CX profile: What it takes to align Citi's brand and staff to the customer

Head of global customer experience talks about the realignment of digital, data analytics and marketing, plus the metrics and ways of working needed to be truly customer-led

Getting the culture right 

Citi has always prided itself on being customer focused, but Smith says things were more tactical in the past.

“If there was a complaint for example, we’d go in and fix that particular pain point. Whereas we’re taking a step back now and saying what does that entire end-to-end journey for the customer look like?” she explains. “Instead of improving the part that broke in that instance, how do we make the whole experience better.”

Smith’s ambition is to get every employee to think about the customer, from risk managers to the call centre.

To help, Citi runs a program called ‘customer connect’. This sees every staffer across the group engaged in a number of interactions with a customer directly each year. In 2017, the emphasis was on ushering in customer-centred design and moving to an agile way of working in order to bring the customer right into the beginning of the process and all the way through, Smith says.

“Customers have often fit in the equation but it’s often at the end as opposed to starting with customer needs,” she claims. “If you solve for that, your business cases stack up, rather than trying to work out a commercial opportunity and fitting a customer in somewhere along the line.”

Top-down leadership is vital, but Citi couldn’t simply force all people to work this way from the get go, Smith says. In contrast, agile and new ways of working were introduced through certain projects.

“It’s naturally gaining this momentum and we’re at a tipping point where we’ve trained a number of people in agile and what’s involved, and we’re doing innovation challenges,” Smith says. “Everyone is talking about the customer and for me, that’s success.”

With just four employees in the customer experience team, it’s obvious they can’t take all responsibility for thinking about the customer.

“They are driving the cultural change, giving people the tools and getting people to think differently, looking at what other organisations are doing, getting lots of people in the organisation to challenge our thinking,” Smith says.

Metrics and systems

Alignment in metrics is another must, and every person in Citi has Net Promoter Score (NPS) in their scorecard.

“In the past, we looked at what people were achieving. Now we look at what they’re achieving but also how they’re achieving it,” Smith says. “Plus there are certain leadership standards within that ‘how’, and one of them is client centricity. If you’re not showing that behaviour and executing with the customer front of mind, it will hit you when you get your bonus or come up for promotion.”

While required at the beginning of the journey, Smith now feels employees honestly realise the brand can’t build a sustainable business without being customer led.

Of course more traditional measures, such as how many customers are having a relationship with Citi, are vital, too. “Once they’re with us, do they deepen that relationship and what does that engagement look like? What are our retention stats like, what are their spend profiles? Those are questions we look at,” Smith says.

“All the science and sophistication around targeting has meant we’re finding we’re locating customers that really value what Citi has to offer. It works on both sides of the equation. We can give those customers a much better experience for their needs.

As artificial intelligence opens up the ability to crunch even more data and personalise at scale, customer experience expectations will arguably exponentially increase. For Smith, the medium-term opportunities for AI are in servicing and making sure Citi is very clear on the types of things people want to know about, where they can find information and self-serve, and where they need a human interaction to go deeper.

“AI in that space will really help us guide those conversations. Then it could potentially move into sales,” Smith says, adding voice and biometrics are companion technologies driving these exchanges.”  

Through all of this, curiosity must be the driving force of the customer experience leader, Smith says.  

“You need a customer mindset. It’s very easy to get excited about a solution and before you know it, you build something and haven’t validated back. It’s not just speaking to the customer outset, but validating all the way through,” she says.  

Overlaid on top is an analytical mindset that still embraces human connections. “It’s the emotional response to the brand experience that really will determine if they want to deal with you again,” Smith concludes.

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