How Royal Bank of Scotland turned digital strategy into superstar customer experiences

Head of analytics talks through how the banking institution transformed its digital experiences through data democratisation and customer journeys

Giles Richardson, head of analytics for Royal Bank of Scotland
Giles Richardson, head of analytics for Royal Bank of Scotland

How Royal Bank of Scotland turned its digital specialists into a team of customer experience stars while fostering a data-driven culture to the organisation took centre stage at this year’s Adobe Digital Marketing Summit in Las Vegas.

Speaking during the opening keynote session, the banking group’s head of analytics, Giles Richardson, detailed how the 289-year old institution with 25 million customers has changed the way it managing digital experiences through its Superstar DJs program. The group owns several well-known banking brands in the UK including RBS, Natwest, Coutts and Ulster Bank.

Richardson admitted RBS’s digital experience approach was historically “terrible”, based on a “firework culture” of launching adhoc experiences based on gut feel, inadequate data insights and mired by a backlog of improvements. In addition, onerous and unread text-based reports made it difficult for staff to find meaningful analytical patterns in the data or draw clear insights on what customers needed and wanted.

“We didn’t really measure anything,” he said. “Data was a sideshow, we didn’t know if things would work or not. So we needed a new vision.

“Eighty per cent of what you do online doesn’t work in the way you think it would. So we were probably making it worse as much as making it better.”

The bank changed all this through its ‘Superstar DJs’ program, which was aimed at changing the digital organisation into a customer-focused, data-driven function. Much like music DJs, the program put an emphasis on constant reinvention and testing new content, becoming more aware of audiences and segments, and giving control of creating digital experiences to as many of its frontline staff as possible, Richardson said.

The first step was giving the frontline team the control it needed to impact digital experiences. To do this, Richardson said it repositioned digital specialists as journey managers and invested in Adobe’s Experience Manager platform to give them end-to-end management of a particular customer journey.

“Customers come to do stuff generally – it might be to open a new savings account, get a credit card or adopting mobile app, and all of these are a series of small journeys,” Richardson explained. “We divided our digital team into journey managers, and they will look after an entire journey. So bringing the customer on, through marketing, all the research and tools they might need, through to application and adoption. They needed to control that themselves.”

The second thing Royal Bank of Scotland did was work on understanding the actual customer journey. To do this, it implement tag management to attain a single view. The third and most important step for Richardson was democratising the data.

“Often within big organisations, the number of people who truly understand what’s actually going on with the customer base is very small,” he claimed. “This stuff needs to get pout into the wider room. With Adobe Analytics, we created more than 100 bespoke dashboards for our journey managers so they could see exactly what was going on.

“Now we could see where problems were occurring, there was a change to make things better and start to optimise.”

It was at this point that RBS hit the challenge of balancing analysis/testing/optimisation opportunities versus resources available.

“There is just lots of stuff to do, so there’s a question of where do you start,” Richardson continued. “Often people think to have a prioritisation funnel, and go after the big things first. Because it’s a scarce resource to do this optimisation work.”

The answer was to bring everyone along on the data journey, and make insights something that could be rolled out to frontline staff.

“ We started getting to this virtuous cycle, where the journey managers were looking at data and start seeing people are falling out in step three or four of the process for example, and look at how we could optimise things. They’d then collaborate with the data guys and digital analysts, so we decided to call these guys producers. These guys work collaboratively within the Marketing Cloud.

“All the stuff from initial data to discussions, forming hypotheses, performing the test - it all happens in there. And then we’re testing, and no new content goes on the site without testing first.”

So how did RBS get every on-board? The first thing was to make it fun, Richardson said. As well as sending weekly communications and information on lessons learned, the team added a dash of humour by tapping into its DJ and music theme, providing gold discs, music charts, suggested soundtracks while promoting healthy competition between teams.

“We were not forcing this behaviour, we were enabling it,” he said.

Using Adobe Target to deliver real-time content to people, as well as cross-device stitching of the customer experience, were also key in improving digital experiences, Richardson said.

Encouraging a test-and-learn culture was another vital piece of the puzzle, and Richardson noted 80 per cent of RBS executives have now logged into the Adobe Target platform and put live a test. As a result, RBS has gone from two optimisation tests in the first-half of 2014, to more than 400 in the first half of this year.

Richardson’s mantra to other digital leaders looking to make such a big step change is to be fearless.

“You need to be connected to your audience, experiment with new content, back off if things don’t work, do it all yourself, work close to real time, appreciate segments and changing set lists,” he advised.

“Experience is your brand today, and digital touchpoints form the majority of that experience. Even though we are a 300-year old bank, and our history is important to us, the thing we care about is the last 10 seconds our customers spent with us online.”

Nadia Cameron travelled to the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit as a guest of Adobe.

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