"Banking is a commodity," says Salisa Hanpanich, executive vice president of strategic marketing and branding for Thailand's Krungsri Bank. That's a problem for Krungsri -- and just about every other bank in the world -- because in commodity categories, products, services, and brands seem interchangeable. And as a result, it's difficult for a bank to stand out from its competitors.
You can't deliver simplicity if your processes are very complicated.
Many banks try to differentiate themselves by touting their outstanding service. But when everybody does that, no one actually stands out. So Salisa and her team went in a different direction. They spent time and effort to find out what their customers really wanted. After discovering that for general customers, banking is somewhat daunting and complicated, they decided that simplicity in banking would be Krungsri's differentiator.
As it turns out, making things simple is hard work. Changing the bank's brand promise -- and delivering on it -- required a completely different strategy, which in turn required the bank to overhaul how it was engaging its customers and employees. Krungsri couldn't have done it without employee buy-in from top to bottom, which made simplicity possible to promise -- and a whole lot easier to deliver.
Gallup Business Journal: Other banks may want to make banking simple for their customers. But few actually have taken that goal to heart like Krungsri Bank. How did your bank -- and its employees -- approach this challenge?
Salisa Hanpanich: We believe that all successes start with our people, from the inside out instead of from the outside in. We need to start with the Krungsri team first so we can provide a consistent experience for the customer.
We have seventeen thousand employees throughout the country, so when we're building our brand, the service those employees provide is the most important thing that differentiates us from other banks. That's why our management team thought that we needed to measure both customer and employee engagement. We started with CE11 [Gallup's customer engagement metric] a year before we began measuring employee engagement. Now, 47% of our customers are fully engaged, and another 25% are engaged.
Is it as difficult for Thai banks to differentiate themselves from the competition as it is for banks in other countries?
Salisa: It's difficult everywhere, because banking services are almost like commodities. But we can still differentiate in the way we deliver benefit to our customers. That's why our brand promise is focused on simplicity. It's a customer benefit, and we believe that simplification is lacking in the banking industry.
Banking is still very complicated. People who work in banking are always thinking within the industry, and in sophisticated ways. So anything communicated or delivered to the market sounded complicated. But we can simplify those things at the customer touchpoints. That's Krungsri's brand promise.
Tell me about that.
Salisa: First, we communicate in a way that is clear, simple, and easy to understand. We try not to use banking words; we connect to customers through the simplest ways of communication. The products and services were designed to make things very simple to the end customer: swipe and sign, no need to be hassled, no need to fill in forms, things like that.
We also retain our warm and friendly character, which is unique and admired among banks in Thailand. Here, customers often feel that they're smaller than their bank. When customers go to their bank, they need to prepare themselves; they look up to the bank, and they are intimidated when they go to the bank to borrow. But at Krungsri, we try to be their friends, and we use simple words and are not too complicated. We deliver simplicity and we communicate with simplicity, our products are designed to be simple, and we're friendly. That's our brand promise.
How does having engaged employees help Krungsri deliver on that promise?
Salisa: When you ask customers what's most important to them, simplification is not the most important -- customers always prefer accessibility and service. But everyone in the market has that as their brand promise, so no one really stands out among the crowd. But we look at things differently. We want to provide engaging service above anything else, because that's most important for creating engaged customers. Only engaged employees can deliver on a brand promise.
In 2010, 33.1% of our branches were optimized, and now 71.3% are. ["Optimized" branches are those in the top quartile on both Gallup's customer and employee engagement metrics.] So yes, having engaged employees helps very much.
Are there other ways you can see that employee engagement is improving?
Salisa: I can see that engagement is increasing from many things. I do little things like checking Instagram, and when employees put up pictures of themselves in their Krungsri shirts, I can see they feel being proud to be part of Krungsri, which is exciting. In the past, they weren't that engaged, but now they tell me they feel proud to tell everyone that they work here. I think that's quite important.
How did you teach employees about your brand promise and how to deliver on it?
Salisa: We've always been a very efficient, streamlined organization. That helped, because first we had to make things simple on the back end, especially in the consumer loan process. You can't deliver simplicity if your processes are very complicated. We knew this would be a big project -- making simplicity the brand promise, then changing the products and service, the touchpoints and communication, the way we communicate, the culture.
So we developed a new way we work called "the simplicity framework." It's a way of thinking and working: Start from the inside, develop a solution, then try it and implement it. We developed a training, coaching, and workshop program for all employees and a two-day session for senior employees who drive the projects in our organization. Our branch team has created a project called "The Krungsri Way," which revamped branch management to ensure that branches are implementing engagement and delivering on the brand promise -- and that employees are living the brand promise day to day. We have a speaker who goes to different locations talking about simplicity in the organization. The human resources team, the branch team, and the transformation team have been driving this change throughout the organization for the past three years.
But the most important thing is not the plan or its design -- it is the actions of employees. Just yesterday, I was talking to my team, and I said that brand management is not about the key visual or the copy wording or the product -- it's everything, because everything is part of the brand experience. It's not only the way we talk or the way we dress, but it's also our thinking. People are the brand promise. We can't deliver the brand promise unless we live it.
-- Interviewed by Jennifer Robison