VP of Product-Client Experience at Northwestern Mutual on the Importance of Co-creating with Clients and Advisors - Argyle Executive Forum Events
Vivek Bedi

At the outset of his keynote presentation at the 2019 Customer Experience Leadership Forum: Beyond Satisfaction, Building Loyalty, which was held on March 12 in New York City, Bedi told a story of some friends who owned a coffee shop. A Starbucks opened up across the street from this coffee shop, and the owners went to work to understand how to address the competition. They interviewed their clients to find out what they did and didn’t like about Starbucks as a way to better serve their customers. The result was that their independent coffee shop achieved higher revenues than the Starbucks franchise across the street. “This is a perfect example of how to engage with clients to build a better experience,” said Bedi.


“The customer doesn’t always know what they want or need, as Steve Jobs famously pointed out. We need to create that demand. At the same time, 95% of innovative ideas fail. Why? We don’t focus on improving them. We need to make them better over time.” He brought up MySpace as an example. “They reason MySpace failed and Facebook took off is because Facebook obsessed about its clients to understand their needs,” he observed.


What is co-creation? Co-creation means listening to and engaging with our clients. The first step in this process is to select the right people to engage with,” stated Bedi, who shared a case study from his company, Northwestern Mutual. “Get your toughest critics in the room early, and make sure the people representing your company are passionate about what they’re doing. Next, get out of the office. This is so simple, but it’s often forgotten. This means getting away from the data, watching people actually using your products, and thinking through things from a different perspective. You’re probably not using your own product, so ask clients to show you how they’re using it. Shadow them through their ‘day in the life,’ so you understand their actual behavior, not the behavior you want them to have,” he explained.

Put the “create” in co-create. “We recently started a concept called creative labs to engage with our advisors and clients. We ask them, ‘If you were a client, how would you like to see it?’ Clients attempt to sketch out and wire-frame their ideas. It’s about getting their concepts on paper so we can talk about them as a group. Our advisors participated, too. Our digital product and design team facilitated this, and we emphasized that no solution is too crazy. Bringing clients, advisors, and our teams together has helped us think through problems together in a more creative way,” he said.

Lastly, take action. “Your job is never done. You have to keep engaging and iterating and making it better. Our team obsesses about the consumer experience to the extent that we never think it’s done.” It’s necessary to personalize the experience and deliver information in different ways to different demographics—younger people prefer bar charts and seniors prefer pie charts, he observed.

“What we learned from this case study is that advisors loved simple personalization features that gave them control, and clients loved the ability to add comments. It warmed the experience for them. This is what we want to do—provide flexibility. By applying these principles, Northwestern Mutual went from a 3.6% adoption rate and 65% bounce rate on its website three years ago to 1.3 million digital registrations, $77 billion in external accounts, and four times the digital leads. We have mobile apps, and we revamped the experience working with our clients and advisors. Three years ago, we had less than 90 improvements to the digital experience. Last year, we had 4,002. It’s important in B2B to balance advisor feedback and consumer feedback so it works for all.”