Digital technology is key to customer experience | Straight Talk


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Digital technology is becoming the most important element in giving customers the experience they want. But for corporate technology teams to drive this change, the function’s traditional culture needs an overhaul.

By Andy Weir, Chief Executive, Enterprise Services, and CIO, Bankwest

We are entering a world in which customer experience is becoming the key competitive differentiator. This shift from pricing and product to customer experience – the where, when, and how of customers interacting with an organization – is driven in part by the expectations of the post-Gen Y generation of “digital natives.” And it is changing the way we do business in banking and financial services – indeed, in almost every industry.

In financial services, the impact of this major change in customer expectations is compounded by the change in our competitive landscape. Competition is no longer simply other banks and financial service providers. It’s the Googles and the Amazons and the Facebooks that are encroaching upon traditional banking functions. It’s also competitors we’re not even aware of yet – four people in a garage coming up with an innovation that isn’t even on our radar.

In light of the incredible challenge we face to keep up with people we don’t know, we focus on those we do know: our customers. So delivering a differentiated and world-class experience to our customer is a strategic priority of paramount importance.

That means making sure we’re thinking about every interaction the customer has with us and every perception that contributes to the customer’s feelings about us—from big components, like what they think about the products and services we offer, to the tiniest detail, like the language our colleagues use when speaking to a customer and to each other.

It’s less about what our competitors are doing and more about what matters to our customers. Our purpose at Bankwest is to help people achieve what matters today, and for generations to come, so our aim is to design and deliver an experience for customers that will keep them from going elsewhere for their banking needs – and that will attract new customers, as well.

To do that, we need to understand our target customer segments better than anyone. And that requires a change in traditional technology culture.

On the Customer Front Lines

Technology teams have a central role in delivering a superior customer experience. As customer preferences move increasingly toward the digital, the importance of technology grows. The technology organization can no longer afford to sit in the back of the value chain. We need to be out in front, influencing and shaping and devising the organization’s strategy. 

That requires me to carefully consider how to connect the value-creating people in my organization directly to the customer, rather than through layers of bureaucracy and structure. And it means evolving the conventional technology team skill set from a centralized, back-office approach to performing in highly collaborative, fast moving, customer-focused work groups.

The technology function must change from a siloed service provider to a trusted partner. The distinction between business and technology is outdated. Technology is the business and the business is technology. We have to work with business to set one strategy collaboratively, to figure out together where and how we want to win. And we no longer can do that on an annual basis. We need to do that kind of environmental analysis every single month and continually refine and update our strategic direction.

Design thinking is a critical component in our technology area. We’re working proactively and continuously with the bank’s customers to develop, deliver, refine, and adapt our products and services. Members of our technology organization have taken to Facebook and Twitter to ask customers directly what features they’d like to see next in our mobile phone app, for example.

Of course, there is so much going on in the customer-oriented technology space that it isn’t easy to keep on top of it all. So instead of trying to stay on top of everything, we take an opportunistic approach, partnering with organizations that, when the chance arises, can help us leapfrog ahead of rivals with technology-enabled innovation.

Not every start-up is trying to take over the financial services space, and many of them are eager to partner with an established company like ours in particular domains. We are expert in designing the customer experience, but there are a lot of organizations that can help us deliver the capabilities we need in order to deliver it.

Remaking Technology Teams’ Traditional Culture

To embrace this customer-focused role, technology teams need to find new ways of working—to change the traditional technology culture.

We need to adopt the digital disrupter mindset. That’s what differentiates a start-up organization from a traditional company, and it’s important to embrace that kind of culture here—one with high levels of collaboration, few boundaries, and a deep fixation around understanding what matters most to customers. 

For example, we schedule regular “Hack Days” in which our colleagues to take 24 hours off from their regular work to focus on developing ideas that will resonate with our customers. Our first mobile app was the product of one of those Hack Days. That whole idea was developed in a day. We’ve had some 50 ideas developed through that process that have worked their way into production.

We also have embraced “agile development”—building products and services in a rapid and responsive way and improving them with new iterations over time. But approaches like these work well only if you have the right cultural foundation and the right level of obsession with the customer.

We started with the basics. We got rid of time sheets. We rebuilt our physical headquarters as an activity-based workplace, literally tearing down the walls between functions and departments and individuals. We looked for different profiles in our leaders and managers. We reexamined how we recognized and rewarded our professionals to make sure we were encouraging not just traditional technical skills but the kinds of cultural changes we wanted to make.

In our enterprise area, for example, people used to be recognized and rewarded based on typical service levels, such as system uptime or on-time delivery of a project. Now our technology professionals are rewarded based on business outcomes, such as the value we deliver to the customer.

We also focus on simplifying our work environment. Financial services organizations are complex. So we encourage our technology colleagues to focus on what they can do to simplify what we have.

A company culture can’t be reinvented overnight. It is the sum of many small things that are hard to quantify but come together to shape the culture. This means that we strive for iterative, systemic change. While not as dramatic as some big mandate about how we’ll immediately change the way we think and work, this kind of change is more sustainable because it comes about gradually and steadily.

When it comes to having a meaningful impact on the customer experience, it’s not about introducing some new technology or implementing a specific project. It’s about creating a new culture and transforming the way the organization works.

When you’re a start-up, you’re blessed with a blank sheet of paper from which to create that kind of culture. But at an established financial services business like ours, we start with a legacy culture that needs to be transformed. It is much tougher to adapt with what you have. That’s why, frankly, this work never ends. It’s a relentless journey. 

The Takeaways 

The new generation of “digital natives” is changing the business of banking and financial services—and practically every other industry too. The focus has shifted away from pricing and product to enhancing the customer experience, which requires a thorough understanding of your target customer.

Bankwest schedules “Hack Days” in which employees put aside regular work for 24 hours to focus on ideas that will resonate with target customers.

Because technology teams play a central role in delivering superior customer experience, the nature of the technology area needs to shift fundamentally within organizations. Companies must allow tech teams to work as trusted partners with the rest of the organization as they set one strategy, collaboratively, every single month—not just annually.