Episode 33

A Practical Approach to Digital Transformation with Jennifer King, VP of Customer Experience at Boston Mutual

Jennifer King, Vice President of Customer Experience at Boston Mutual, provides valuable insights into their decision to embark on a digital transformation and the essential considerations for new technologies that preserve a human touch. Gain valuable perspectives on aligning organizational goals, empowering employees, and preparing for sustainable growth in the evolving market.

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Time Stamps

  • 00:19 History of Boston Mutual Life
  • 01:52 The strategic imperatives that Boston Mutual Life faces and how it translates into the company’s goals and ambitions
  • 02:43 How Jennifer came to be VP of Customer experience and what her role is today
  • 03:42 What Boston Mutal Life’s digital transformation comprises in terms of systems and functions
  • 05:57 Modernizing systems crucial for customer care efficiency
  • 09:04 The stages of the core system work and status of the intiative
  • 13:39 The broader landscape that the core system replacement sets the stage for regarding creativity for customer and agent service.
  • 16:52 Avoiding dehumanizing processes
  • 18:52 Change management for the employees


Since the late 1800s, Boston Mutual Life Insurance has transitioned from a service-focused to a customer-care-driven team, emphasizing the importance of balancing technology and human touch in the digital transformation journey.

Jennifer King, Vice President of Customer Experience at Boston Mutual, is at the helm of Boston Mutual's digital transformation effort. She speaks with Life Accelerated about how she has spearheaded the alignment of technology, customer experience, and operational excellence in the life insurance industry.

This episode is a must-listen for anyone looking to accelerate their organization's journey toward a digital future.

Key Takeaways:

    • Understand the importance of aligning digital transformation with customer needs, industry standards, and employee capabilities.

    • Learn the significance of insourcing core capabilities to drive competitive differentiation and have control over technology, processes, and customer service.

    • Gain insights on winning employees' hearts and the impact on customer-centric culture.

Digital transformation is about laying a modern foundation for our operations, empowering our employees and customers, and positioning ourselves for sustainable growth and improved competitiveness in the market.

Jennifer King

Vice President of Customer Experience, Boston Mutual

Our Guest

Jennifer King

LinkedIn Website

Jennifer King, Vice President of Customer Experience at Boston Mutual Life Insurance Company, has built her professional reputation as a dedicated advocate for the financial well-being of working American families. Boston Mutual is at the heart of her career, a life insurance company with a progressive legacy spanning 132 years. Jennifer's dedication has solidified her standing as a trusted leader in the life insurance industry.

She oversees one of the Customer Experience areas for the company, ensuring that the teams that facilitate the policyholder customer journey are aligned with the needs of the customers and the company’s business needs. With a primary distribution model focused on workplace life insurance solutions, the company, which has offices in Canton and Omaha, has also ventured into support channels for small business insurance needs and a budding segment aimed at direct-to-consumer individual sales.


Anthony O'Donnell: I'm Anthony O'Donnell and this is Life Accelerated, a podcast for life insurers striving to achieve digital transformation.

Boston Mutual Life's story began in 1891, and today the company is undergoing a digital transformation focused on developing a superior customer experience. In the past few years, Boston Mutual Life has journeyed towards a customer centric culture that balances technology and human touch, and a crucial part of that has been building a scalable technology environment to enable and support growth.

In this episode of Life Accelerated, I speak with Jennifer King, Boston Mutual Life's Vice President of Customer Experience, about the strategic imperatives facing Boston Mutual Life, the company's ongoing digital transformation initiatives, and what those initiatives will mean for policyholders and associates.

Jennifer shares with us how insurance runs in her family and how she prepared for her current role during a two decade career focused on program and project management. She describes Boston Mutual Life's transformation as being approached from three directions, having the right disciplines and people to accomplish the needed work, implementing new core systems and infrastructure, and ensuring the positioning of adequate internal resources to create and manage a new technology environment.

Here's our conversation.

Well, hi, Jennifer, and welcome to Life Accelerated.

Jennifer King: Hi, Anthony. I'm really happy and excited to be here.

Anthony O'Donnell: Tell us a little bit about Boston Mutual Life, its history, lines of business that it has, and its distribution model.

Jennifer King: Boston Mutual was founded as a progressive life insurance company back in 1891.

And we are a national carrier that provides insurance solutions for working Americans. and their families with enrollment and billing options right at the workplace. And we're a mutual company, and we've been serving middle income working families for 132 years, providing those life insurance solutions for their times of need.

