Girish Balasubramanian, Vice President and General Manager, Product Management, Operations and Analytics, Western Union, and Eric Markowitz, Head of Global and Digital Marketing, Western Union, discussed what it takes for a retail financial services company to build a successful digital brand in their keynote address to Argyle's CMO membership at the 2017 Leadership in Digital Marketing Forum in San Francisco on June 8. In their presentation, "From Retail to Digital – 4 Myths to Address While Building Out Your Business," the pair explored four myths that may prevent a company from achieving its digital goals.
According to Markowitz, Western Union previously put digital on the backburner. However, the company recognized the need to change to keep pace with today's always-on, always-connected consumers.
"No one was focused on digital as their full-time job," Markowitz said. "It was completely anecdotal and ad-hoc, and no one was incented on digital. If you're not incented on digital, then you're not focused on digital, and your digital experience will be lacking."
At the same time, Western Union collected a broad range of data. But this information alone provided limited insights that the company could use to build customer loyalty and retention.
"We had a lot of data, but it was all transactional data," Markowitz pointed out. "We had no illustrations behind those transactions that would allow us to get a deep understanding of our customers … and at the end of the day, no one knew that we had a digital business."
Ultimately, Western Union revamped its digital approach by focusing on finding ways to overcome the following myths:
1. Ecommerce Causes Cannibalization
Ecommerce presents both opportunities and challenges for all businesses, regardless of their size, stature or industry.
"Now, it's about clicks and bricks. It's how we go to market, and it's how we do more and get more and can be as effective as we can."
For Western Union, the company needed ecommerce to extend its reach. And with the right approach to digital, the business was able to provide exceptional customer experiences across multiple channels.
To achieve its digital goals, Western Union revamped its internal teams and sought ways to align its teams toward common aspirations.
"If we're not aligned internally, our customer experience is just going to be a mess," Markowitz stated. "For us, it was pretty clear that the world was moving toward digital."
Moreover, Western Union leveraged a combination of internal and external teams to brainstorm ideas and drive digital transformation at all levels of its operations.
"As you grow a new channel, you need to think about how much expertise you want from the outside and which internal folks you want on the team," Balasubramanian noted. "Because if you only have insiders, how you are going to get the external knowledge? And if you only have outsiders, how are you going to build trust?"
2. Margins Will Suffer
Although many companies will dedicate significant time and resources to build a digital strategy, it is important to note that margins are built and lost based on how a company constructs its digital plan.
At Western Union, the company sought gradual improvements and tracked data over an extended period of time. With this approach, the company was able to uncover ways to improve the digital experience across multiple channels.
In addition, Western Union provided its workers with the flexibility to drive innovation – something that proved to be exceedingly valuable. The company was able to discover unique ways to connect with customers digitally, and as a result, bring its company into the digital era.
3. The Focus Will Be on a Distinct, Digital-Only Experience
The digital experience is important, and a company must continue to explore ways to support its customers across all channels, at all times.
"If we're not aligned internally, our customer experience is just going to be a mess."
If a consumer suffers a poor experience with a brand on one channel, he or she may share information about this experience on many channels.
Conversely, a consumer who can enjoy a consistent experience time and time again – regardless of channel – may be more likely to continue to work with a particular brand. Thus, a company can provide memorable digital experiences that lay the foundation for unprecedented customer partnerships.
4. The Focus Will Be One Market Only
Western Union started small with its digital strategy, focusing exclusively on a single market at first. By doing so, the company was able to build trust with customers in one area, learn from its mistakes and scale its digital strategy accordingly.
Today, Western Union provides exceptional customer experiences both digitally and at its brick-and-mortar locations. The company constantly explores customer experience strategy improvements and will continue to do so in the years to come.
"Now, it's about clicks and bricks. It's how we go to market, and it's how we do more and get more and can be as effective as we can," Markowitz indicated.
Girish Balasubramanian is currently VP, Product Strategy, CEX and Analytics for Western Union's digital division. He is responsible for the end-to-end customer experience for Western Union's digital (web and mobile) money transfer services. During Girish’s 5-year tenure, Western Union’s digital money transfer services have seen significant growth in customers and transactions, and a 3x increase in revenue. Western Union is a leader in digital consumer money transfer, in addition to being a leader in retail cash-based money transfer.
Previously, Girish spent a number of years at PayPal in payments, funding mix and risk management leadership positions and helped the company diversify from a largely US and eBay-centric revenue stream to a majority international and off-eBay revenue stream. He managed product teams responsible for moving all of PayPal's global payment volume ($100+ B per year) and reducing the loss rate by 40%. He pioneered "test and learn" and continuous learning techniques at PayPal, creating tens of millions of dollars of demonstrable value, and new consumer-friendly payments experiences such as “Pay After Delivery.”
Girish started his business career in management consulting before co-founding a consumer insurance startup specializing in warranties and service plans. After a stint managing middleware products at BEA Systems, he entered the world of payments. He has a Ph. D. in Neuroscience and an M.S. in Electrical Engineering, both from U. C. Berkeley, and a B.S. in Physics from Caltech. He lives in the Bay Area with his family and enjoys running and yoga.
As Director of Global and Digital Marketing, Eric—alongside the global team he leads—is responsible for all marketing that drives global ecommerce revenue, customer acquisition, and retention. This includes SEO and App Store optimization, customer marketing—both in and outside of the Western Union app, customer analytics, performance marketing and brand strategy for digital customers, customer analytics and planning, and go-to-market strategy. Digital revenues have significantly increased during Eric’s tenure.
Prior to Western Union, Eric lead marketing and ecommerce efforts at large companies such as Symantec and Electronic Arts, and at smaller, venture-capital-funded start-ups. Eric received his MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management and his Bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York.