I’ve always found CX case studies hard to come by. Organizations tend to play their cards close to their chests when it comes to the challenges they’ve faced, how they tackled them, and what the results were. It’s why I jumped at the chance when I was recently offered the opportunity to talk with Jon Briggs, Executive Vice President of Commercial Payments at KeyBank, and Tim Attinger, Co-Founder and President at OvationCXM, about how KeyBank significantly improved customer retention after implementing OvationCXM’s customer journey orchestration platform, CXMEngine. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
JB: KeyBank is a 200-year-old financial institution located in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s a super regional bank, with $195 billion in assets and a retail footprint that covers 15 States primarily across the northeast and the northwest. Key also has a commercial business that operates in all 50 States.
My focus is on product and innovation on the commercial side of the business, where we serve the mom-and-pop dry cleaner down the street to Fortune 100 global companies. The complexity in serving that breadth of clients across a product set that is enabled by several homegrown capabilities as well as third-party capabilities, creates a lot of fun from a servicing and client experience perspective.
JB: Our journey with OvationCXM started within our merchant services business. A little background on our merchant business: it's third-party enabled. Most banks in the US will partner with the likes of either a Fiserv, FIS, or Elavon. We partner with 2: Fiserv and Elavon. It was late 2018/early 2019, and I had just taken over that part of the business. At that time, we had a significant amount of attrition in the business, and it was hampering our ability to grow. We were growing at what I would consider to be industry averages but it didn't reflect the potential we had in the business.
As we peeled it apart, it wasn't that our front of the funnel or sales teams were underperforming. It was the fact that on the back end, we were losing more clients than we should be. We had an attrition problem. We started to unpack why and discovered we had a terrible client experience in that part of our business.
Clients, KeyBank teammates, or third-party partners had no clue where the issue was. I describe it as a game of 1-800 ping pong that we put our clients through as they were calling into the bank. The bank was saying, “No, no, this isn’t us. This is a merchant issue. You need to call Fiserv.” And Fiserv woud say, “This isn’t us; this is the banker gateway.” Nobody knew exactly what the real issue was the client was experiencing. Even once we understood the issue, nobody knew where that servicing hot potato was on the path toward resolution for the client.
We had what I'll describe as a lot of servicing complexity. It was a nightmare for our clients, and it was having a direct impact on our P&L and the growth of our business.
JB: There were good peer benchmarks around client attrition rates that we were able to get from our partners, and at the time, we were above them. Not materially, but we were above them. We were underperforming relative to some of the benchmarks. We used a hypothesis at the time when we made the investment with OvationCXM that was like, “What's it worth if we start to turn the dial on that attrition rate by just a point? Two points? Three points? What happens if we just get in line with our peers?”. And so that was the foundation of our business cases over a period of 18 to 24 months. We were going to materially dial down the attrition that we were experiencing.
When we first signed the statement of work with Tim, a team started the journey mapping session, and it was a flyer. We knew the process was broken, but it was a question as to whether these financial impacts would come through. It took a leap of faith. Fast-forward 18 months, we took our attrition rate from being a laggard relative to our peers to best-in-class across the industry and we became a leader within our peer set that sits on Fiserv and Elavon. Nobody had a better client retention rate than we did. We blew the original business case’s number out of the water.
In a bank, innovation doesn't typically happen in cost centers. It happens in profit pools. This was about innovating in something that's typically viewed as a cost center that delivered a very visible top-line benefit in terms of our growth trajectory.
TA: From inception, we’ve been looking at reducing complexity within the delivery of financial services and commercial banking and, in particular, in the business line that Jon was just describing because it is almost exclusively ecosystem delivered. And across multiple client journeys - discovery, sales process, the activation process, and ongoing servicing - we realized that there were these villages of organizations around financial institutions to deliver on these solution sets. And they weren't well organized: communications were not great and customer experience was suffering.
And so the value we deliver is in abstracting away all of that organizational complexity of that ecosystem from the customer experience. So giving customers a single front door to come through and finding a way to say to a customer, “Just come to me with your problem. Whatever you're trying to accomplish, whatever journey you're trying to go through, we'll figure out how to solve it and deliver it in a concise and consistent branded way.”
And the way we do that is essentially to put the connectivity into all of those organizations behind the scenes and then deliver collaboration capabilities and, quite frankly, orchestration functions that allow a business owner to say, “Here's how I want that customer experience to look end-to-end regardless of who's involved. I want these 5 steps. I'm going to show the customer where they're at so I can give them the Uber experience: here's where you are, and here's when your food is going to show up.” But do that for financial services and do it in a way that is consistently excellent and gives the business owner control over that customer experience and, frankly, makes it easier for the people internally to do their jobs and drives adoption from a customer base.
