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Listening and learning in the Netherlands

October 14, 2010

The Netherlands may be Aegon’s oldest market, but it’s also one of the most competitive in the world. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, customer service and customer loyalty are more important than ever.

Aegon’s CEO in the Netherlands, Marco Keim, makes no bones about his ambitions for the company: he wants Aegon to be the best recommended provider of financial services in the country. And that means winning over customers with the quality of the company’s products and services.

Marco Keim, CEO Aegon The Netherlands“We’re operating in an environment in which consumers are very negative about the financial services industry, so we have to win back their trust,” says Mr. Keim. “And to increase trust, we have to enter into a dialogue with our customers, listen to what they say and then respond with the products they need and the levels of service they demand.”

Customer service is key in the Dutch market – one of the most competitive in the world. On average, Dutch consumers pay nearly USD 2,200 each year in life insurance premiums, more than those in Germany and Italy combined. Over 90% of Dutch citizens belong to an occupational pension scheme.

In such an environment, winning over new customers and keeping them isn’t easy. But Aegon is pushing ahead with a series of initiatives that put the customer at the center of the company’s approach.

When analyzing its products and processes, Aegon directly involves customers in making improvements. “In this competitive environment, consumers very quickly point out that you’re too expensive and shareholders say your returns are not high enough. As well as excellent service, we also have to keep our cost levels as low as possible.”

In addition, Aegon is educating customers in the Netherlands about financial products – especially important as more and more people take responsibility for their retirement.

“We’re asking how we can contribute to customers’ understanding of our products, by reducing the ‘mystery’ of the financial world,” explain Mr. Keim. “We’re also taking steps to remove every single bit of jargon and financial-speak from our communications with clients, whether this is in a letter, an email or a telephone conversation.” At least two-thirds of Aegon’s employees in the Netherlands will be involved in this education drive. “Employees,” adds Mr. Keim, “can make a huge difference to how customers feel about us.”

There’s a long way to go but Aegon’s initiatives are beginning to bear fruit. Over the past year, the company has seen a steady improvement in its main measure of customer loyalty.

“Of course, you have to have the right products and, if you want profitable growth in a market like the Netherlands, you have to be as lean and efficient as possible,” says Mr. Keim. “But that certainly doesn’t mean compromising the quality of your customer service. Since the financial crisis, customers have become more demanding. We have to listen carefully and respond to their needs. At the end of the day, you have to put your money where your mouth is.”