August 6, 2020

The ‘Why” of Digital Transformation According to a Chief Strategy Officer

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The topic of digital transformation in financial services has been a much-discussed aspect of banking customer experience for some time. Yet many firms still struggle with the concept despite having strategies in place and maybe even projects underway. Extractable’s Chief Strategy Officer Alex Jimenez spoke with us about emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and how contact center leaders can better extract value from their digital transformations by shifting the focus back to the customer.

Full Transcript

Boris [00:00:00] : Good morning. Good afternoon, everybody. We are here with Alex Jimenez. One of the leaders in the financial services industry, , to talk a little bit about digital transformation, this podcast is sponsored by LiveVox,and Alex, we’re super glad that you decided to join us today.

Boris [00:00:23]: And so before we get into it, Alex, if you wouldn’t mind, could you introduce yourself and give a little bit about your background? 

Alex [00:00:34] : Sure. Yeah. So I’ve been in banking for 20 plus years, starting with a Fleet bank, then Bank of America. And then I moved to a small community bank in the Boston area called Rockland Trust. I then went to Zions Bank here in Salt Lake City, and now I’m working for a consulting company, Extractable, where we’ve focused on helping organizations with digital transformation. So, it’s something that I’ve been doing for the past 15 years. So starting at Rockland Trust, ,then at Zions and now helping credit unions, banks, insurance companies, and others, through that process.

 Boris [00:01:14]:You know, Alex, digital transformation has sort of been at the forefront of many financial organizations, probably over the course of the last number of years, many of them are striving to get there.I think it’s, it’s a catchy word. it’s a catchy trend . Why is the timing now? Why is it important for financial institutions to get there today? 

Alex [00:01:36]: Right. Well, I think we’re living through why you should do it. Many organizations were caught flatfooted when everyone had to stay home. And while we have seen the adoption of digital increasing every year, the amount of investments in digital has not been appropriate to maintain the level of interest that customers were showing. And now those customers that were not interested that had been forced to go digital, have found systems and experiences that are subpar compared to the kind of things that they see from Apple and from Google and Amazon and all the other services that they may have already tried.

Alex [00:02:24] :So if you’re not thinking today that this is something you need to do tomorrow, then maybe you need to retire. This is clearly where we’re going. This is clearly what is going to be impacting our customers and members in the future. and today. So it is the whole question of whether the branch will survive or not. It’s totally immaterial because digital is here to stay and, and you need to invest into digital. 

Boris [00:02:59]: Yeah. Clearly the recent events have totally dictated that as well, we’re finding out this is no longer just a Millennial trend to utilize digital channels and execute on our financial transactions. Why do we think that the contact center is overlooked?

Alex [00:03:15] : Well, for one thing, we define digital as only the things that we see through a device. So whether it’s a computer through a browser, whether it’s an app, or a smartphone, or, you know, even the mobile or forward thinking organizations that have a voice skills and, and Siri, or, or a Google home or, or Alexa, that’s still, that is what people define as digital. But I talk about digital with a big D and not a little d. Digital should be a technology that is impacting all facets of an organization and that includes the call center. And to just think that digital is digital banking and mobile banking you’re totally missing the point of digital transformation. Digital transformation is affecting and should be affecting the whole organization on their contact center side. 

Alex [00:04:06]: The idea was we’re tooling people with these new devices and people are going to call the call center less. And those of us that manage call centers at the time, actually saw the reverse and saw mobile banking driving inquiries and the importance of the call center, because people were calling to find out about mobile and how to use it. And trying to understand the new modality and that has never actually receded. So we added another channel and added more volume to the call center. And if you look at just the number of activities that are happening in the call center and the reliance on it by all generations, we really should be tooling them better and we’re not doing a good job. And digital would be something that would help. 

Boris [00:04:53]: Yeah, I know. It’s pretty interesting that you say that. And you know, we see that in the data ourselves as well that whenever people need support from a mobile channel, whether that’s online banking, mobile banking, they are more likely to pick up the phone and call or pick up the phone and email or text, whatever you may have versus actually walk into the branch.

