How Bank of Montreal has achieved one-to-one customer engagement

Banking group talks through technology, people and process transformation to become a contextually relevant brand with customers

Gayle Ramsay
Gayle Ramsay

Marketers still have huge power and opportunity to influence customers, but need to engage from a customer’s point of view.

Speaking at the ADMA Engage event in Sydney, vice-president of analytics, marketing and strategy at the Bank of Montreal (BMO) Group, Gayle Ramsay, said there is no longer a playbook for brands to follow when it comes to better customer engagement.

“The traditional life cycle of customer needs is completely different today,” she said during her opening keynote. “We have to move into a one-to-one relationship to understand the needs of our customers.

“This shift takes a lot of effort – it’s not just getting sales to use it, but also your channels, and getting the marketing group to think differently.”

The analytics leader has spent the past three years working to transform the banking group’s brand promise and organisational approach in favour of real-time and contextual customer experiences, relying on a combination of technology and data-driven insight, behavioural change, measurement and process change, to do so.

Ramsay told attendees that the 200-year-old bank, which has 45,000 employees, had a brand promise of ‘defining great customer experiences’ but was struggling to resonate with its core market. In addition, several consecutive quarters of negative growth created further pressure on teams to do things differently.

The first step towards data-driven engagement was fresh customer insight. This market research revealed traditional customer life cycle modelling was out-of-date and should be superseded by one-to-one, event-based engagements that were personal and relevant, Ramsay said.

The second key insight was that customers weren’t looking for the bank to just fulfil functional needs, but to also provide an emotional connection. The third was that the shift to digital had created a further disconnect between the customer and the bank.

Based on these insights, BMO Group created a new brand promise of ‘money is personal’, with BMO ‘bringing a human touch’ to banking. The fresh brand vision was supported by fresh creative and messaging internally.

But the real work was in the back-end, transforming the organisation’s customer engagement strategy to support highly personalised interaction through technology, people and process.

“When I arrived in 2010 we were doing very traditional marketing and we didn’t have a consistent 360-degree view of the customer,” Ramsay said, adding that seven siloed customer databases existed when she joined the group.

The new approach to engagement needed a comprehensive customer management strategy that provided a daily, if not real-time, holistic view of customers across channels, and could drive interactions across the organisation, Ramsay explained. This involved advanced analytics and understanding customer behaviour, then leveraging this knowledge to drive relevant insights and offers in key segments.

Other components in Ramsay’s strategy were lead management, and a contact strategy to drive targeted offers and communications with customers.

“Customers expect us to know them and be relevant,” Ramsay said. To do this, brands need to tap into personal information, who they may be connected to, social media habits, understand what products they already have, and communicate in a channel that’s relevant to them, she said.

Report: Customer engagement is hindered by marketing tech

“You can’t do all of this at once, but this is the type of stuff you want to be engaged in,” she said. “We wanted to have real-time offers across multiple channels, to make sure we factored in the customer’s behaviour and predicted what they could purchase. We also were a branch-based organisation and needed to look at how to change that process, so part of that was how to have a conversation with the customer.”

Ramsay said she built BMO’s lead management roadmap using four major components driven by technology: Customer channels, data and events processing hub (including virtual customer images), leads management engine, and a customer analytical data mart.

She then took attendees through how a more personalised customer offer is generated and delivered digitally or through to staff within a two-second timeframe using its CRM platform. The four-step process firstly qualifies a customer using behavioural analysis, then identifies relevant offers for an assigned segments based on the weight of the offer by marketing teams. From there, scoring is assigned and any offers suppressed, then algorithms are used to present the final offer suited to the customer.

“This capability changes the playing field,” she commented.

But while there has been a lot of technology required to get to this point, Ramsay admitted the ‘people’ part remains an ongoing project. A lot of work was done to engage sales, along with frontline staff including branches and marketing, from the beginning, she said. This included having sales and divisional representation at the management table, and bringing tellers in to working sessions.

One lessons Ramsay will apply as she extends the customer approach to BMO’s US team is to involve marketing groups earlier in the change management process.

“I missed a step in the marketing group as I was doing branches first and didn’t need their involvement there. I had to go back and spend time with them,” she said. “The lesson learnt is to make sure when you’re doing this, it’s not just the sales force but engaging marketing all the way through. In the US, we now have marketing teams helping to build change management processes to help get teams there.”

The customer-centric approach also triggered a reorganisation of marketing in the last six months from a focus on product, to customer acquisition and lifecycle management.

“We had people responsible for general marketing, but what we’ve now done is create verticals and specialisations, particularly in digital,” Ramsay said. The other aspect of this is better focus on return on marketing investment.

“Too many briefs didn’t have clear objectives, a business plan or didn’t have what revenue could be generated from that. It wasn’t surprising, as we weren’t measuring that,” she said. “We have a lot of programs to help marketing with that piece and also changed the leadership team to get that focus. If you can’t measure what you put out there, why are you bothering?

"But we’re not there yet – it’s a big change to go from doing a campaign to turning something on and monitoring it.”

The results

Ramsay said key results from the extensive work on customer engagement included lifting centrally generated leads from less than 5 per cent to 45 per cent, as well as increasing leads actioned by the frontline to 65 per cent. Event triggers have also proven 10 times more responsive than the propensity model, Ramsay said.

While she didn’t take all the credit for it, the banking group had also seen incremental revenue of $400m in the last two years and has turned quarterly decline into double-digit revenue growth.

Ramsay said BMO Group has invested $6 million into the work over the past three years and expects to spend more as it looks to build out a broader customer-centric view across the organisation.

“We used this project and generating revenue from it to prove the point that customer data generating is an asset,” she said. “We’re now on much bigger journey across the enterprise.”

The great part of a data-driven engagement strategy is the team can test offers before they launch, Ramsay said.

“That was the engagement that really worked for marketing. Don’t have to wait until end of campaign to see if it worked,” she added.

BMO Group’s journey to modern customer engagement

  • Single product focus to customer driven multi-products focused on needs
  • Seasonal engagement to ongoing and event triggered interaction
  • Product feature driven to integrated multichannel offers
  • Individual leads and messages to messaging tailored to segments
  • Single message campaigns to customer needs-based bundled product and service messages
  • Unawareness of customer conditions to responsiveness to customer triggers and conditions

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