How did ABANCA cultivate a new culture to become a "customer" bank?

ABANCA  is revered for its approach to CX, boasting more than two million customers despite having only formed five years ago. As part of our Celebrating CX leaders series, head of customer experience, David Orza shares with us the customer strategy behind the bank's success.

18th Oct 2019
Managing Director UK Clientship
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ABANCA operates in Spain with a network of 627 personal and 45 business banking branches accounting for more than two million customers and a staff of more than 4,500 employees. 

Now present in 10 other countries in Europe and America, it is one of the most solvent financial institutions in Europe, residing in the Top 40 of the 130 entities supervised by the European Central Bank.

The bank's reputation for delivering customer experience as a brand differentiator is valued by customers and it provides a genuine point of competitive difference for the bank. As head of customer experience, David Orza has been a prominent figure in the bank's rise to prominence. 

CB: David, thank you for joining us. Before we speak on CX success at the bank, can you tell me a little but about your personal journey with customer experience?

DO: My professional career has always been linked to the financial sector, working in different disciplines with various brands. I have been fortunate to work on projects in very heterogeneous areas such as strategy, social responsibility, marketing, operations and now for two years in customer experience.  The customer has always been present in my roles. David Orza

CB: You are now head of customer experience at ABANCA, what does your role and your responsibility cover?

DO: The sector in Spain has undergone a process of re-construction in the way it interacts with customers. With a loss in confidence in banking a few years ago, the "rules of the game" have evolved.

The expectations of customers is increasingly high and demanding compared to other sectors. This is a particularly difficult challenge because we are managing private money, our customers are understandably very emotive about this. It’s our reputation at stake. In this sense, the support of senior management, and involvement of all units, has been key to laying a solid foundation on which to build a new type of bank.

From the very beginning, we had the firm conviction that being customer- centric would not be an exclusive task of a single department, but should be present in our day to day, both front of house with customers and in the back office, establishing different initiatives that favoured this culture.

Logically, we have a specialist and transversal customer experience department which I lead. We serve the rest of the units, not only through indicators, but actively participating in the different projects with potential impact on customers.

From the very beginning, we had the firm conviction that being customer- centric would not be an exclusive task of a single department, but should be present in our day to day

CB: Where does CX rank against ABANCA's priorities?

DO: We are a young brand, in fact in the middle of this year we celebrated only our fifth anniversary. From the original strategy design and launch, we were clear that we wanted to be a “customer” bank, with the customer experience as one of the main strategic axes. We firmly believe that doing so is a profitable investment for the bank and beneficial for the customer.

CB: It would great if you would outline your approach to CX?

DO: Both in our first strategic plan and the current one underway since last year, many of the key initiatives are focused on building a bank for the customer, for instance:

  • A specialist business advice proposition with a very high level of sector and segment understanding and specialisation (e.g. pharma, agro, real estate, etc).
  • Delivering a best in class service, consultation and operational capabilities through digital channels. We have the best mobile banking according to customer ratings in Apple Store and Android play. This is important in modern banking.
  • We’ve changed the way we physically work. We have just one big open space. You can sit wherever you want and work.
  • We have focused the cultural transformation of the teams around our four corporate values (Responsibility, Innovation, Quality and Reliability). All of which impact the way we deliver customer experience. This way their delivery of our customer experience is brand distinctive.
  • We see the value of customer insight and activation tools available to the entire business to better understand and engage with customers.
  • We set objectives which establish the customer at the center of our organisations decision making.
  • Through ‘ABANCA Listen’ which is our customer listening voice tool that helps us match what we do to our customers' emotions, we are in tune with how our customers feel (as well as what they do).

CB: You mention the importance of customer feedback in shaping your priorities, could you expand on this please?

DO: This is key if we want to mature towards a total customer-centricity organsiation. Thankfully, we are gradually establishing this culture. We have enjoyed several internal successes,  such as the roles in the commercial network evolving to become “multichannel managers” and creating a consistency in style across channels. We have also managed to channel the “customer voice” through to our product managers, encouraging them to co-create with customers. Another example is we have adopted a continuous improvement approach to increasing recommendation, customer engagement and loyalty.

But the most important milestone is that CX is already present in the day to day running and psyche of the organisation. Every time we do it, the more natural it becomes - a self-fulfilling evolution!

CB: What has been a key challenge to prioritising customer experience?

DO: One of the biggest challenges has been the cultural change that has meant making sure the entire organsiation is listening to the customer’s voice. Until recently, we were the only ones seeing customer comments and customer ratings.