So their escalation point is likely to become an over the phone or over a messaging channel rather than anything else. That’s pretty interesting. Unfortunately it’s an overlooked portion of digital transformation. How should we think about the connection between quote unquote digital channels and the traditional contact center . Like what, what should that transition be? What should, what would a better experience look like? 

Alex [00:05:44]: Yeah, well experience. That’s the right word right there. When we talk about digital transformation, the vast majority will focus on the very first word of that phrase, digital. The technology, the technology drives it. And actually that is not true. You really should be looking at the word transformation. That is what is actually active. And so we are transforming the organization to use technology. We are not using technology to transform the organization. So, one of the drivers of digital transformation is the experience, the customer experience and member experience.And, and if we are not pivoting towards a customer experience driven organization, we’re missing the point of digital transformation altogether. So when we look at FinTech companies, Uh, what is it that they do better than the legacy organizations and people will say, Oh, you know, they have this technology and they can do all of this.

Alex [00:06:42]: Yes, that is true. But they don’t start with the technology. They don’t say “Hey, I have this technology, what can I solve with this technology? They usually start with, I have this problem. How do we solve it? Oh, look, I have this technology and I can apply it to it. So, you know, it’s interesting as I’ve talked to many leaders in the banking world and actually in other areas of financial services. And I asked the question, “What makes you different? What makes your, your credit union, your insurance company different from the one down the street?” And 99 times out of a hundred, maybe 999 times out of a thousand, the answer is customer service. And so, it’s interesting that that’s how everybody thinks that they are making themselves different from everybody else. And yet one of the main things that provides customer service does not get play. We were not investing in the call center because we’re missing the point.

Alex [00:07:46]: Instead we think we need to invest in, in voice skills. We need to invest in bots. We need to invest in RPA. We need to invest in the cloud. Yeah. Sure. But if you start from the customer experience, you need to figure out where the customer experiences are happening and they’re happening at the physical channels. They’re happening in the digital channels that are happening in the call center, and then examining what those experiences are and then figure out how you can improve them.

Alex [00:08:14] : So, I agree that a lot of smaller organizations provide better services than the larger organizations I used to manage a call center, and the call center agents actually had to sign up to 16 different systems just to be able to answer the myriad of questions they would get from customers and fast forward, 10 years later. They have 16 plus now, right? Anything that’s been introduced since then to sign on to the system and we just don’t tool them well. The reason why we sometimes provide better service is because we hire some really great people oriented agents who really just are very empathetic and want to solve our questions. And that is key to the digital transformation because without having customer experience driving your transformation, you’re just spinning your wheels. No, that’s the vast majority of organizations that go through digital transformation, fail digital transformation because they’re focusing on the wrong thing. 

Boris [00:09:22] : Got it. Because you’re saying they failed because they focus on just introducing new technology to the realm versus really being customer experience, first focus, or like ensuring that there’s right tools in front of the agent. Now, the question that I have for you has the world gotten that complex or, or, or maybe what has gotten that much more complex for the agent population that makes it harder and harder to service the consumer today? 

Alex [00:09:50] : Yeah. Well, if things are more complicated, that’s for sure, just the fact that we roll out mobile banking adds another channel. it makes the job of a contact center more complex. So, you know, 10 years ago, like I said our agents had to log into 16 systems. Recently I sat with a call center, one of our clients, and they actually had to sign into 23 systems. 

Boris [00:10:14] : Wow. That’s a lot. 

Alex [00:10:15] : Yeah. It’s insane. And I was blown away by these amazing people that were able to toggle back and forth between all these systems and really were able to do that. And you know, it doesn’t have to be that way. technologies here that can allow us to minimize the number of things that you can sign on, for example, and there’s all kinds of technology that can help the agent appropriately service someone but , a lot of times we’re just not not doing that because the call center is seen as a cost center. And, we’re spending more money on marketing, but we’re not taking care of the basics. And that’s the problem.