And this is a brand and a product that I really do stand behind. We have offices in Canton and Omaha and our distribution model, it's primarily focused on providing life insurance solutions in the workplace. But additionally, we have channels supporting small business and a newly formed area dedicated to direct to consumer individual sales.

Anthony O'Donnell: So being that kind of company, what strategic imperatives does Boston Mutual Life face and how does that translate into the company's goals and ambitions?

Jennifer King: From a strategic imperatives perspective, we are marching toward the goalposts of our North Star, or Vision 2025 as we call it. And Vision 2025, it's our level set and call to action to be laser focused in on those target markets that are aligned to our value proposition and customer profile, and providing them with products that are designed to meet the needs of those specific customers. We're also investing in technology and a new organizational model to help us play to our strengths and improve the customer experience of both today and tomorrow, and we're working really hard to create the best work environment for our employees to underwrite that success.

So to sum it up today, we're committed to serving our customers now, and preparing and making changes for our customers of tomorrow.

Anthony O'Donnell: All right, great. Well, those are some outstanding ambitions.

Tell us a little bit about how you came to be Vice President of Customer Experience and what your job is, both in terms of your major duties and also what you're expected to accomplish.

Jennifer King: I like to tell people that I actually have 44 years of experience in insurance, and back in the day, my dad was a debit agent at John Hancock.

And in those days, the late seventies, it wasn't taboo at that time to leave your kids in the car when you might go run some errands, or in my dad's case, try and sell some life insurance. But suffice it to say, my dad wasn't the greatest salesman and his appointments were pretty short, so no PTSD here for me.

And we actually spent quite a bit of time at the pancake house rather than selling insurance, so my early career was rather limited and not entirely lucrative, but all joking aside, I joined Boston Mutual back in 2020. And prior to working here, I had a little bit over 20 years of experience in financial services with a background primarily in program and project management.

And what drew me here was the company's commitment to helping people in time of need and particularly in those underserved and underinsured markets. And when I arrived, my initial remit was to establish an enterprise project management office, which leveraged my background, and they asked me to build out the dedicated project management team, and put in place some structure and practices. And about 18 months ago, I took on some additional responsibility to co lead our customer experience department, and the functions that are now also under my purview include policyholder administration, the call team, our training and quality teams, and our reconciliation and reporting teams. And those firsthand interactions, I've been able to have over the past 18 months with our frontline employees and customers, it's really given me a front row seat to the challenges that our policyholders and brokers and employees have on a day to day basis. And while this work has been tremendously challenging, it's also been a great opportunity for me as we embark on our digital transformation and my somewhat eclectic. Some people might call it role. It aligns directly also with my passion for bringing change to create better experience for employees and customers.

And then last but not least, along with these responsibilities, I'm also the co sponsor and leading our digital transformation effort, and that includes many efforts, specifically and most recently selecting a vendor and starting the implementation of a new policy admin system.

So elevator pitch, my overall role at Boston Mutual involves strategic leadership, driving the transformation, fostering a customer centric culture, and ensuring operational excellence.

Anthony O'Donnell: You know, it seems like you're a lot more than just Vice President of Customer Experience, I mean, you clearly are.

Generally, we ask our guests to define digital transformation or to tell us how they think about digital transformation, how their company thinks about digital transformation, but I wonder whether in your case, it would be better to ask what digital transformation comprises in terms of systems and functions.

Jennifer King: So from a wing to wing perspective, we are really approaching this transformation from three directions. First, we are ensuring we have the right disciplines and people in place to do the work. Second, we are moving out of our outdated legacy systems, which means not just implementing a new policy admin system, but also enhancing the foundation and infrastructure to make sure that we get it done, right?

And then last but not least, we're making sure we're resource to deliver to this new technology. So if we first and foremost talk about project management and I.T. disciplines, we had a growing number of projects on the horizon here at Boston Mutual, and it was clear that we needed to implement a project management discipline and in source our I.T. operations. And historically it had been really difficult for us here to identify the most important work that needed to be done and even more difficult to bring these projects to completion because of limited resources or just a lack of disciplined process.

