Changing the Game: Customer Experience as the New Soul of Marketing

Ron Batisan, Vice President, UnionBank

Ron Batisan, Vice President, UnionBank

It was just recent years ago when Union Bank of the Philippines established a Customer Experience Group composed of few Customer Experience Designers and of course a CXO (Chief Customer Experience Officer). The team was formed to address the ever changing needs of our customers making sure that the experiences in each touch-pointis well curated and designed according to our customers’ lifestyle, values and behavior.

It was a tough journey for me as I was assigned to transform the customer experience of our branches. We started with a rigorous research process – interviews with our existing customers, focus group discussions, surveys, understanding our own data and benchmarking with other industries not just banks. We did a 360 degree situation analysis. We uncovered so many pain points and these helped us a lot in solving compelling customer issues. We developed a CX framework that will transform the bank’s space, processes and most importantly the people. We identified our target market – the customers of the future and our existing customers.

To be very conservative with this endeavor, we did an experiment first in one of our branches in 2017. So we identified a lab, our biggest branch in Ayala Avenue, Makati City. We called it The Ark simply because it is the banking-equivalent of Noah’s Ark. It was envisioned to bring customers to the future of banking wherever it may be. It is a bridge between offline to online. In just 9 months of applying agile project management, The Ark was built and was dubbed as the first fully digital bank branch in the Philippines. It has become UnionBank’s award-winning, fully digital and paperless bank branch. Transactions and product applications were digitized and made straight through. This equated to a lot of savings. We called our people Branch Ambassadors as they encompass transaction processing, teaching our customers to use self-service machines and converting our clients to digital via UnionBank Online (Retail), MSME Banking for small businesses and The Portal for large corporations. They have been instrumental in driving our customers to digital channels removing the need to go to our branches for basic bank transactions. And not only that, they have also become our sales force selling insurance products, credit and debit cards, and other bank products and services. The appropriate technology and solutions elevated customer experience by enabling our branches to streamline processes and deliver faster, more efficient services to our clients. The Ark has become a venue for client events as well which we consider a new acquisition and customer engagement touch point. With all of these benefits in one branch, the most obvious next step was to replicate these in other branches.

Fast forward to 2022 from just one, we are on our way to end the year with 200 Arks all over the Philippines. Use of self-service machines, paperless straight through branch transactions, download of UB Online app, MSME app and The Portal have tremendously grown and have contributed to the bank’s bottom line by either adding more customers and growing their relationship with us or significant reduction in operating expenses.

The results were overwhelming but the journey was not as easy as it looks. It was very difficult especially transforming people and that includes our customers. There were hesitations and complaints when we introduced the Digital Transaction Portal (DTP) since some customers were already accustomed to paper receipts and they just simply didn’t want to change. Affirming our customers that no one gets left behind we followed their requests at the onset but eventually our Branch Ambassadors were able to convince them the value of digital through patience and persistence. We learned that it is essential to onboard stakeholders and involve them in crafting solutions. To date, we have been processing millions of paperless transactions per year in our branches and our customers love it. Our Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction Rating in the branches are one of the highest in the industry. We continuously dig our customers’ comments and feedback which we consider as goldmine of insights – our major source to make sound data driven decision making so we can offer relevant and responsive solutions to their needs.

"The appropriate technology and solutions elevated customer experience by enabling our branches to streamline processes and deliver faster, more efficient services to our clients"

Data significantly influence crafting UnionBank’s superior customer experiences. We don’t design the experiences based on hunches or our own opinions. The customers are always our main source of insights. Data science, artificial intelligence and similar tools help us view our customers more comprehensively. These even allow us to anticipate their needs before they even realize it. Utilizing these intelligent technologies enable CX practitioners to become pro-active and think beyond the box.

Moreover, with the dynamic changes in consumer behavior because of the accelerated shift to digital, financial solutions providers should continue to be at pace, introducing measures that will enable familiarity for customers, as they also explore new and emerging digital fronts, such as cryptocurrency and the metaverse. However as a financial institution we believe that we should always operate in a sense that the path should still be safe with all these new things that are happening. The basic concept of marketing should be considered, where we need to follow whatever is relevant to the customer.

At present, the CX Team of UnionBank has grown from just 5 to more than 50 CX officers. The team has implemented the most important innovations of the bank that paved way for international and local recognitions, significant increase in new customers, very engaged existing customers, millions of operating expense reductions and many more. This is what makes me believe that CX is now the new soul of every marketing organization.

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