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


Citi’s head of global customer experience, Tanya Smith, has an easy way to tell whether something meets the great experience test or not: You feel better after interacting.

“That’s about having a positive emotional response,” she tells CMO. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a simple, easy mobile experience and something you do in your everyday banking, or whether it’s a deeper level of conversation you’re reaching with your relationship manager, or different experiences based on the customer need. It’s feeling better about the brand and an engagement you want to have again. If that’s achieved, then you’ve got a tick on a good customer experience.”  

Five or 10 years ago, however, Smith probably would have explained that differently. In banking, for instance, the experience was historically very much on the bank’s terms.

“We were offering a great customer experience if we had a good product or service to offer,” she recalls. “But it was our product, our terms and conditions, and about coming to us and the customer physically needed to visit us in the branch. We’d then provide what we thought was a fabulous offering.

“Now, the balance of power between customer and banks has completely changed. It’s really challenged us to think differently about the services we bring to the table in the first instance, but also that access point.”

Even five years ago, when the emphasis switched to great Web rather than physical experiences, there was still an expectation the customer would come to you, Smith says. “Today we think about it differently again and are trying to work out how we embed ourselves into the customers’ lives. So they don’t have to stop and interrupt what they’re doing,” she says.  

As a local example, Smith points to Citi’s launch of points-based payment with Amazon.com. Consumers ready to purchase simply pay with Citi earned points at the Amazon checkout via one click. In Singapore, meanwhile, customers already on Facebook can do servicing via their bank account directly in the social platform.

“This turns everything on its head and is a real shift in culture and thinking,” Smith continues. “We do now value our customers in a different way and don’t take them for granted.”  

To cope with rising competition and expectations, Citi not only has to change and adapt its product offering, but also the experience going along with it.

“No one is going to fill in a 20-minute application anymore, when competitors are doing it with five fields as there’s so much rich data. It doesn't make sense for the customer to provide all that data again,” Smith says. “[With the richness of data], we’re going to be partnering quite differently – we are already – but also into the future, because there’s so many interesting services coming out.”  

What’s key is constantly innovating and finding creative reasons for customers to stay. One of these for Smith is the Citi Dining Program, where members get a bottle of wine with a growing network of partner restaurants. Citi also offers VIP access to Sydney Swans games, the Night Noodle Markets, and chefs at food and wine shows across the country.

“It’s nice to do those sorts of things because it creates a differentiation for our brand. It also brings us closer to our customer,” she says. “I love those opportunities… It’s in those experiences where I’m out talking to customers, finding out what they think and really connecting.”

Building the executive remit

Smith has worked at Citi for the past 20 years, starting in a graduate program. She’s worked in most facets of the business, from product development to marketing acquisition and retention, lending and customer franchises. More recently, she was tasked with building out the wealth segmentation programs, and also spent time in the US on a talent program.

For the past two years, Smith has been chief customer officer with a remit that brings data, digital, marketing and customer experience together. “You need all of those facets if you’re going to lead growth through putting the customer first. It’s a great structure for what I’m trying to achieve,” she comments.  

In just two years, Smith has born witness to significant changes in the digital sphere. The biggest is what Citi calls ‘decision management’, its data and analytics arm. Historically, decision management used to support all existing customer activity, pulling customer lists and helping to satisfy existing customer needs. That’s also where Citi has had a lot of success with white-labelling and agent banking, Smith says.

Now, that data team supports everything, from acquisition journeys, using data management platforms and look-a-like audiences, to dovetailing between digital and data.

“Digital and data used to operate as siloed organisations, whereas now they can’t operate without each other,” Smith says. “There’s a lot of interesting work happening regionally in the data space as well. Big banks architect in a way where there are lots of different data pools. Now, we’re pulling all of that together, and augmenting that with external data as well.”

A major step forward in utilising external data and extending the reach of Citi’s products into other platforms has been work done on connecting via APIs. This allows Citi to foster a growing array of relationships where people can tap into its systems.

For example, Citi struck a partnership last year with Qantas to launch the Qantas credit card, which is directly linked to frequent flyer points and connected to its core banking platforms. This was made possible through open APIs.

“The good thing is that as a customer, you’re still having that great Qantas experience but Qantas all of a sudden can provide a banking service. It’s those interesting relationships off the back of digital and data that really benefit the customer,” Smith says.  

Knowing customers better

According to Smith, Citi is doing more customer research than ever before and employing a range of tools and adtech to achieve it. One of these is C Space, an online community of customers and prospects.

“It gives us an opportunity to real time to validate with our customers to see if something is going to work for them. Before anything goes to market, we validate it through those,” she says.

Profiling is also about undertaken, increasingly using third-party data so the team can not only see what those profiles look like when they come through the door but also how they perform downstream. The recent change in comprehensive credit reporting is opening up further data utilisation opportunities.

“Because we partner so extensively and we’ve unlocked the API connections, there’s a tonne of data there for us to leverage and start delivering better outcomes,” Smith says.  

“We have also made a lot of progress in attribution modelling. Citi has been forced to be ahead of the game because we don’t have a massive customer base, or a really extensive branch network. We have to be really good at digitally acquiring customers and working out what journeys they’re having online.

“It’s not a linear journey – there are so many opportunities for customers to do their own research, and they come in and out of Citi assets. We’re working through what those journey looks like and as they change devices. So times of day, there are certain triggers and you marry research with actions – someone looking like they have a propensity to purchase, and how the marketing strategy changes at that point.”  

There’s no set and forget on customer experience and it requires constant refinement, Smith says. “Even something as simple as that used to be a set of bank rules we’d apply to try and give the customer the experience they want. Now it’s all behaviourally derived,” she says.

“The way to contact a consumer, what channels and at what frequency, and what offers they want is completely different to me, for instance.”  

Citi is looking at spend patterns and transactions to work out who is interested in what types of offers and uses this in propensity and next-best offer modelling. The team augment this by looking at credit card data, for example.

“It may give you an interesting profile in that product, but how does that translate into an investment? And is it relevant to even talk about investment products with you? We’ll use third-party data to fill in any of the gaps,” Smith says. “It results in a better customer experience. And I like that customers are in the driving seat.”  

Knowing when not to personalise or provide offers is necessary part of this equation. “If we have a customer who doesn’t want to be offered things because we’ve leveraged third-party data to determine whether we think it’s relevant or not, they need to be able to say don’t market me that we and we can our approach accordingly,” Smith says.

“It’s not just personalisation and knowing you when you’re on our sites, but understanding everyone’s preferences and respecting that.”  

Up next: Getting the culture right, plus the must-have systems

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