07 Sep 2015 22:12 IST

Learn and unlearn: the key to understanding business

My project on customer retention with Aviva India gave me insights into the insurance business

At the end of each phase of our lives comes a sense of urgency, then the acknowledgement of loss, and finally the nostalgia of days gone by. But as with the winds of change, we prepare ourselves for whatever may come ahead. I was faced with the same series of emotions when my summer internship with Aviva India came to an end.

I can recall the day I was selected by Aviva as one of only two interns to do a two-month internship in the operations department. I remember being exhilarated and nearly jumping for joy when I heard the news. I had heard much about the company and, from the start, I felt I fit in well with the Aviva team. This feeling became stronger when the induction process began and the organisation’s efficiency became more apparent.

Aviva is the UK’s largest insurer and, although it only began operations in India in 2002 in a joint venture format, it has been quite successful in creating a strong brand image on its own in India. Its focus in the space of children’s insurance and effective use of its brand ambassador, Sachin Tendulkar, has allowed it to quickly become a household name in insurance.

First day

On the first day of the internship, our motley crew of interns from some of the best b-schools in the country got a rare chance to interact with the CEO of Aviva India, who was forthcoming on the company’s plans and left us with words of wisdom that stayed with us throughout. The induction period that followed acquainted us with the industry, and introduced us to some key figures in the company, with whom most of us would interact on a personal basis.

As the weeks passed, both my mentor and my guide lent me immense support, first in understanding my project, and then guiding me the best way to go about achieving my objectives. The first lesson they both taught me was ‘unlearn your theories, make room for fresh knowledge and insights, and then apply your mind to the problem at hand’. It was here that I learnt how crucial it is to present ideas in a form comprehensible to the middle management as well as to the top management team.

Focus on customer retention

For the first time, I was exposed to the business model of insurance companies, learnt the methods and importance of customer retention, and how essential automation is to a large organisation like Aviva. The most informative lessons were those I got from my own customer visits, insights that would have escaped me had I only endeavoured to complete the project from my desk. The way to succeed in today's competitive world is to understand what your customers want, and what the pain points are for them. Only then can you devise strategies and accompanying processes that minimise customer apathy and increase loyalty.

My internship project involved understanding the current retention practices of Aviva, and suggesting new ways of doing so on an automated platform. The improvement to the company’s bottomline was apparent from the very start. All organisations today recognise the importance of customer retention. The problem of retaining customers is painfully evident for insurance companies. Every player in the life insurance field in India is currently struggling to retain customers while trying to expand the customer base. In this context, my project was expected to yield benefits for the company.

Automation of communications

The second aspect of the project was to develop a roadmap for the automation of Aviva’s communications with customers, which involved coordination across several departments and key systems the different departments used. This led me to critically analyse every SMS and email that customers receive, their impact, and how they could be seamlessly integrated on to one platform for automated processing. The challenge was ensuring minimal hindrance to customers, and maximum impact on the bottom-line.

It was also during this time that I established lasting friendships with several fellow interns, as well as with several team-mates in Aviva. Regular get-togethers, sharing of experiences and ideas, and finding common ground with people who are as diverse as they come were most rewarding. We learnt to put aside any pre-existing bias we may have had and, in the process, felt ourselves maturing as individuals.

The opportunities to interact with top management as well as officials at various levels of the company, with customers and fellow interns, gave me a whole new perspective on corporate life. The one critical lesson that remained engraved in my mind was ‘to learn, you must first unlearn’.

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