So in early 2020, we actually formed the project management office, and we also in sourced our I.T. team, thereby creating dedicated resources to manage projects from beginning to end and ensure the foundation and infrastructure was suitable. And we spent a good amount of time in that build out, and we needed to ensure we had all the disciplines in place to manage the work from development and cyber resources, project management, vendor management, change management, communications, analysis, and testing, so we brought a lot of disciplines into the organization back in 2020.

And our core policy admin system, it's a critical component in our day to day operations. It has many tentacles and impacts into different systems in the org, and it impacts over 85 percent of the people in the organization on a day to day basis, and in addition, that admin system, it's a foundational piece of our customers experience with us. So our goal here with the transformation is to move out of these outdated legacy systems and into more modern platforms that will help us deliver better customer employee and broker experiences.

And lastly, just another aspect to touch on here from a resource perspective is it wasn't just about selecting the right technology, but we really needed to make sure we were resourced to deliver. So I talked about that project management discipline and the I.T. resources, but we also made a business decision when we decided to move forward with the policy admin replacement. It became really apparent very quickly that we needed dedicated business resources to ensure success and focus.

So, with that, we identified subject matter experts from a range of different departments and reassigned them actually to work full time on this program. And then we took it one step further and we backfilled all of those roles so that the program and the business were both adequately staffed.

Anthony O'Donnell: Let me bring you back a little bit, Jennifer.

This is a project or this initiative of such great magnitude. Tell us a little bit about why it had to happen. What was the goal of transformation or what we might call a larger modernization effort? How did the decision come about? How did the senior leadership of the company say, "You know, we really need to do this?"

Jennifer King: So we really have three overarching goals here. Firstly, we want to enhance our customer experience. We knew we needed to modernize our systems, and we wanted to improve our employees ability to service our customer. And actually, there's four. We needed to enable the growth and scalability. So first, from that customer experience perspective, we just have a really simply stated goal.

We want to be easy to do business with, for our policyholders, for our brokers, and for our employers and plan sponsors. Easy to do business with us means effortless and frictionless interactions with our customers. And it's about meeting our customers where they want to be met. And insurance, it should be set it and forget it, and once our customers have enrolled and set up their billing, the insurance should really be out of sight and out of mind. And they may need to call us every now and again if something's changed, but the goal is to create such a smooth experience that they don't need to spend their time worrying about their insurance.

However, when our customers do need us, we are really hyper focused on providing them with options and letting them choose how and when they want to do business with us. And if they prefer to go online and self serve in a portal, they're going to have that option. Or if they prefer to pick up the phone and call and talk to somebody, they're going to be able to do that too.

In terms of modernizing our systems, we are really aiming to update our technology and platforms. So this includes the underlying infrastructure, cyber security. And technology foundations in addition to the policy admin system, and we're not really unlike many other carriers out there. And our industry tends to have some older systems, but we do realize that modernizing our systems.

That's absolutely crucial. To aligning with evolving customer needs and industry standards in terms of improving our employees ability to serve the customers. We look at this through the lens of deploying technology to the process so that we can deploy our people to the customer and we can make what's currently in today's world complex and cumbersome simple and this, therefore, will enable our employees to focus more on customer care and really less on navigating complex legacy systems and wondering and worrying if the changes were made.

So when I took the role in customer experience about 18 months ago, I heard an anecdote pretty early on that some of our employees on the call team would actually need to log into eight to 10 systems on a daily basis before they could even take their first call. If you think about that, we need to train these employees on insurance. We need to teach them how to navigate all of these legacy platforms. And it's frustrating and it's frustrating for our employees. And it can also be frustrating to our customers because servicing them just takes longer than we want to.

And then lastly, enabling growth and scalability. Part of our goals as a business, we're really aimed at scaling our business more efficiently to support aspirations for growing sales and gaining market share and having updated systems is absolutely essential to our ability to. Effectively scale and support these objectives.

So if I were to sum it up, the overall digital transformation, it's about laying a modern foundation for our operations, empowering our employees and customers and positioning ourselves for sustainable growth and improved competitiveness in the market.

Anthony O'Donnell: Now, it seems like we could use a word here about the decision to insource versus outsource because choosing to insource, if we just hear that word, seems a little bit against the trend.

Carriers are more likely to buy versus build, they're more likely to have systems hosted by partners, they're likely to have a mix of skills that includes less program and more vendor management. The feeling I'm getting here is that you're not really going against the trend. How would you comment?

Jennifer King: I wouldn't say we're going against the trend.

