When Beth Johnson, chief experience officer at Citizens Financial Group, works with her digital and mobile banking teams, she pushes them to think beyond norms — to forget they know which way is up — because that’s how technology innovations happen.
And while many tasks the $187.5 billion Citizens is automating target lengthy processes and help deliver a more frictionless customer experience, Johnson also reminds her teams that, for both individual and business clients, banking is emotional. She sees promise in artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics to deliver a more personalized, less frustrating customer experience.
Bank Automation News: What standout automations in customer experience has Citizens implemented during the last year?
Beth Johnson: Like many, we’ve been investing extensively in chatbots and capabilities through multiple channels to respond to customers’ needs and ensure that when they have simple questions, we can satisfy those needs very quickly. That’s been quite effective for us. We’ve seen our chat resolutions continue to accelerate as we’re able to add AI and learning to understand our customers and fulfill their needs. I think investment in that is only going to continue.
We’ve also been focused on back-end processes and how to use analytics data to automate end to end. We’ve been partnering with many of our lending businesses to be able to link how we target different customers through deep analytics directly to offers we give them, and the pricing we’re able to give them for lending products, which then feeds directly into origination systems.
We use data models to estimate income and prefill other things all the way to the back office, so we don’t have to ask for information like your home value that we can get through other tools. We actually took a process that was 65 days on average in the industry during busy times — best case was usually about 30 days — and our target is now down to 10 days, and soon to be under a week, where we can fulfill on this process.
It’s about linking different components together to have one seamless model, and I think that’s going to be revolutionary with some different opportunities within banking.
BAN: What promising innovative technology is on your radar screen?
Johnson: One thing is the continued use of deep analytics tools and capabilities and AI to drive our business through insight and personalization. But this link to the back end as well and streamlining processes — those who can do that are going to be the winners, and some innovative companies are even starting to leverage that with blockchain. Can you really streamline processes throughout?
Separately, we’re also keeping a close eye on 5G. As that becomes more prevalent, are there going to be new capabilities that come into play where we can offer customers faster and easier services?
BAN: What technology projects is Citizens focusing on to improve customer experience?
Johnson: We’ve been focused on our human-centered design capabilities. We launched Green Pixel Studios about three or four years ago, which is our own user experience-user interface capability within Citizens, and have built that out. We also just built a design studio in our Westwood, Mass., building.
When we design, the team is focused on reducing the cognitive load on our customers, and I find it fascinating. I was just talking with our team about how we use cards with customers to say things like, “Hey, you’re thinking about your financial planning” — so group things together for us in the natural language you would use. For example, nobody uses “wealth.”
We all talk “wealth” and “banking,” but there are very few people who actually consider themselves wealthy. What we’ve found is our digital and mobile banking tools need to navigate and communicate in the way customers think about things in their language, which is really more investment oriented. That human-centered design capability on top of new technologies is really going to be the unlock for winners in the marketplace going forward.
BAN: What’s one key thing to remember about the banking customer experience of today and possibly tomorrow?
Johnson: As we talk about digital transformation, as we talk about analytics, as we talk about cool new technologies and ways to use AI to automate, it’s easy to get caught up in and focused on the technology. But if you take a step back, the way we think about money is incredibly emotional and personal.
The more I talk to individual customers or commercial clients that have started a business and want to grow it, I realize just how emotional a part of our lives banking is, because it is about what that money means to us.
When we leverage new technologies or new ways of operating, we have to do it with that in mind — not just what we’re delivering, but how we’re tapping into the emotions of our customers as well.
BAN: What is something people might not know about you?
Johnson: I’m an avid reader, and like lots of avid readers out there, I read a book every week or two, and occasionally it’s a business book. Occasionally it’s what I call a “quality” book, something on literature or from Oprah’s Book Club, something like that.
But I’m a huge lover of science fiction. My very favorite science fiction book is “Ender’s Game,” which was written in the 1980s by Orson Scott Card. Think about that timing. There’s a great scene where Ender is playing a game in space against other kids, and in order to win, he redefines what “up” means. With innovation and changes happening in technology, I think it’s important for my team to bring diverse views, because you don’t necessarily know which way is up — in space, up could be any direction.