The pragmatic approach to transforming customer service – Interview with Mike Upton of First Tech Credit Union


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Today’s interview is with Michael Upton, Chief Digital & Technology Officer at First Tech Credit Union (or First Tech), which is the US’s premier credit union serving the world’s leading technology-oriented companies and their employees.

I met Mike as part of a recent trip to Pegaworld iNspire held in Las Vegas. Mike was talking at one of the break-out sessions, and his topic was The Pragmatic Approach to Transforming Customer Service.

I couldn’t resist that title and thought Mike’s insights would appeal to you too so I nabbed Mike for a quick chat for the podcast.

By the way, you can view the replays of the talks on-demand here.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Purposefully designed experiences don’t happen by accident – Interview with Deborah Battaglia of Assurant – and is number 471 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here are the highlights of my chat with Mike:

  • We don’t have shareholders, we don’t raise money in the capital markets. So, our mission is really driven around delivering value to our membership. You cannot get more customer-centric than that.
  • The idea behind taking a pragmatic approach is that even though I’m the Chief Technology Officer, I find that I end up talking more about people than I do about technology, especially employees within the organization, the culture within the organization and how do you move people from the comfort zone of where they’ve been to where our members actually need us to be.
  • What happens too many times is people get caught up in the tech, they get caught up in a tool, they get caught up talking about AI or cloud or whatever. But, what they don’t really talk about is how do you take those concepts and make them real and actually deliver something of value.
  • The approach that we’re trying to talk about is really about humanizing the change element. How do you deliver value? How do you actually deliver tangible things? How do you make things that matter to your customers (our members)?
  • Are we clear on the problem that we’re trying to solve? Because if we’re not clear on that then the chance of us delivering anything of value is out the window.
  • How do we consistently deliver high quality service? We started by focusing on our employees and if we can make it easy for our employees then it’s gonna make it simple and delightful for our members.
  • So, the very first thing that we did on the big grand ambitious transition journey was we converted 85 SharePoint static forms into automated work flows with no more filling in and no more data entry error. That allowed us to connect our front office with our back office. It’s now all seamless. It’s simple, it’s basic, but it delivered value to the agent and it delivered value to the member.
  • And once we lit that flame, once we lit that spark, our front line staff became evangelists.
  • Everybody has the words and they always talk about these grand visions and these grand strategies and everybody gets lost. We are looking to make things easy for our employees so that it is simple and delightful for our member. That’s our vision, that’s our grand strategy.
  • Let’s get clear on the problem because if we’re clear on the problem, then we can work on how do we solve for it.
  • People often talk about innovation and transformation, and they get overwhelmed by all that stuff. It’s too broad, it’s too nebulous, too squishy. They don’t even know where to start. They also think that it’s got to be revolutionary. It’s got to change the world.
  • Little micro innovations that matter and that mean things to people produce results. That’s innovation, that’s bringing strategy to life.
  • All the great tech in the world won’t matter if you can’t get your team on board and it doesn’t produce a result that makes their life better and makes the member’s life better.
  • An incremental approach to radical change is more likely to be accepted by people rather than any massive step.
  • In our business model, our calculation is for every minute that our contact center staff spends on the telephone with one of our members, we have to add another agent. So, if I can reduce the call time in the contact center time by one minute, that saves us the need to hire an FTE.
  • We went from a 20 minute call time down to about 15 mins initially and it is now down to 8 mins because we have consistently identified and either automated little tasks or brought the data forward. That equates to a couple million dollars worth of savings.
  • Then we started on wire payments because we found out that at First Tech to send a wire, there were 105 process steps. Not 105 steps for a customer but 105 internal process steps that needed to be taken to execute a wire payment request. Using the Pega platform to automate that, there are now five steps.
  • That doesn’t sound revolutionary. It doesn’t sound transformational. But, that translated into 5,000 hours of saved payment operations time on an annualized basis.
  • The thing we’re learning is finding those opportunities where there’s a high degree of manual intervention and a high degree of labour. It’s not easy for the employee, lots of mistakes are being made and that generally translates to a poor experience for the customer. So, go find those and then you can quantify and put business value on them.
  • Over the 2.5 years that we’ve been running, we have hard dollar savings of over $17 million.
  • We’re all guilty of talking about stuff that’s on the front or leading edge of things, but actually, that’s not where everybody lives.
  • The real transformative work is to figure out how not to scare people off. But, also to realize that you can take small steps and have big impacts even if you go slowly, but in a committed, focused and deliberate way.
  • Once you start creating that learning culture and that craving of learning, you’ve transformed your organization, which will absolutely transform the experience.
  • Mike’s best advice: Make it easier for your front-line staff full stop.

About Mike

Mike UptonMichael Upton, Chief Digital & Technology Officer at First Tech Credit Union (or First Tech), which is the US’s premier credit union serving the world’s leading technology-oriented companies and their employees.

Mike is a finance industry veteran with a longstanding history of delivering innovative digital solutions to both the online and mobile banking worlds. As a longtime supporter of the credit union difference, joining First Tech was an exciting opportunity to return to his roots. In fact, his own relationship with First Tech began in 1993 when he joined as a member. He now sees his work within the organization as both an opportunity to deliver industry leading digital innovations and to serve the unique financial needs of his local community. With over 24 years of experience, Mike brings to First Tech the best practices of the world’s most innovative software companies and the operational excellence and discipline practiced by America’s largest financial institutions.

Prior to joining the credit union’s leadership team, he led the Enterprise Digital team at Capital One in Richmond, VA and was the Senior Vice President of Mobile/Online Banking and Consumer Payments at Bank of America in Charlotte, NC. In addition, Mike’s held numerous senior executive roles at several large software companies that service banks and credit unions across the United States. Mike is also a graduate of Oregon State University.

Check out First Tech Credit Union, say Hi to them on Twitter @Firsttechfed and feel free to connect with Mike on LinkedIn here.

Credit: Image by tookapic from Pixabay

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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