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By John Sadowski, Executive Vice President & CIO, Sandy Spring Bank [NASDAQ:SASR]

John Sadowski, Executive Vice President & CIO, Sandy Spring Bank [NASDAQ:SASR]

1. Strong customer relationships and customer loyalty have proven to be key elements to successful businesses. What current trends do you see shaping customer experience management (CXM)?

One of the trends shaping CXM is enabling clients to truly be in charge of their service experience. A great example is Amazon.com. Amazon is one of the progenitors of CXM and continues to shape perceptions of what to expect from a customer service standpoint—everything should be fast, effortless, accurate, and cost-competitive

In banking, a similar approach is more difficult but our organization is having success. Bank products and services are highly commoditized making it difficult to sustain differentiation. Furthermore, compliance laws in a heavily regulated financial sector can create hurdles when dealing with clients. For the past 12 years, Sandy Spring Bank has been recognized by Forbes as one of the 50 Most Trustworthy Financial Companies in America. As reflected by this recognition, the trust and loyalty we have built originates from our unique culture that truly values our employees and encourages them to become lifelong advocates for clients. This is how we approach CXM which helps differentiate us in a highly competitive banking market.

We believe CXM success is dependent on a corporate culture focused on the client experience, which starts with a C-Suite that demonstrates that focus and commitment. At Sandy Spring Bank, our client experience work had its genesis with our executives and is now integrated into everything we do, technology included, which helps drive innovation. This is foundational to our success and growth.

2. What tools does your company use to enhance your CXM?

Consumers have many choices when it comes to banking and financial services. Moreover, today’s consumers are more diverse in how they want to experience our services than ever before. To be successful, we engage consumers in the channel of their choosing including mobile, desktop, telephone, and human interaction. We also utilize data analytics efficiently and effectively to improve our ability to offer services that are relevant and timely. This is achieved by leveraging all available data and creating a mosaic of client activity.

"In today’s CXM world, the most important role CIOs play is connecting clients’ emotional and rational needs with companies’ services and products"

At Sandy Spring Bank, the highest level of client engagement equals their level of loyalty. We measure something called the client engagement index. This measurement focuses on holistic client relationships, not just meeting respective sales goals. We organize and invest in technical support to help us really listen to clients and help us create solutions to meet their needs. This supports our philosophical approach to not be about deals and transactions but rather lifelong interactions with our clients.

Our employees’ experience is an essential element to our CXM. We have built a coordinated and comprehensive approach to engaging all employees to improve the client experience. One of the core ideals is empathy. Through monthly meetings, routine trainings and a consistent company-wide dialogue, employees work together to understand what it means to truly empathize with our clients and each other. In doing so, we relate better to our clients and fellow bankers, build stronger relationships, and ultimately provide clients what they need and make a difference in their lives.

Some other tools in support of our CXM efforts include Salesforce CRM software that provides employees a comprehensive, lifelong view of each client. We also conduct and analyze client surveys to better understand their experience and, in turn, create solutions to better meet their needs. Additionally, we practice journey mapping as a way to understand what clients experience, particularly their pain points, to help us improve our services and offerings.

We continue to invest in our people and technology to support clients and employees, which ultimately results in increased revenue.

3. How will successfully addressing visualization and data help organizations take full advantage of CXM?

Visualization and data help IT and Marketing understand the client experience and their emotional connection to the company. On an operational level, data helps us understand how clients move through sales and marketing channels, where we lose them, where we capture them, and how we can predict which clients are most likely to be receptive to our messages. Conversely, it helps us identify clients most at risk of leaving us for the competition.

Additionally, data helps us identify each client’s financial needs, which has made us more successful in driving value to our business lines. We are learning better ways to parse data into actionable information and provide it to those who can affect change. In most instances, it is a unique combination of data from various sources that fulfills these objectives. We continuously look for ways to secure more relevant data because, the more data we have at our disposal at the start of each analysis, the more targeted and effective the execution of that analysis will be.

4. With the increase in digital banking, what benefits are you seeing from digital banking?

The most obvious benefit is lower costs associated with digital banking that can, in turn, translate to better rates for clients. On a discrete level, digital banking provides better insight into clients’ payment preferences and service opportunities (e.g. a series of transactions at Home Depot can translate into a home equity line of credit offer). The same data and systems provide our employees a 360-degree view of a client’s financial picture which helps us better understand our clients.

Lastly, digital banking provides convenience and the elimination of non-value added steps in a client’s experience, e.g. mobile deposit rather than driving to a branch.

5. What are the major issues for CIOs at this point in time, specifically as it relates to the CXM?

As it relates to CXM, the issues most challenging for me are finding the right mix of channels for clients. The options are so vast and varied. Banks have been good at creating new service channels, but not so good at removing those when better solutions become available. Look at payments: cash, check, wire, ACH, debit, credit, online banking, telephone banking, mobile banking, P2P, etc. The result of technological improvements and expenses associated with a cafeteria menu of services is cost prohibitive. CIOs need a strategy to contain costs across channels, while ensuring  client expectations are met and exceeded.

Secondly, our clients are survey fatigued, either by volume or negative experiences. Here’s what happened to me to illustrate this point. While waiting for my newly purchased car to be prepped, the car dealer told me “he wouldn’t be able to eat if I didn’t give him a 10” on an upcoming survey from the manufacturer. This type of data becomes worthless. I don’t want our surveys to be perceived in a negative way.

Lastly, matching our internal data with our external data to tell an all-inclusive story is an ongoing challenge.

6. What is your advice for budding technologists as it relates to CXM?

It’s important to learn from CXM industry leaders. Understand emotional intelligence and why it’s critical in all aspects of business. The ability to have empathy and understand what clients (and employees) are going through will help you tremendously. I see technology having a major impact on CXM in the years to come, such as augmented and virtual reality—VR for service providers. It’s essential to recognize the emotional impact your work can have on clients. Resist being consumed by data. In today’s CXM world, the most important role CIOs play is connecting clients’ emotional and rational needs with companies’ services and products. When clients buy consistently, it enables companies to grow in a sustainable manner.