Lessons from digitisation: The experience of Commerzbank


In my last postLessons from digitisation: The importance of customer experience in banking, I talked to Anja Stolz, CMO of Commerzbank, about the importance of customer experience in banking, and how making human connections can be one of the most vital elements. This post continues our discussion, and explores Anja’s team’s experience of digitisation, and the lessons that they learned from the process.

What are the most memorable lessons from your own team’s digital transformation?

The networking between customer and company or employee, that is, the human factor in the transformation, with all its cultural, social and emotional aspects, is extremely important, but also very difficult. There will always be problems, because people cannot be controlled via Excel lists or clicks. Technology and processes can be controlled relatively well, although it sometimes takes a long time, but people are a different matter. For example, marketing colleagues and IT colleagues sometimes seem to be talking different languages. You need time to get used to each other so that you learn each other’s language.

What are your best data sources? What are you still missing?

Big data analytics is certainly one of the key technologies of the digital age. Ultimately, the data collected helps us understand how customers behave and what an optimal customer experience looks like. The way to do this is to capture and correlate all types of customer-related data, from the age of the customers, to their buying behaviour, to the online ads they click on. The main question is: “What does the customer do?” The focus is primarily on the “what” and “how much,” always approached by statistical methods. We are getting there, even if we may not always be using the most advanced methods. What is missing is that analyses do not explain why customers act in a certain way, or their underlying motives. We need a new approach for that, and to provide context. I think maybe the phrase is “thick data.” Thick data is data from using qualitative and ethnographic research methods that uncover people's emotions, stories, social context and models of their world, and therefore supplies the social, cultural and emotional factors. Human emotions play such a huge role in buying decisions: Think of the way trust, fear or tradition can affect them.

Can you give me an example of how this might work in practice?

Lessons from digitisation: The importance of customer experience in banking

Lego collected data in order to understand why children play.

Lego is a good example. Lego initially developed products based on standard thinking: pink for girls, blue for boys. The result was a sales slump. Rather than trying traditional advertising, the company changed its perspective. Instead of asking “How can we sell more toys?,” it now wanted to know “Why do children play?” In a large-scale study, Lego investigated this question. The findings led to the development of target group-relevant product ranges and new economic growth.

To form a complete picture, we need both types of data – big and thick – because of different types of insights at varying scales and depths. Big data gives us large samples to uncover patterns on a large scale, while thick data requires a narrow focus to see human-centred patterns in depth. For big data to be analysable, it must be normalised, standardised, defined and clustered, all processes that strip the data set of context, meaning and stories. But this context often makes the difference. Thick data can rescue big data by providing the context, and that makes it hugely more usable. We’re trying hard, but we still have a long way to go before we really understand the motives and context of our customers.

How do you experiment (innovation lab, dedicated staff, etc.)?

If we are serious about being customer-centric, then innovation must be driven by customers. If the person in the organisation best placed to provide the customer view is the CMO, then innovation must be part of the remit. We now experiment in several different ways, for example, with our Design Thinking Agency or the Main Incubator. We also do work with fintechs and finance startups. The issue, though, is that you cannot confine innovation to just one part of the organisation. My experience is that as soon as you set up an innovation department or unit, it’s almost doomed to failure. I set up a Design Thinking product development process in my area, then I put it to the test and presented the results to my board. When I showed board members how things might work, they found that pretty interesting. That’s how the world is changing – innovation everywhere. But small ideas also count, not only disruption.

How are you maintaining your staff?

This is certainly one of the most challenging aspects. Changes often provoke feelings of overconfidence in people. This is especially true for solutions that are supposed to transform the company digitally, because they are about profound changes in the usual work processes. Professional change management is the linchpin of a successful digital transformation. We will only succeed if we can understand and shape the desired change as a comprehensive process of change for the entire company. It does not start with the employee or the [digital]skills. It’s all about organisational structures and leadership styles, as well as know-how, processes, mental competencies, thought patterns, patterns of behaviour and, of course, the lived corporate culture. Many companies think reflexively about digitisation: I need more IT people or only young “digital natives.” I think that is short-sighted. It’s not necessarily about IT know-how – it’s usually more about asking the right questions, being able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes, being able to trust your instincts, and drawing the right conclusions. Of course, this requires an understanding of technology and project skills. But it is more important to have a customer orientation, enthusiasm and motivation. As executives, we need to communicate the digitisation goals to our employees in the most concrete way possible and help to prepare colleagues in time for the associated changes. This means we ourselves must be ready to change ourselves and to develop.

#Digitisation is about asking the right questions, being able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes, trust your instincts, and drawing the right conclusions. #CustomerExperience Click To Tweet

What advice do you have for aspiring CMOs?

More than ever, the CMO needs strong analytical skills, commercial instincts and strategic vision. At the same time, we need tactical strength to make decisions in real time, combined with a high level of assertiveness, a willingness to change and a healthy dose of resilience. It’s a tough ask just now, but well worth the effort.

And what advice would you give to young marketing students?

Practice analytics and creativity. Seek change and recognise the added value of different skills and collaboration. Take as much as possible with you, from every job, every company, every industry, and stay open and willing to learn.


About Author

Ioannis Stavridis

Sr Manager Global Practice Customer Intelligence at SAS

Global Practice Customer Intelligence, Ioannis holds a Master of Software Engineering and Economics degree and has a longer than 15-year track record in the area of successful analytical CRM, Customer Intelligence and BI implementation projects. Before he joined SAS he worked for several consulting companies in a managerial position and acted as trusted advisor in several companies. Additionally his experience includes project management in Customer Intelligence, Business Intelligence and CRM projects in many of Europe’s largest international retail, telecommunication and broadcasts, banks, utilities, automotive and companies. His main focus areas are Omni-Channel and Contextual Marketing Management solutions, business case and business value development and Customer Intelligence process improvements. Throughout his career he worked in both national and international companies and gained international experience through working with multi-cultural project teams.  His experience of having been a program manager, a business advisor, and a implementation consultant helps Ioannis to act as a trusted advisor for clients as well as helping them to operationalize their Digital strategy.

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