Marketing optimization: Five lessons learned at a major US bank

Five years ago, banking’s holy grail was knowing customers and providing them with the best offers. Today, the goal is still knowing customers – but the ultimate goal is providing the best customer experience. That may involve an offer – or it might be something else. And figuring out what to do with that customer, in real-time, across a growing number of products, services and channels (mobile, online, call center, branches) is no mean feat.

So how do banks decide what an individual customer needs at the exact moment she logs on to the website, phones the call center, opens the mobile banking app, or walks into the branch? One of the largest banks in the US set out to answer that question using marketing optimization. Their goal was to integrate their marketing communications, in real time, and provide the best customer experience with every interaction across channels.

An executive in the bank's customer analytics group shares five key lessons they learned along the way – and their vision for the future:

  1. It’s a long term commitment (they’ve been at it 5 years) and the tech build is the easy part. “If you lose a key team member along the way, you have to re-educate a new or existing team member, and it’s a huge set back,” the bank's customer executive said. “Retention is key in an endeavor like this: You have to take care of your people and make sure they stick around."
  2. If the people that matter aren’t with you, nothing else matters. The bank’s executives were sold on the plan – that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the leaders of each channel felt they were the best at optimizing offers on their channel and were resistant to a new system. The team could have given a mandate: "You have to put out the offers we tell you, according to our marketing optimization model.” Instead, the optimization team wisely made an offer: “Let us take a 25 percent population test case, run an optimization and quantify the results.” When the channel leaders saw the undeniable improvement in response rates, they got on board.
  3. If you can’t agree on what success looks like, prepare for a long winter. If you tell someone in card sales that selling a card to this customer isn’t the most profitable move, they’re not going to care. Their objective is to sell cards. The team had to instead present the cost of one activity versus another and the cost to the business. Once they had that information, they were able to work with the business units to move forward with what was best for the bank as a whole.
  4. Make sure your plan is heavy on what you can do now, not on selling what the machine will do. You want to build your system to do many great things – but you have to provide the right balance of doing and building. For example, when a customer came in to the bank to speak with an associate, the associate entered the person’s name into the system, and the system spit out a ton of data – up to four screens' worth: way too much for associates to process when they were trying to service customers. The team used the marketing optimization system to provide a solution: One short, targeted message of customer stats for associates. Replacing four screens with one message gave associates the best starting point for speaking with (and selling to) customers. This bank executive's advice? Have someone on your team who’s using the marketing optimization capabilities fix little problems along the way. It builds credibility and helps prove the value of the system.
  5. Know who’s driving – and how many spare keys exist. “It’s vital to know the inputs into your optimization routines,” he said. “If you don’t know what’s going on with your inputs, you might think that everything is great – but you may not be getting the data needed to get the best answer for your customers.”

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