Boris [00:10:55] : Yeah. So like, as you think about that, yeah. Right. And as you think about delivering great customer service, we talked a little bit about , providing a great agent experience in order to be able to do that or, or making investments in order to, in order to do that. And so now, you know, again, folks are thinking and thinking about how to kick off their digital transformation and let’s assume they got your message loud and clear here outs, which is, you know, think about the contact center. Think about customer experience, think about the employee experience. what would be the three pointers that you would give to them in order of how they should interweave the contact center into their digital transformation journey. Like what are the top three things they could do today to have an impact?

Alex [00:11:37] : What I would say is that they need, they need to be focusing on the customer experience first. 

Boris [00:11:42] : First. Okay. Customer experience is number one.

Alex [00:11:45]: You really need to actually roll up your sleeves and do the work. You have to talk to your agents and customers. So you have to understand what their needs are. We can talk to each other all the time and, and, and, and come up with really great ideas. But at the end of the day, we’re still in the industry. We know more about the products and services that any of our customers will ever know, and, and so to just assume that we know better because we are customers is, is, is a mistake. The other thing is I’ve seen organizations say “Ookay, well fine. I’ll just talk to the customer service agents and the branch people, and they’re closer to the customers so they can tell me what it is that the customer needs. Not really. You know, they are not the customer. So you really need to talk to customers to understand what their experiences are and base your investments on improving that customer experience. And you know, the answer is, well, some things we’re just not good at, at doing them. Um, great. All right. So if you’re not doing a great job of the call center, why don’t you outsource it? Oh, no. You know, we take care of our customers. 

Boris [00:12:53]: Right. We own that.

Alex [00:12:55] : If you do that, then why, why aren’t you investing in that? If that’s your secret sauce that you talk about as a differentiator, right? What investments are you making for that truly to be. Your secret sauce that you’re refined. And I think one of the things that I think you hit on spot on, which was around researching and identifying friction points or identifying experiences that could be approved.

Boris [00:13:17] :And what you’re saying is it’s more than just making assumptions. It’s more than just talking to internal employees. It’s really having a one on one, whether that’s it’s the face or, you know, sort of a higher party doing research. To understand what, what, what your customers are really thinking about.

Alex [00:13:34]:Yeah. And, and I would say also surveys are not the same thing as talking to customers, right? Because you build, you build surveys based on your assumptions. You build. Surveys based on the things that you think they’re going to answer unless you have surveys that are entirely open questions, you’re going to get, you know, your bias in there. You’re going to get the responses that you are, are expecting, and you’re not going to get to the bottom line. What it is that customers actually care about. 

Boris [00:14:05] : Right, right. Yeah. And so, you know, it’s, it’s interesting, that we’re striking this, this notion of doing what’s right for the customer and doing, doing the right thing for the employee in order to really refine our secret sauce, which traditionally has been under-invested in. But, let’s make an assumption that we’re going to do better.I hope, I hope all of our clients will do better. I mean, heck I hope as a customer, everybody does this better. I don’t think anybody says, I want to have a bad experience with my financial institution, but there’s somewhat of a large gap. Let’s call it between the innovation that’s happening in the marketplace from, from, from the leaders and maybe folks who, who don’t quite have the, uh, I don’t want to call it the capacity, but maybe don’t have the, the resources.Now, you know, obviously here at landmarks, we think a lot about sort of democratization of technology and bringing that sort of equal footing. But how can people, I’m sure there’s people in this audience are thinking, you know, Alex, Boris, this is all wonderful news, but how can I compete with Bank of America or another very large financial institution when my budget is like a hundredth the size of theirs. 

Alex [00:15:18]: Yeah. I know, cause I’ve been there. I’ve worked with Bank of America. So, moving the Titanic that is Bank of America or Chase or Citi is quite difficult. And oftentimes what they, what you see as innovations is actually not innovation at all. They just throw enough bodies at it that it looks like innovation.And yes, in many cases they do have innovation. And I would say that when you look at mobile banking and online banking, those organizations have vastly better technology. Uh, but that does not necessarily mean that they have the appropriate technology. So, many times it is not the size of the organizations, but really where the organization is focused.

