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How Vanguard uses data to deepen relationships with clients

  • Carrie Bolton is Vanguard's head of digital and client analytics.
  • She spoke at the Tradestreaming Money 2016 conference in November.
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How Vanguard uses data to deepen relationships with clients

A lot of attention is given to user acquisition, but some financial firms are similarly focused on creating stronger bonds with existing customers. This is much bigger than retention — it’s about building deeper relationships with clients to better serve them with products and services throughout their lifecycle.

That’s actually part of money manager Vanguard’s core purpose: ‘to take a stand for all investors, to treat them fairly, and give them the best chance for investment success.’ Carrie Bolton, Vanguard’s head of digital and client analytics, joined us at the Tradestreaming Money 2016 conference to explore how her firm uses data as part of a strategic program to better serve its customers.

Make insights operational

Companies are awash in data, but too many times, companies run isolated business intelligence projects that don’t result in actual change. Getting to the data is just one step of a strategic program for real transformation. Bolton recommends connecting the people in charge of data and analytics with the point of sale and service delivery teams. She calls this moving from actionable to operational insights. These strategic projects must test everything and map things back to the firm’s strategy. That way the whole organization is aligned to better serve its customers.

Vanguard used to provide one overarching website experience to all its customers. Young couples saving to buy a first home saw the same screens that a sophisticated investor with millions of dollars of investments saw. After looking at the data, Bolton’s team decided there was an opportunity to create more personalized interactions with Vanguard customers.

“The hardest and most fun part of the project was determining which experiences to give to different people,” she said. “That takes a lot of organizational structure. There are a lot of different people who own customers across the organization and that’s where having the strategic project helped.”

Connect quantitative to qualitative

Data and analytics work can’t be done from an ivory tower. Marketing and service teams must consider real customer viewpoints, which means they must go out and get them. Bolton’s team identifies what she calls ‘customer moments of truth’, which are really impactful parts of the customer lifecycle that must be met with consideration and care. “Intensity of situations impact memory,” she explained. “If a customer is going through a moment of crisis, she will remember exactly how a company responded to them.”

Vanguard spends a lot of time training reps to identify these moments of crisis and ensuring front line employees have the tools and authority to make things right for customers.

Customer feedback should be placed front and center throughout the organization to make it available to all people who interact with clients. When staff is exposed to these concepts, data and analytics teams can use their colleagues’ feedback when addressing how to solve customer problems. Vanguard’s technical help group reads through all customer feedback, triages problems and responds to clients. This group has proven to be a good source of feedback and an active pool of new ideas to test for the organization.

Submissions to technical help tend to come from frustrated customers. To get past the complaints to more nuanced customer feedback, Bolton recommends using an online market research community. These ongoing panels are hand populated with customers and prospects that participate in surveys, ideation sessions, help prioritize ideas, and can provide feedback to marketing campaigns.

“It’s a really neat way to tap into a group of people and tends to create even more engaged customers over time,” she said.

Build analytics talent

To make continuous improvements, data and analytics projects need to be sustainable. Bolton encourages financial institutions to develop a core team that understands the nuts and bolts of its customer data. Senior leaders can help mentor this process and build skillsets by encouraging employee experimentation, including putting them on tough stretch assignments. Good analysts are motivated by challenging problems.

“We look for analysts who have good interpersonal skills, so that they can work with marketing,” she admitted. “One thing that’s worked well for us at Vanguard is bringing in senior analysts from the outside who have the technical skills and backfilling with junior analysts who tend to have more domain knowledge and know the data really well.”

Big data and analytics offer banks and investment companies the opportunity to better personalize products and services to delight customers. But it doesn’t come easy. Leveraging the power of such a program requires strong will and discipline at the operational level to make it happen.

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