Over the past decade, Swedbank has moved from being a traditional bank with the customer relationship based on the customer-advisor interaction to a situation where most of our customer interactions are digital. A result of this journey has been that our customers perceive that we are not proactive - the relationship became more transactional. To address this challenge, we are leading a transformation in our customer communications. Going from a very limited amount of mostly postal product push campaigns in the retail Swedish segment to a customer-centered approach with an always-on Next Best Action (NBA) approach spanning over a wide range of channels, building a platform for four home markets and 58 independent Saving Banks.

This article is about how we are doing it, the decisions we have taken, and the challenges on the way

Always on versus push campaign approach

Direct marketing has been about finding the most relevant target group for the product or service you want to market to. Over time it has become advanced, utilizing propensity models, automating multi campaign flows, and communicating to more targeted segments. But it still starts with the product/service perspective. The NBA approach turns this around, starting from the contextual customer situation and evaluating which of all the possible recommendations is best for this customer at any given moment. We see this approach as essential to meet customer expectations, increase customer satisfaction, and improve profitability. Our approach includes building or transforming our people, culture, processes, technology at the same time as we continue supporting our organization with 1:1 communication.

People, culture and processes

 It all starts with the people. We have built a team combining internal capabilities with deep knowledge about our company, products, and customers, together with bringing in external competencies with CRM and automated marketing knowledge. The mix is and has been very important for us; but just as important has been the culture, and we look for people that are driven, with a high level of competence while also humble and nice.

When starting our journey to build NBA’s, we created new roles and changed into an agile way of delivering performing marketing. In hindsight, it was an ambitious and challenging period, but it would also have been complicated to stay in the current way of working while trying to do something totally new. We are still in a constant change, where every quarter brings new technology releases with associated possibilities and challenges.

We have learnt that marketing of today is not only about copy and content but also technology, data, releases, incidents, risk assessments, and so much more – and it is important to not lose track of customer needs in the mix.

"Building a solid platform: In general, we embrace an agile approach in our development"

Building an NBA portfolio in parallel with delivering on communication needs

To ensure that there really exists a Next Best Action for every customer at every given moment, a broad proposition portfolio spanning over sales, service, retention, and information areas is necessary. We use a structured, stepwise approach that starts with building the foundation based on customer needs in one customer product journey at time and then personalizing this foundation. However, the approach is constantly challenged by short term 1:1 push communication needs to support above the line (ATL) marketing and business needs. We strive to balance the focus on the long term always on the portfolio with short-term requirements; and preach about the importance of customercentricity to gain understanding. Our feeling is that this has paid off, and we start to see that short term communication needs to decrease in some areas, where we already have always-on communication running. Having part of the foundation in place creates a strengthened need to focus on optimization and decisioning – the adaptive models and logic that decides upon which of available recommendations the customer should get.

Decisioning

Decisioning is a new area, and it is important to treat it as such. It demands a new way of thinking regarding marketing, new skill sets, and a new way of approaching analytics. It takes courage to move away from biases and many years of experience of how to approach 1:1 communication and embrace the NBA way of thinking governed by different layers of business rules and self-learning algorithms. Managing this shift is, however, increasingly necessary – a person cannot handle all possible combinations to ensure a unique customer experience. By building a broad portfolio, our teams ensure that each customer is eligible for many different recommendations based on his/her needs, while the decision about which to show are done by decisioning analytics, which in real-time balances the customer interest (adaptive model powered by artificial intelligence that learns from the customer’s previous interactions) and business strategies that take into account financial and non-financial values. This shift has meant that a layer of the control of target groups moves away from the proposition/campaign level and is instead implemented on the communications portfolio level. It is a journey requiring continuous learning: developing the decisioning strategies, playing around with the parameters, and evaluating the results.

Technology: building a long-term platform

Building a solid platform: In general, we embrace an agile approach in our development. However, we have learnt the importance of a more traditional method in order to build a solid platform. With the foundation there, the agile method serves us well in adding functionality and scaling up, with significantly faster development cycles when adding new home markets.

Keep to the strategy: We decided early about our main vendor and are complementing it by developing tools already in our landscape. Along the way other technology vendors have reached out to us to convince us of the great ROI, we can achieve with their technology, however at this stage, we are cautious of adding new systems. With our complex system landscape, implementation complexity may quickly outweigh the additional benefit and take focus away from the development roadmap we have with our chosen platforms.

Data: It is not possible to write about customer-centric communication without mentioning data, which is one of our largest challenges due to the complexity in accessing it. We also need to maintain the balance between ensuring that we live up to our customer expectations of proactive recommendations based on their needs – but in a trustworthy way considering their integrity.

Going forward

We are at the ‘end of the beginning’ of our journey. Our current focus is a) increase relevance by continuing development of decisioning and personalization capabilities, b) increase and optimize the communications portfolio and visualize it from a content and customer insight perspective and c) coordinate the customer experience, creating a “One Bank” feeling and leveraging the platform for a broader set of needs (like mandatory communication and supporting financial advice modules). This includes incorporating other 1:1 communication from across the bank, which is the right thing to do but has huge dependencies and requires a stepwise approach.

Finally, the most important success criteria have been strong top management support and the overall vision of creating capabilities to enable a digital bank with physical meeting points!