Podcast – CX Champions | Season 4 – Episode 6

Delivering 18 Years of Bold CX: Christian Mitchell’s Journey at Northwestern Mutual


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Episode summary

This episode features an interview with Christian Mitchell, EVP & Chief Customer Officer at Northwestern Mutual. Christian works to elevate the customer experience and deliver bold solutions to set Northwestern Mutual ahead of its competitors. And over his 18-year tenure at Northwestern mutual, he has served in a variety of leadership roles, including as president of their Wealth Management Company when he managed $129 billion in client assets. Host Sohaib Ahmed discusses with Mitchell his journey and various roles at Northwestern Mutual over 18 years, alongside his insights into building memorable customer experiences. They delve into how Northwestern Mutual integrates technology to enhance customer experiences while maintaining a human-centric approach. Mitchell shares his perspective on the evolving customer expectations, the future of customer experience (CX), including the potential impact of generative AI, and the significance of consistency in delivering great CX. Additionally, the importance of data privacy, the challenges of implementing new technologies, and the role of storytelling in reshaping company culture towards more client-centric values are covered.

About the guest

Christian W. Mitchell is executive vice president and chief customer officer at Northwestern Mutual. He leads strategic ideation necessary to elevate the client experience and deliver bold solutions to launch Northwestern Mutual ahead of its competitors. Christian oversees initiatives and deliverables to build the most powerful digital engine in financial services, including engineering solutions, data analytics, digital products, and consumer insights. He serves on Northwestern Mutual’s Senior Leadership Team and sits on Northwestern Mutual’s Future Ventures investment committee.

Christian joined Northwestern Mutual in 2006 and has served in a variety of leadership positions throughout the company. He started his career at Northwestern Mutual as part of the Managed Investments team, helping manage company assets through its general account to maintain financial strength for policyowners.

He formerly served as president of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company, where he was responsible for Northwestern Mutual’s investment, advisory and trust solutions, fee-based financial planning, Investment Products and Services (IPS) product development, retail investment, and overall IPS business strategy. During his leadership, he managed $129 billion in client assets and led the company to impressive growth in advisory and private client services.

Christian also served as vice president of corporate strategy, and spearheaded Northwestern Mutual’s venture capital efforts – including its investment in automated advice firm Betterment and the acquisition of LearnVest. He also led Northwestern Mutual’s investment in ClientWise, a premier coaching and consulting firm.

Key quotes

*”The financial services marketplace is complex. I really think you need to understand that holistic landscape in order to take all of that and fashion it into an incredible client experience. If you don’t have that holistic understanding of the system and how we create value and what clients need, it’s easy to default to designing experiences indexed on efficiency, or maybe client experiences that index on regulatory adherence, but not actually creating something that’s really incredible and delightful for the client.”

*”On metrics, it’s really evolved. When we started the CX journey, it was really focused on CSAT, NPS, those really big aggregate numbers that are easy to compare across companies. As time has gone on, I’ve become less and less enamored with those aggregate metrics. We still need to calculate them, we need to track, we need to benchmark, etc. But I think CX telemetry is best done at a more granular basis where you’re actually measuring things like individual interactions and satisfaction.”

*”I think at times you can find a metric and seek to maximize it, and then kind of lose the storyline a little bit. So I think you always have to kind of come back to this foundation of what are we trying to do strategically? What are we really solving for holistically?”

*”In terms of the media stuff that we do, the planning and progress study, a lot of the talks that I give internally, to our advisors, to client groups, it’s about this constant drumbeat of storytelling around the client. And I think that constant drumbeat of storytelling is incredibly important for long standing incumbent financial services companies because historically we were very focused on financial performance. We might have been very focused on recruiting of advisors, and those things are very important. But by constantly storytelling around the client, incredible experiences, things that we want to do, it’s part of shifting the zeitgeist, the mindset of the organization to be more client centric.”

*”One of the interesting areas where we debate a lot is instances where the client may have a preference for self service, but we somehow want to inject a human to make sure that the best client outcome occurs. The poster child example would be, we have a big market correction, the client gets scared, wants to liquidate his or her portfolio, and might prefer to do that in an automated way via the mobile experience. Now, if the client really wants to do that, of course we will help them do it. But that might not actually be the best long-term decision. So in instances like that, we actually want to insert some human friction, for lack of a better word, to at least gut check that client, to really make sure that we’re helping that client not only have a good experience today, but really achieve their financial goals long term.”

*”A lot of the experiences that we create in financial services or financial planning, it’s more at pulling the heartstrings than the math. It’s about the emotion, the psychology. How do you harness that in such a way that the client makes the right decisions and is better off long term?”

*”Sometimes we think about the peak moments of the client experience. That ‘You can retire moment,’ or ‘Your family’s protected’ moment. But I actually think real trust, real client experience comes through consistency of interaction, predictability, and high quality communication that plays out over really, really long periods of time. So I think consistency is really the name of the game and one of the unsung heroes of great client experiences.”

Time stamps

[2:38] Christian Mitchell’s Journey in Northwestern Mutual

[5:16] The Evolution of Customer Expectations at Northwestern Mutual

[7:14] Leveraging Technology to Enhance Customer Experience

[16:15] The Future of Customer Experience: Innovations and Challenges

[21:10] Building Lifelong Customer Relationships and Looking Ahead

[30:03] The Importance of Consistency in CX

Thanks to our friends

This podcast is brought to you by HGS. HGS is a digital customer experience leader dedicated to delivering winning customer interactions at scale that are prompt, personal, and positive. We continuously transform, optimize, and grow enterprises to exceed ever-rising customer expectations. HGS provides our clients with the right talent and technologies needed to champion every moment. Learn more at hgs.cx