We have a philosophy here that we are Insourcing what is core to who we are and where we're going and so looking at the horizon and all of the big goals that we had to accomplish having an in source it and project management function it just seemed natural right that was core to what we were going to be doing over the next set of years and it was really critically important for us to have those people here in house to be able to execute.

Anthony O'Donnell: In other words, you redesigning your internal capabilities in order to have control over the stuff that's going to give you competitive differentiation.

Jennifer King: You got it.

Anthony O'Donnell: Yeah. Okay, let's talk about the stages of the core system work, since that's so vital to the overall transformation, and maybe you can tell us the status of the initiative.

Jennifer King: Our core system work, it has two main tracks. The first track was about selecting the right partner and platform and getting that platform ready for our organization. And then the second track is about getting our organization ready for the new platform. So looking back at the stages of actually selecting a new core system, we kind of make the comparison to dating.

So first we went out into the dating world and we leaned pretty heavily on some industry research to guide us and we became acquaintances and played the field, if you will, with about 30 vendors that play in the space. We did some initial vetting. We reviewed the industry research and we were able to narrow that down to about 10 vendors that we thought would be a good fit for us.

We moved into a more formalized RFP structure at that point in time and learned a little bit more about the different vendors and what they could offer and how they might fit into our business model and in our culture. And then after many months of conversation and analysis, we picked a vendor that was right for us and both from a business platform perspective and culture perspective. Keeping with the dating analogy, we popped the question and we got married, AKA we signed the contract and decided to move forward with the implementation.

And once we had that contract signed and we decided to move forward, we made plans to have a baby, and that's where we are right now. We've spent the last few months nurturing and growing our baby together with our vendor.

And we all know having a baby and raising children, it takes a lot of work and time, and we know this is going to be a long term commitment that we have with this vendor. So selecting that right partner from both the capabilities and culture fit, it was just essential, and we are just about 18 months in and very confident in our decision that we've selected the right partner. So that's the first track of work.

The second track of work is about getting our organization and our people ready for that new platform. And we've had some key initiatives that started off this year to get our people ready for that new platform, whereby we've been evolving our service model and really the key initiative here is beginning the transition from a customer service focused team to a customer care driven team.

And we really feel strongly that service is one of our differentiators and through this shift that we're making to customer care, we're confident in, and even better customer journey. So in practice, what am I talking about? Well, we're aligning our teams and our processes to the customer journey, and we're asking our employees to be hyper focused and obsessed on those paths.

Our customers are taking and placing that customer lens on everything we do to ensure that even before we implement the technology, we are providing as frictionless and a human touch experience as we can. And so, as far as the current state of the platform, we are approaching transformation here using an agile approach and we've broken the implementation into phases and the very first phase is planned for delivery in the second half of 2024.

Anthony O'Donnell: Jennifer, maybe you could elaborate on the broader landscape of the other initiatives that the core system replacement sets the stage for, not merely with regard to implementing technology, but also re engineering processes and being creative about customer and agent service. You've suggested some of that already, but what does your roadmap look like?

Jennifer King: So our President, CEO, and Chairman, Paul Quaranto, he has set the vision for us to really dream big, and we have big dreams to grow sales, gain market share, provide that high quality human touch experience that I'm talking about and best supporting our employees to deliver that. And we knew that we couldn't achieve those big dreams on our legacy systems and processes. So there's some foundational efforts underway to get us ready for this digital transformation efforts, and we actually started back in 2020. We established the project management discipline, I talked about that. We insourced our I.T. department and simply stated we knew that in order to achieve these big dreams that Paul was asking us to dream, we couldn't get there from where we were.

Our legacy platforms were outdated and it limited our ability to serve. Our time to market on hires was too long. There was no path to scale and we were facing some tremendous challenges in hiring. And so we knew in order to meet those dreams, we needed to be able to scale in a more efficient way. And about two years ago, we kickstarted this digital transformation, like I mentioned, selecting the vendor, but in parallel.

We have been in the process of updating some other smaller foundational pieces to continue to evolve with the changing times. And that was honestly also accelerated by the pandemic. The timing was right for us to move forward on the policy admin implementation, and we had that on the radar for a while, but there were some other foundational pieces that we needed to get underway.

So some examples of that were implementing a cloud based phone system, upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 11, deploying mobile devices for all of our teams and making enhancements to our infrastructure and security capabilities.

