More happy customers and employees while lowering costs at VGZ after rapid transformation

08 okt 2019


Within nine months, the commercial division at VGZ has transformed to a completely customer-centric and agile organization. With a dramatically higher NPS of customers and employees and lower operational costs. 

The transformation at VGZ was not out of luxury 

Frank Elion, CCO VGZ: “At VGZ we dealt with a significantly higher outflow of customers than our competitors. The reduced loyalty also showed in our NPS scores. Of course we wanted to change this, but we noticed that it took us way too long to put new initiatives on the market. We were not agile enough. In addition, we noticed that customers are wary towards health insurers throughout the entire sector. More often than not we are seen as organizations that merely want to make money off of consumers. If you are then only using mass media campaigns as a means of customer acquisition you will not reach your goals. Next to that, advertising from health insurers might become restricted in the future. We noticed that to truly and impactfully make a difference, we needed to service our customers in an excellent way.

Maton Sonnemans, partner EY VODW: “When Frank called for our help to develop a vision for the renewed servicing of his customer we concluded, after a market analysis and a screening of the processes at VGZ, that all 4 million customers of VGZ are serviced in the exact same way. That was the key to making a difference. The strategy and positioning of VGZ is ‘Sensible Care’. They want to match care questions with the needs of patients. Also, by working more efficiently they want to decrease bureaucracy, organize the care offering in a smart way and decrease costs. The aforementioned issue by Frank of credibility is crucial. If you want your strategy to really help customers, you should continually prove this in your service. In whichever situation your customers might be at that time.

Four customer situations as a starting point

Frank Elion: “We then started outlining how we could define a couple of core cases together with EY VODW. Whilst doing so, we have taken the degree of healthcare consumption and the nature of the health problems as a guide. This created a matrix with four different situations where a customer can also temporarily be in multiple segments. The four quadrants of the matrix form the heart of the customer journey with two added components: customer acquisition at the front-end and customer retention at the back-end.”


Maton Sonnemans: “The servicing of customers has been set up so that people in all situations feel that being insured at VGZ is ‘surprisingly easy’. Customers who become patients because of a serious condition should feel ‘sincere involvement’ in their interactions with VGZ. It is nice to really feel understood and helped by your health insurer when your life is turned upside down.

Clusters of customer mission teams for an agile organization

Once the vision was developed, the next question was: how will we set up the organization in such a way that we are able to quickly realize this idea? Agility and the shortest time-to-market were essential conditions. VGZ was inspired by companies that have fully embraced the agile way-of-working, like ING, Spotify and Eneco, and designed an organizational model together with EY VODW that contains multidisciplinary teams with a maximum of nine professionals who are responsible for their own customer mission. “Each of these teams is responsible for its own part of the customer journey”, explains Elion. “Teams whose missions are an extension of one another are placed under the same cluster leader. This cluster leader guards the vision and ensures alignment between the teams.” Sonnemans: “The customer mission teams consist of experts from different disciplines. People from expert teams are temporarily sent to customer mission teams. This enables fast action-taking and each customer mission team to have the right mix of experience and expertise.


Effect immediately visible 

From the start of the new way-of-working the effect was immediately visible, according to cluster leader B2C Baukje ter Huurne. “Recently we have noticed that we are able to put changes on the market for our customers much more quickly. But we are also able to respond quickly if something is not going well. We can immediately pick up on it and dedicate several weeks or months to improve it.” Her fellow cluster leader Art Beuting illustrates an example: “We had introduced two-way authentication, which meant that customers had to login via a text message. That did not go well, as we saw that customers were logging in less frequently. Back in the day we had to start a project that would take us six to nine months to complete. We were now finished within two months.”

Also, the multidisciplinary composition of the teams comes with its benefits. Beuting: “Bringing in experts enabled us to work in a more data-driven way. We are now creating a lot more impact and measurable results.” Ter Huurne: “The collaboration between marketeers and IT specialists is amazing to look at. Marketeers are becoming IT specialists and IT specialists are becoming marketeers. It has created beautiful results.”

Customer mission teams are self-organizing

The managers are excited about the energy and the entrepreneurial spirit that have been unleashed and can tell that employees are less afraid to take responsibility. However, their own roles have changed dramatically. Before, they had traditional manager positions in a hierarchical structure. Now, they are cluster leaders who talk about tribes and chapters rather than departments. Where they used to be involved in creation and execution, they are now providing guidance and keeping an overview.

The customer mission teams are ‘self-organizing’. But it is not the same as self-directing, explains Ter Huurne. “As a cluster leader I provide direction for our vision and decide the framework. But within the framework exists a great degree of self-organization. The teams decide throughout the year what they would like to do in order to realize the targets for customers. They do so in short sprints of three weeks where the teams independently decide what carries the highest priority and what will deliver the highest customer value. Additionally, they are responsible for their performance dialogues, holiday planning and satisfaction within the team.”

Cas Ceulen, cluster leader B2B, also sees the advantages of self-organization but notices that a director is needed: “What is really amazing about self-organization is that we are truly unleashing creativity. The teams are continuously developing new things for our customers. The danger lies in developing too many things at once. That is where an important role lies for us as cluster leaders. But the most important part is that we involve our customers in all these developments. That is also something we keep an eye on.”

Increasing customer satisfaction, decreasing costs 

The managing board and employees have fully embraced the way-of-working and are seeing results. However, a transformation is only successful when not only customer satisfaction is increasing but also when costs are being controlled and, if possible, reduced.

Frank Elion: “With everything we do with regards to servicing our customers, we make use of a sort of cross-like motion. This means that for every initiative the customer experience has to increase, while the costs decrease. All teams have this double goal in their targets. This might seem contradictory. I was also taught that in strategy you either choose customer intimacy or operational excellence. But in times of digitalization, you are often able to do both. For example, people really dislike sending an e-mail to their insurer. They would much rather arrange everything themselves in an app. If you set that up well, it is a good example of how a digital channel leads to higher customer satisfaction and lower costs as customers are doing the work while we are getting less phone calls. The great thing is that people initially thought that they would never succeed at combining these two goals. But they do so every single time.


Fast implementation, spectacular results

VGZ succeeded at realizing the execution of an idea to a functioning organization. Crucial to this transformation was the involvement of the Board of Directors and the Works Council from the start. The customers’ relational NPS has already risen from -10 to +7, with a target of +15 by the end of 2019. The employees’ NPS has even been fluctuating between +30 and +45, an unheard-of number for VGZ. Elion: “This shows that a reorganization can also be fun.”

The new way-of-working of VGZ’s commercial division is so successful that it will be rolled out to customer service and the back office in collaboration with EY VODW. The department of Customer Operations now works in multidisciplinary teams that are able to service customers more effectively and efficiently and are actively contributing to the digitalization of customer processes. As a result, the back-and-forthing between different departments is decreasing.

Employee experience = customer experience

Frank Elion concludes: “What I really like is that at VGZ we no longer have to tell our people ‘think of our customer’. Everything has been set up to do so automatically. And you can tell that everyone really enjoys solving problems that actually impact customers. Without having to cave in. That is why we have the cross; the costs need to be decreased. The best result of this process for me is that this coincides with the huge increase in employee satisfaction. That is proof for me that customer experience = employee experience and employee experience = customer experience.”


The leaders in transformation in the Netherlandse 

Watch episode 2 – VGZ

In this series we zoom in on success stories and get a unique insight into transformation challenges.



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