In KeyBank’s case, we saw improvements both in external customer satisfaction as well as in internal employee satisfaction. Because frontline workers now had the tools to do their jobs. They weren’t wondering who had the ball, who was getting it next, or what play the team was running. They knew because it was right there in front of them in this tool.
JB: Yes, we tried the age-old solution of throwing more people at the problem. But it wasn't a people problem. We tried to get tighter management of the third parties to try to control the experience. But SLAs were not the issue. We even looked at some well-known technologies. But they just weren’t purpose-built for this type of complexity. For all those reasons, that's why we partnered with Tim and the team at OvationCXM. They had a demonstrable track record of solving this very real problem that we were staring down in that part of our business.
JB: It was predicated on driving incremental revenue growth for the business as a function of driving better client retention. It required an investment in not only the OvationCXM technology, but it also required integrations into our systems and our processes. We had to stand up a team to manage the orchestration engine and manage it like a product. It was going from “client experience is really important - and we should try to continually drive client satisfaction” to “here's the tools that's going to enable us to do it and the team responsible for waking up every day, understanding through the orchestration engine how our clients are working through the system to optimize it.”
Those were the inputs into the business case. Our baseline expectation was modest in terms of what we thought the benefit would be. We were hoping for 2 to 3 points of client retention improvement. We ended up delivering right around 4 times that. It was a materially better outcome than we had projected.
This was a new thing for us at the time. Fast forward to where we are today in our journey, we firmly believe in the continued proliferation of fintechs and SaaS companies. We believe in a partnership strategy to help drive and advance our roadmap. That's at the core of our strategy, which means we will perpetually bring in servicing and client experience complexity into our ecosystem just by the definition of partnering with these entities. From pre to post-OvationCXM, I would say we have a much clearer playbook and standard around what it means to partner with KeyBank and bring a solution through the KeyBank channel. It involves delivering our standard of client experience and we couldn't do it without the technology.
TA: Well, first and foremost, I've got to give Jon and the folks at KeyBank credit because we spend a lot of our time in the enterprise financial services space, and, as you can imagine, enterprise banks are not what you would call the most fleet-footed organizations on the planet, but KeyBank was uniquely speedy in that respect.
Not every financial institution has come to the realization that once they get a customer to sign up for something, it's taking them live and the ongoing servicing that is that customer’s experience of their bank. That's their brand. So if you're not laser-focused on that, you don't have that customer. They may be using you, but you don't have them.
So the first part of the process is diagnosing the problem. What do you tackle first? How do you start with a challenge that is this large? And our solution to that was going through a series of journey mapping exercises that included folks in the product organization, folks on the sales team (because they have high degrees of visibility into challenges), as well as servicing teams and the third-party partner.
And going through the process of mapping, we defined what that experience looks like today. We wanted to understand it in excruciating detail so that we could say, “Okay, this is what it's like for a customer to go through this.” And the only continuity in this entire process is the customer. Nobody is managing, step-by-step, what that experience looks like.
And to Jon's point around SLAs, you need to overcome that resistance from the third parties within your ecosystem. They’ll say, “But my call times are great, my pick-up times are good, and I answer on the fourth ring.” Those are all touchpoint measures about a particular interaction. What you're not getting in those measures is that “It took me 6 calls to get one thing done, and I talked to 5 different people.” So getting past that inertia inside the organization is always a challenge. But the journey mapping process does a really good job of flattening that.
And then, from an implementation standpoint, what we do is we take the journey map, and that becomes the roadmap for the implementation of the platform. You go, “Okay, here's this problem. We can eliminate these 4 steps and make this, ‘that is really bad right now,’ go really well by putting in this capability and turning on those features.”
So that process then helps us with our customer success go-live process: here's what you need to turn on first to make a massive difference. Then a big part of embedding the solution into organizations internally and third-party externally, and making the orchestration really seamless, is connecting the platform into the systems where those people internally and externally spend their time – where they live and breathe.
Fortunately, that's often some CRM ticket management/case management system where, again, somebody's managing an individual interaction, but they're not stringing all of that together into an orchestrated journey. So getting that connectivity established, working and humming in this particular case with their third party partner, Fiserv, who I think is the largest processor for merchant payments in the United States, that was a lift. Getting that to work, getting that implementation in place, and making that data flow really sing was hard work. Because at the end of the day, KeyBank has identified this customer as X, this third-party may call them Y, and to Jon's point, now we've added 4 more partners - they may all touch that same customer with different products. We need one way to identify that customer at KeyBank.