Anthony O'Donnell: I wanted to ask you something that was a topic that you and I discussed in a previous conversation, and I thought you had some really good thoughts on it.

As you apply new technologies, new business processes and customer service features, do you think there's a danger in dehumanizing processes or to put it a different way? How do you avoid doing that?

Jennifer King: So my role is overseeing both elements of the implementation and leading the customer experience departments, and that is actually given me a tremendous amount of empathy for what our customers experience is, as well as our employees.

And this has been truly game changer, I think, for me and for our organization. And I've learned and I've seen firsthand that both technology. And human touch are imperative to the success of our business, and one doesn't necessarily outweigh the other. The technology advancements. They're absolutely crucial to the success of our business, and especially in today's fast paced lifestyle, where customers just frankly expect instant results.

They want to be able to log in at nine o'clock at night and process a change. But we're also really carefully considering. What pieces of the process should be automated versus the pieces that still require a human touch. And we understand that our employees bring tremendous value and we see technology as a way to enhance rather than replace the customer service skills.

And with the benefits of the new system and the work we're doing now for our future state, our employees will be able to spend less time navigating tech and workarounds and more time directly servicing our customers or even innovating to find new and better ways. So it really comes down to people for us.

The technology, it's just the tool that's going to make our employees job easier and help them serve our customers even better. And for our customers. The tech will be there to provide them with real time information and process basic requests in a timely and efficient manner. And we're really lucky here.

We have a passionate base of employees who truly care about taking care of our customers and we refer to them as our secret sauce. So while the transformation, it's going to change, how we do things technically and from a process perspective, it's not going to change who we are and how we serve our customers with that human touch, high quality experience for them, so it's a balance really.

Anthony O'Donnell: Tell me a little bit about how you've managed change and how you've gotten employees used to change. And it sounds as if your employees have kind of celebrated what you've achieved because it's making their jobs easier, and maybe as a last comment, how the leadership is looking forward to the fruits of transformation.

Jennifer King: We've said all along that the key to success of this transformation is winning the hearts of the employees. The technical piece of the implementation and the digital transformation, that's actually not the hard part. It is hard, don't get me wrong, but the hard part is winning the hearts of the employees.

And what this boils down to is change management and communication, getting our employees to buy into the why we're doing this and the WFM, or the what's in it for them. The change discipline management, getting our people ready for the platform, it is truly the most challenging piece of this transformation.

So we've hired a dedicated director of change management here. To help us succeed and we're focusing in on change mindset rather than getting caught in the dogma of change process and our approach is allowing us to be agile and focus in on the steps that are right in front of us and what needs to be solved and communicated.

Now, we keep the future in our sites, but we're not spending excessive amounts of time creating a plan and creating a process for something that's too far in the distance and not yet clear. And we know that our employees are really going to play the most important role in this transformation, getting them excited and getting them ready for the changes of head is what I'm here to do.

And what needs to be stated is even as we progress on the digital transformation and we get better at. What we do and how we do it. We will always be a life insurance company, always acting in the best interests of our policy holders and working Americans, and we're not going to change that. And from a leadership perspective, we are really viewing ourselves here on the precipice of the transformation.

And the path to the finish line is to make sure we're leveraging our strengths and who we are as an organization and playing to our strengths. It's ultimately going to make it easier for us to be there for our customers in their times of need, which then in turn makes our employees feel good, strengthens our culture, and helps us to continue to attract new talent as the opportunities rise. I truly feel and other leaders in this company feel that our future is so incredibly bright and opportunities are limitless. And I am honored to be here at this really important time in our company's history, leading this change for our employees, our policyholders and brokers.

Anthony O'Donnell: Well, Jennifer, thank you for being a guest on Life Accelerated.

Jennifer King: Thanks, Anthony. I really enjoyed talking to you today.

Anthony O'Donnell: My conversation with Jennifer was very interesting just as a story about a transformation effort that she's leading, but it was especially interesting to hear that story from an enterprise project management perspective.

It was also gratifying to hear Jennifer affirm technology as a tool that emphasizes rather than obscures the human element. I also found it rewarding to hear her take on the importance of the human element of change management during a large transformation effort. Jennifer insists that Boston Mutual Life's employees already serve as a kind of secret weapon for success, but she also takes very seriously the need to win their hearts and minds to the commitment of a technology transformation.

If you would like to know more about how to drive your own successful digital transformation, visit equisoft.com/lifeaccelerated.


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