Boris [00:16:02]: Right. Right. 

 Alex [00:16:03] : But it really is just looking at your strategy. Uh, unfortunately, and as a strategist, of course, I will say that. Uh, if you look at smaller organizations, generally, they don’t think about strategy as a way to drive the organization and they sort of default into a strategy. So you have to figure out what it is that you are, who you are and where you want to be. That should be your strategy, and that should be driving where you’re going.And so, you know, you just have to find those partnerships to work on that and, and, you know, They’re there. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it.I’ve been there. I’d love to do that myself. so, you know, I say it’s so much easier to be in a small organization to make those changes. 

Boris [00:16:45]: The best comparison, I think that I think about, uh, today you’re talking about is sort of the nimbleness that comes with a middle market organization or middle market financial organization, and the ability to create a better or more crafted experience, because you’re just dealing with a specific subset of a population. That someone has a specific need of verses dealing with, you know, 20, 30, 40 different segments of population. And your vast multimillion consumer portfolio. I’m going to switch the question for you, Alex, a little bit. So a little bit about innovation on that particular topic and how organizations can keep up, but what’s the next foray for mid-market organization, specifically in the contact center space, meaning, , where will innovation come, come to or come from? Or what areas are you looking at specifically today that you’re thinking, boy, when that happens, Wouldn’t that be? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Alex [00:17:44]: Well, the funny thing I’m going to go back to like mid, mid aughts when we were all very excited about CRM and how CRM is going to revolutionize. , contact centers and sales staff and blah, blah, blah, blah. And we, as, uh, as an industry have done an absolutely terrible job of managing the many CRMs that have been out there. Right? The problem back then was that those 16 systems or systems and so on would be all called out into a single system and that the agents would have. We’d only have to work on one system that would be able to track all the calls, everyone with everyone, through other organizations with knowledge of what conversations have been had with what cases were still open.

Boris [00:18:31] : I’m still waiting for them. I don’t. Throughout the industry. Yes. There are places where you find those organizations, but the vast majority, majority of organizations haven’t done that. So that’s one. So it’s not really that innovative because we’ve been talking about it for a long time, but we haven’t rolled it out, but it could prove to be a big benefit at least to the customer, because there would be a certain level of continuity. But I agree with you, you know, whether it’s transformative or life changing. That’s TBD and maybe life changing though for the financial institution that actually gets on. Right.

Alex [00:19:08]: Exactly. Yeah. I think I’m looking forward slightly, the application of AI to the call center. Uh, but I’m thinking about the augmented agent and the ability to have AI. I help the agent through a complicated problem.Uh, an AI, uh, that would be helping the agent real time and being able to answer those questions quicker and so on. Yes, there are some things that are overly complicated and are unlikely to become less complicated in the future. But if we have the ability to, to augment and help that. That person with some knowledge that can be learned from an AI system, then, you know, I think that that is the future of call centers.

Alex [00:20:03]: And then eventually it’ll be the combination of, of AI human. Right. some of it would be some sort of chat bot. You know, a conversational chatbot that really doesn’t understand everybody. And, but there were certain, at certain points it’ll switch off to a real person. There’ll be some of that. I don’t think we’re there yet.

Boris [00:20:22]: They haven’t been fine tuned for every diet like that, I guess. But, but you know, hopefully one, you know what else? This has been a truly exciting conversation. And I really appreciate your insight about this. especially the things that are happening within the contact center. So thank you very much for coming on with us today. I really appreciate it. And I look forward to potentially having a beverage with you at some point in the near future. 

Alex [00:20:48]: Yeah. Yeah. If any of your, any of your listeners or watchers are interested, just reach out to me. I’m on LinkedIn, I’m very active on LinkedIn and Twitter. Uh, or just reach out to me. I’m sure you can find Absolutely. 

Alex [00:21:06]: Alright

Boris [00:21:07] : Thanks everybody. Thank you. 

Boris [00:21:09] : Take care. 

Alex [00:21:10] : Take care.

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