to work in a different way,” she says.

“The philosophy is the same – the customer is king and then you organise everything around that to be able to deliver that promise.”

Zurich’s customer experience strategy focuses on creating a meaningful relationship with its customers.

Kalcher explains: “It’s about moving from a transaction – you buy something from us – to every time we connect with that customer, we need to build that relationship.

”It’s not about us, it’s about them – when they call, we need to start with them. It is a rewiring of a whole organisation to think in a different way.”

For Kalcher, the “biggest journey” Zurich is on at the moment is homing in on what customers really need.

Constantly innovating

This type of customer centric innovation can be tricky for large insurers to implement due to legacy system obstacles.

Enter the Zurich Innovation Championship.

The accelerator scheme, which launched in 2018, has grown year-on-year. The entry process for its 2024 cohort, which opened in January, saw the insurer receive 3,300 applications within four weeks. The scheme offers startups the chance to work with Zurich locally and globally.

“Early startups have some experience in the market when they start working with us,” she notes. “They bring experience about what works and what doesn’t, so you get on the journey of implementing things quicker.”

Understanding the customer

Innovation and collaboration around customer experience is important because there is a ”huge difference” between the needs of a young professional, an established family and a wealthy senior citizen, for example.

“Not all customers want to go to an agent – some appreciate speed and ease of use over deep advice. Young people don’t want deep advice, they want to do things online digitally and by themselves,” Kalcher says.

“My role is to bring those insights into the hands of everybody in the organisation, so that they can make decisions based on deep customer understanding.”

To keep abreast with innovation and technology developments, Zurich has its own insights team, a central customer intelligence platform and a customer academy. This promotes a customer-centric culture for staff world-wide and builds a deeper understanding of the Zurich brand, customer experience, behaviours and needs.

Kalcher adds: “It starts with expectations from the customers. They expect us to be digital, to be innovative – there’s no way we can stand still. If Amazon can deliver a package overnight, why can’t an insurance firm change an address online?

”[This] becomes ’the standard’ – you must constantly push yourself to do things faster, be more seamless, be more personalised and more relevant. It’s about living up to the expectations that customers have today and to do that you need to be digital.

“It’s exciting being part of this digital journey and talking to startups – it’s giving energy to the industry.”