So that data mapping is an effort, but I think the payoff is great because then you get somebody who can sit back at command and control at KeyBank - and Jon has an organization there that does just this - and say, “Okay, I'm looking at you, Ben. You've got these 4 products. Here are the 3 journeys you're on with those 4 products. This is the stage you’re in now. You need to do this.”
And if an executive asked me this minute, “Where is this product with Ben? Why aren’t we live?” I can say exactly where it sits and who's got next. And I can nudge the customer along when they've got an action item that they need to take. So building the connective tissue is work; diagnosing the problem and then prescribing the solution is also work. But it’s necessary. I wouldn't say they're insurmountable challenges - it's just the stuff we do every day in order to make something like this happen.
And when you take a step back and think about what it delivers to a banker or an enterprise client, it means they can drag and drop and orchestrate customer outcomes across multiple product suites and manage those customer experiences in real-time from their desks. Setting up the infrastructure for that is work, but the payoff is pretty good.
JB: Yeah, it may be just pulling on Tim's journey mapping thread, but I think that one of the biggest values we got out of that process was that we were truly putting ourselves in the client's shoes when we started to walk these journeys. We were doing it with our partners. What Fiserv wouldn't appreciate is that clients that are going through an onboarding journey for merchant services are also going through an onboarding journey for a basic checking account or for a card product. And this is all happening concurrently.
From the client’s perspective, they don't see a KeyBank as “here's the DDA team - they have their process. Here's the merchant team - they have their process. Here's the card team - they have their process.” They see a single institution, and they expect an experience that's well-orchestrated and stitched together. I think there's nothing more powerful than one of the journeys we walked through for onboarding a client. I think there was something like 13 emails that our clients were receiving from us and our partners with conflicting information. It suddenly becomes tangible when you're talking about impacting the client experience when you could serve that up internally to say, “Here! This is what it is we're trying to solve.” It becomes very real.
JB: The advice I would give is to embrace the hard work. The hard work is where the value is, and that hard work is in the journey mapping. It's in getting that data foundation - that singular source of truth. Embrace it. That's where the detail lives, and that's the foundation of being able to deliver a phenomenal client experience. That's one. The other is to embrace walking the journey in your client's shoes. And sometimes it's painful to see it. There are some real doses of honesty of where there's opportunity. And then typically, as Tim said, OvationCXM is serving a lot of large financial institutions and enterprise-type clients; figure out who the internal village is upfront because it does take a village to oftentimes make these things successful. It's part of the planning; being thoughtful around that and making sure you have all the right people at the table. It’s going to make it go a lot faster than it would otherwise. And maybe just the last thing I'd add is: stop thinking about customer servicing and onboarding as a cost center. Try to shift the mindset and think of it as a profit center. Like, “How can I optimize this? How can I drive a better onboarding experience to get the next “at bat” for the next product or offering? And how do I delight my clients and every servicing activity so they're happier, they're stickier, etc.?” It's a mindset shift that I think is required to be successful here.
TA: I mean, I would certainly begin by echoing what Jon said. You've got to embrace the hard work, and you have to take the customer perspective back. And one of the things he mentioned is slightly nuanced, but it's super important. CX is not slapping a digital interface on top of an existing business line. That's not what we're talking about. Digital transformation doesn't mean throwing up a chat widget.
Customer experience transformation means changing how customers traverse your organization and your ecosystem as they try to accomplish something. So it's taking that sort of marketplace-back approach. And so, as a result, you do, to Jon's point, need to embrace the fact that what you're doing here is building capabilities to deliver great CX. You're not building a measurement tool to go hash it out with your third party about, to his point, SLAs.
Another thing that makes a lot of sense is to start the way KeyBank did. Find a business line, find a product solution, find a super broken journey. Once you map that out and solve for that and proven that there's value, then you can go on and unlock a whole lot of other stuff.
But boiling the ocean is not the way to start. Pick a place that’s going to have an impact big enough to matter and where you know things aren't great, and show some improvements. And you can do that fairly quickly with a flexible infrastructure. Aside from the multiple iterations it took Jon to get the connectivity tuned up with Fiserv, most of the other stuff we put in place within a matter of weeks, if not months.
TA: Yes, our target average is 60 to 90 days. It's usually within a quarter. And again, because it's a cloud-based system, all configuration tools are there. We've got to plug into your communications infrastructure which we have pre-builts for. And we've got to plug into your internal CRMs and case management systems, and even external ones. We've got pre-built connectors into just about every major system. The key is then, once it's in place and data is flowing, making sure that you know the data is accurate and getting it clean.