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Ulster Bank pioneers artificial intelligence to understand its business customers better
For many businesses, servicing existing customers is more cost-effective than engaging with new prospects. Customer expectations are continually growing and evolving, and with ever-increasing digitalisation in all areas of modern living, financial services have to respond to what their customers want and how they wish to be served. “We offer various different savings, insurance, and credit solutions, so we need to know which product offerings are suited to which customers,” said Damien Judge, Head of Business Commercial Excellence at Ulster Bank.
As a former business banking customer, Judge draws on his own experiences to ensure the bank blazes a trail in service excellence. “When I was working in the family business, I found it really frustrating that I had to have the same conversations over and over again with different people at a competing bank. Businesses want to work with financial services companies that understand – and remember – their challenges and goals,” he said.
Enabling sustainable growth through greater customer insights
To meet business customers needs and boost loyalty, Judge had helped Ulster Bank turn customer relationship management into a science. Relationship managers are provided with product and service options that each customer is most likely to be interested in. “Using in-depth customer information, analytics, and AI, we can take a more informed approach that will help us respond to what our customers expectations are, and improve their overall customer journey,” said Judge.
Ulster Bank employs over 3,000 people and serves 1.9 million personal and business customers across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, its aim is to be the first for customer service, trust, and advocacy by 2020.
“External business is thriving with the Irish economic uplift,” explained Judge. “We want to make sure we’re working with the right business customers to ensure sustainable growth. And that means understanding them better so we can take a more informed and targeted approach.”
Maximising the potential of CRM with AI
In January 2017, Judge decided to blaze a trail at the bank by enriching how relationship managers and their colleagues use CRM as part of their daily routine. A six-month project was launched to completely redesign the Salesforce platform. This involved approaching end users to and working through their pain points.
Following a comprehensive review, culminating in a data cleansing initiative and Trailhead training for staff, Sales Cloud with the Lightning interface and Salesforce Einstein went live to over 500 relationship managers, assistants, and analysts in June 2017.
“Understanding and refining our CRM data was critical to our success; and gaining the trust and confidence of our end users was a key component,” said Judge. “As a cloud-based solution, Salesforce also enables us to stay in control of development and avoid any issues with scalability.”
Understanding and meeting customer needs
Each customer record contains information that is key to identifying customer needs, such as the products they had with us historically, and what their future requirements could be. “Before client meetings, relationship managers had to spend time extracting customer data,” said Judge. “Now they can simply print off a 360-degree view of a customer on a PDF featuring the data we capture in Sales Cloud, which makes them better equipped for client meetings.”
To help relationship managers know what products to offer to which customers, Ulster Bank has developed a pioneering Next Best Product (NBP) engine. Developed in partnership with Atos on Heroku and Einstein, the engine provides a unique insight into cross-selling opportunities by analysing a business customer’s activity with other financial institutions. “By combining analytics with machine learning, we can predict what products and services customers are most likely to need,” said Judge. “A more targeted approach increases relevance and customer satisfaction.”
As a Trailblazer for AI, Judge already has plans for another initiative: a Next Best Action engine that will calculate whether a customer has the optimum products for their business, and suggests alternatives. This will improve the customer experience and help relationship managers better meet their needs.
Spending more time with customers
The bank’s relationship managers spend a lot of time travelling to face-to-face meetings with customers; optimising their time away from the office is key. “More than 200 relationship managers use the Salesforce1 Mobile App to record their activities, update opportunities, and review customer information,” said Judge. “Instead of having to return to their desks to input data, they can spend more time having valuable conversations with customers.”
Eliminating the need for manual performance calculations has also helped to free up relationship manager time. “Sales Cloud dashboards show at-a-glance KPIs such as meetings held, opportunities closed, and opportunities lost as well as progress against targets at an individual and overall level,” explained Judge. The senior management team uses this information to understand the pipeline, forecast and where customer journeys can be improved. For example, by digging deeper into the data, they can understand the reasons behind lost opportunities and whether or not the pipeline is strong enough.