The future in 2021 is still relatively unpredictable even as we close the year of 2020. Business leaders are still determining what hybrid working will look like, what customer trends will return to pre-pandemic trajectories and how long it will take governments to roll out vaccines and return societies to semblances of normality. Unpredictability, however, is still no excuse for being caught short as a business. Now is the time for proactive preparedness and few functions are best placed to aid that preparation than the technology department. In this third and final interview of our Business Innovation in the Next Normal series, in partnership with Tata Communications, Monika Schulze, Zurich’s Head of Innovation and Market Management, discusses the investments she is planning to enable her business’s success beyond 2021.
Early 2020 days
“At the beginning of the pandemic, Zurich’s first focus was on our employees,” said Schulze, “and how we take care of them. That wasn’t easy: suddenly everyone is staying at home with no office culture, no meeting at lunch and we were increasingly aware of the mental health strains of lockdown.”
Zurich’s next focus, reported Schulze, was its salespeople. They took the remote working shift hardest as their roles rely heavily on relationships, particularly physical, and they needed to quickly address their working conditions and pick up with their customers as soon as possible.
Third, Zurich’s customers were looked after. Many of them had a whole host of questions, she said, and they represented the third pillar of Zurich’s initial pandemic response they had to get right. Now it has had several months of experience in a post-COVID-19 world, the company wants to make sure it is as prepared for the years ahead. Its Head of Innovation believes in more digital investments.
“For all its set backs this year has really pushed many of us along in our digital agendas,” maintained Schulze, “and whereas before, online took only a small proportion of business turnover, now the shift is far more definite and the business is asking serious questions about multi and omni channel strategies.”
What next for 2021 and beyond?
This acceptance of the future role of digital is clearly met with relief from Zurich’s Head of Innovation. A self-titled “digital person” she has believed for years that the “digital agenda needs to be pushed further” and has been instrumental in her company’s digital marketing initiatives, outlining exactly how and why it can transform relationships with customers.
The real question therefore is what is she focusing on now?
“Top notch CRM programmes are vital right now,” she replied instantly, “as are any solutions of big data analytics and AI. The key for us is getting data on the platform, making sense of it, transforming data to insights to actions…it’s all vital and exciting.”
These are well known solutions but it’s telling that global businesses like Zurich are engaging with them at speeds unheard of before. It’s a trend that is running in parallel with changing consumer behaviours. Schulze wonders if either will last beyond 2022, predicting an equilibrium of sorts will emerge as the world rocks from pandemic to recovery to growth and back to a new normality.
Across the interview, Schulze put forward her investments in technologies that were well known to the industry pre-COVID-19, but as an innovation lead she now has the backing and impetus from the wider organization to really power through her plans like never before. For her, this experience hasn’t shone a light on any new solutions, merely provided the catalyst for tried and tested ones to meet their true potential.