CB: What are you most proud of delivering within the programme?

DO: There’s been a lot of high points. But one that stands out, is it has been personally satisfying and rewarding for the team that our “Feel Customer” (emotional connection with customers) project has become so deeply embedded in the organisation. We started it as a pilot with the business client segment. Due to its success it has been requested by management to be extended to the rest of our core segments.

We can say that business segment is enjoying a style and mature customer experience from ABANCA which we are really proud of.

CB: You are clearly making great progress, so how do you measure success?

DO: We measure our progress both qualitatively and quantitatively. For instance we capture Net Promoter Score and general experience indices at key touch points and at relationship level. But we also review the language employees use, how they apply solutions to challenges and participation levels ad behaviours of employees in projects.

Whilst in the CX team we are facilitators and guardians of customer experience, as I said earlier it is the work of the entire company, so we are always pushing on various fronts.

CB: What improved experiences are coming next for your customers?

DO: We have many plans to continue this good path of a sustainable relationship with the customer and developing the right environment for our employees to achieve this. I can share some high-level activities we are working on for our customers. Such as the effective automation of the customer experience delivered through technology and tools. We are also collaborating more with the right customer types in redesigning experiences to ensure success by meeting their specific needs.

Our team are the facilitators and guardians of the customer experience

CB: Many practitioners in CX are realising that by putting specific focus on the experience won't guarantee you will get it right. What you are doing which is clearly working. What would you say are the key elements to being successful with CX?

DO: There are several key principles you need to follow, such as from an internal perspective, convince without ‘imposing’. We must always demonstrate that if we listen to the customer, we take their motivations into account in our design, they will then be more loyal towards us. That allows us to establish long-term relationships, and therefore meet our objectives.

Externally, for the customer its shows them that they are not a “commodity” to the bank. We show we are a bank of people who are going to look after customer’s interests, empathising with people not categorising them by the products they hold with us. That way we create a unique style that CAN be valued by our customers.

We want to convey to customers that we will take care of them and each action we undertaken has an impact. So it is considered and delivered to meet the bank's standards.

The CEO needs to believe. You need to see CX as a service of the business. Put simply, it’s about treating the client as he likes to be treated and not as we want to.

CB: How has tech reshaped the relationship between retail banks and customers? And is this leading to a different customer experience?

Everyone knows that we are in an era where the client is really empowered and can choose, depending on their preferences and profile, what channel they use to converse and transact with their bank. This is a tough challenge, for from the point of view of applying a homogenous design to everything.

To ensure there are no breaks or even inconsistencies across any channel (web, mobile phone, branch…), we have to constantly underpin the front end with an updated information support and coordinated protocols. The client does not want to start over each time, they want advice to get on and they want their voice heard to get improvements made. Constant listening and improving is a challenge, so we rely on the CX platform tools we have to help us. It is here you can make a real difference for customers increasing their confidence in the channel and our brand.

That said, I am one of those who thinks that people and their relationship with customers (whether physical or virtual) are the greatest asset of the company and customers.

CB: You’ve inspired us with your progress, so who inspires you in CX?

DO: There are a few, for instance Toyota in automotive, IKEA is a great retailer and in Spain the sports gym brand 55 Bluezone. This sector has spent a lot on customer experience. But the way they approach the experience for customers means you feel like a superhero. They monitor the happiness of their classes, matching the focus to personal ambitions. And functionally they are sound. Its so easy to choose and switch classes. Its clear they are motivated by the experience of the customer.

The CEO needs to believe. You need to see CX as a service of the business

CB: finally, what advice would you give to someone focusing on customer experience but not knowing where to start?

DO: Have empathy with your customers. Be open-minded, show leadership and bring on board key stakeholders.

There are also several steps you need to take, but you cannot take them all at once. It is important to achieve a cultural of change to encourage the CX type changes you need. This needs to be managed, it won’t just happen. But the first steps I would recommend are:

  1. Get the customer and customer experience included in the organisation's strategy.
  2. Create a specialist department full of passion, practice experience and progressive thinkers.
  3. Ensure customer metrics, measure the entire organization’s contribution.
  4. Objectify and follow the metrics (so get them right when setting them up).
  5. Establish a customer voice program (which becomes part of the experience and not just a measurement of CX).
  6. Address critical journeys as a priority.
  7. Include experience as a step in all projects, not an after thought or applied when convenient.

I believe if you apply these points you could say that you are an advanced in applying CX with a customer-centricity focus.

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