Do All Your Departments View Your Customers the Same Way?


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How does your business define a “customer”? Until you get your definition right, your attempts at enhancing the customer experience will fall flat. Consider this. The typical financial services company looks at a “customer” from the salesperson’s point of view, and who could possibly argue with that? Sales are the life-blood of any company.

Imagine, however, that Bob and Carol have a joint checking account at Branch 001, Bob has a certificate of deposit at Branch 003 and Carol has a retirement account at Branch 005. Now ask yourself these questions:

  • Are Bob and Carol separate customers?

  • Is Bob’s CD part of the relationship from Branch 001’s point of view?

  • Is Carol’s retirement account at Branch 005 part of the relationship from Branch 001’s point of view?

  • Is Carol even a customer from Branch 003’s perspective?

  • Is Bob a customer from Branch 005’s perspective?

  • Do Branch 003 and 005 consider the joint checking account part of the relationship?

The answers to all of the questions above should be a resounding “YES!” If not, your company will never make the transition from product-centricity to customer-centricity.

Customer-centricity is about understanding the real relationships that you have with your customers from their point of view; offering products and services that satisfy their needs; and creating positive experiences, not just pushing “products du jour” for the sake of making sales targets.

Little change

As I have moved from backrooms to boardrooms over the past 38 years, I have seen precious little in the way of real product innovation in financial services. A checking account is still a checking account. Statements are a little fancier. And checks are returned as images instead of individually, a transition that took years to accomplish and is still not complete. Why? Because these “innovations” are driven by economic pressures to deliver commoditized products at lower cost, not by focusing on real customer needs and creating positive customer experiences (and acceptance)—the core of customer-centricity.

Most financial services companies are not equipped with the mindset or the tools to effectively “share” a customer relationship across products organizations (deposits and credit) or even distribution points (branches).

Consider how most financial services companies approach the Internet. For years, our industry has debated whether the Internet is just another channel or a whole new way of doing business. Should we have branches at all, or should we go for the totally virtual model? Or is some hybrid approach the best? Everyone agrees that the answer is complex because almost any alternative will have significant impact upon the company’s overall operating model: how it sells and distributes its products and services.

The result has been, in many cases, a “negotiated settlement” among lines of business that has created further fragmentation of both the company’s operating model and the way it manages its customer relationships.

And, yet, from the (all too often ignored) customer perspective, the answer appears to be much more straight forward: No matter how customers interact with the financial services institution, they expect that all their information—their relationship, transactions and third-party information—seamlessly exist and that the customers and the people serving them have equal access to all of their information when needed, regardless of where it was originated or where it is needed.


About four years ago, the Global Consumer Group at Citi began to address this issue from the top. Our CEO gave us a very succinct mandate: “I want our customers to come into our branches, transact their business with us smoothly and efficiently, walk back outside, and say “WOW!” Critical success factors were defined, all centered around increased customer satisfaction, increased depth of relationships and increased retention.

Competitive research told us that companies already down the path to customer-centricity were building and retaining relationships three to four times the depth of those who continued to follow the traditional product sales approach. The initial “back of the envelope” ROI calculation, based upon moving our key metrics only very small percentages, indicated that hundreds of millions of dollars could be returned to the bottom line during the first couple of years of operation in the customer-centric world.

The vision was then turned into a series of objectives, carefully articulated from both the customer’s as well as the bank’s point of view. For example, a customer’s objective was stated as this:

When I come into a branch, I expect that whomever I am dealing with will know or have access to everything about me and my relationship with Citi. I don’t want to continually provide the same information again and again. It’s a waste of my time and creates more opportunity for error.

That same objective got translated into a systems requirement that said: “All customer-facing staff (sales, tellers, service reps, etc.) require access to a 360-degree view of the customer, regardless of what branch or channel the customer decides to transact through.”

Significant effort was invested in creating the right definition of customer and “socializing” the new concepts across all product and service areas to obtain buy-in. Creating recognition and understanding that customers and their information are company assets—not belonging to any one line of business—was a huge challenge to overcome. Appropriate revenue-sharing and cost-allocation methodologies went a long way to solving that problem. Once implementation began, frequent and consistent communication was required to demonstrate continued progress toward the original goals.

A phased approach was defined that matched specific customer segments to carefully designed product sets, eventually to grow into new infrastructure that will seamlessly integrate all segments and products offered. Customer satisfaction scores began to move up significantly, and relationship depth increased by close to 15 percent in the first year.

An additional unanticipated benefit was a double-digit increase in employee satisfaction and retention. Better customer experience meant more sales and better interactions with more satisfied customers, a huge uplift to employee morale which, of course, leads to better customer experience, and so on.

While our work is far from complete, initial results have been extremely encouraging and truly indicative of a program designed to transform rather than to enhance. Stay tuned.

Harvey Koeppel
Harvey Koeppel, the chief information officer of Citigroup's Global Consumer Group, is responsible for setting strategic direction for technology and operations. He began as a consultant to the IT industry in 1968. He has a bachelor of science degree in psychology and computer science from the University of Pittsburgh.


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