Lessons from Regions bank on how to make one-to-one engagement possible

Building a customer-led marketing strategy isn't just about technology, it requires operational change, executive support and importantly, collaboration with your IT, sales and service colleagues

Michele Elrod
Michele Elrod

Building a successful engagement strategy in the age of always addressable, mobile customers not only requires technology smarts, data-driven marketing capabilities and useful content, it also needs executive support and cross-functional camaraderie.

That’s the view of EVP and head of marketing for Regions bank, Michele Elrod, who shared how the banking group has transformed its marketing approach during the ADMA Global Forum in Sydney.

Regions is a regional banking group with 1700 branches across 16 US states. In 2012, it began on a deep analysis of its marketing technology and customer intelligence capabilities in order to make the shift towards the holy grail of marketing today: One-to-one engagement across channels and based on the lifetime value of a customer.

“What was important to us was to move to a more cross-channel sales, service integration program,” Elrod said. “We started looking at what we had in terms of technology marketing, what were our gaps in terms of customer journeys, and what we were going to do to address all that.

“For everybody who is going to undertake this, your mission has to be customer centric, and it has to be relevant to your particular industry and/or company.”

Regions historically had a siloed approach to channel engagement and media, and while it knew a lot about its customers, this was mostly transactional information, Elrod said.

“We’d appended data for our customers but were not able to let a sales person know if someone had talk to them in the contact centre, or if they were looking at mortgages online. And I wasn’t changing what I was offering them personally based on what they were looking at on the website,” she said. “All of that has changed.

“We wanted to use all the information we had within the channels to drive communication. We wanted to increase that context and understand what we call ‘hand raisers’ – what people are doing on the website, and what they’re doing when their click on our ads. We wanted to be smarter about tracking people, understanding how they interact with social, our content, and developing tests to understand if it makes a difference.”

For example, Elrod said Regions found customers are 11 times more likely to complete an application if the company can provide them with content that’s benefit-oriented prior to the application process.

“So it was all about having that increased context and then building connectivity across our channels as well as across the mediums we use,” Elrod said.

Questions the Regions team used to understand the capabilities needed for addressing an always-on consumer, meanwhile, included whether it had a comprehensive view of customers, understood and segmented them based on their value, could optimise resources based on that value, personalise interactions, measure interactions at an integrated level, and then impact by activity or stream, Elrod continued. Finally, was the team agile and could they use all of this capability to their advantage?

How to make it all happen

Elrod offered a wealth of advice from Regions’ experiences around moving to a customer-led marketing remit and making wholesale transformation happen. The first thing to recognise is that everyone in the business has to be brought along the journey, she said. That makes executive sponsorship an imperative.

“This has to be customer centric, relevant to your company, industry and customer,” Elrod told attendees. “You have to be customer centric and that has to drive your direction.”

To articulate why it was important for Regions to make this move to the rest of the business, and to explain in particular to the sales team the outcomes of its efforts, Elrod’s team whittled down its objectives to three things: Better leads, better conversations, and better sales and retention. This was positioned as ‘CCSI’ – cross channel sales and service integration.

“It’s important to integrate sales, service, IT and all these pieces together with all your channels,” Elrod said. “In our sales presentation, we said that if we can continue to do this in marketing, it will result in these three things, and we believe it will give us a competitive advantage.

“We’re not the biggest... but if we can be smarter about how we talk to customers, when we talk to them increase relevancy and that timeliness, then we could get that competitive advantage.”

Alongside executive support, organisations need to have a dedicated management team, Elrod said. Thirdly, she stressed the importance of process and governance.

“You will be working with every one of your channels – IT, product, marketing and you have to organise all of that,” she said. “The reason is everyone sees things from a different point of view. Marketing sees it as a customer lifecycle, a technologist sees a tech stack, an analyst sees it as data. None of these are wrong, but important to bring all together.

“We weren’t even using common language and definitions on what we wanted to achieve. It’s important to begin planning as a team.”

It’s not just governance, but also recognising and planning for a staged approach, with each phase representing an opportunity to learn and regroup, Elrod said.

“You don’t want to wait until the end to realise achievements,” she advised. “Make that an important part of the project – near-term wins. Every time new tech piece or learnt something via data, used that, initiated a new program, reported on it (show revenue from all investments going on).

“We had to take technology along the way and leverage marketing information, then we had to customise experience across channels, and create engagement.”

It’s equally important to have the insights available, and Elrod said Regions is currently building a new insights platform to support collaboration and focus.

Elrod added technology may be the easiest part of the whole process, while process, skillsets and the organisational operating model will be the hardest.

“Involve your channel partners early and often – integration is imperative,” she added. “You can’t be successful if you don’t link those channels, have functionality, understand what you’re trying to achieve so they get on board and provide input.”

Cross-company support

Region partnered with performance marketing agency, Merkle, on the program of building an addressable customer engagement strategy. According to Merkle’s executive VP, Will Bordelon, an area many organisations are still falling over is enacting the changes needed across the business to make a new approach successful.

“Where organisations commonly get stuck is when they’ve maxxed out on the authority of the sponsor behind what they want to change,” he said. “If you want to change marketing, you can do that as CMO, but if you’re trying to intercept product, channel, fulfilment, you have to have executive sponsorship. It can’t just be permission, it has to be support.”

In creating the customer experience, Bordelon said success comes down to choosing to invest in foundational components that enable your organisation to operationalise these things, as well as focus resources, investments and financials. The other thing to remember is that not all customers are created equal, Bordelon said.

“You’ve got to have some framework that you can organise around,” he said. “All experiences are not created equal and you need to decide where to invest in certain experiences based on potential of certain customers. Some could be VIP customers, but this becomes more complicated as we are trying to change experience through customer lifecycle.”

Bordelon agreed designing the customer experience can be daunting and that organisations won’t solve it all at once.

“Start with easy things – triggers area great way to try and understand where something is happening with individual consumer, but the problem is they don’t often scale,” he said. “So it’s a mix of trigger programs while mapping our segment-based experiences that are more outbound and reactive, that’s required.”

Bordelon also described the approach being taken by Regions is all about mastering the three Cs of addressable customer experience: Context, content and connectivity.

“The trick is creating a path for what you need to do to get organisation behind you, then get that development at pace for your organisation to change to this model,” he added.

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