Devika Vittal is the Director of Customer Experience at UAE Exchange. She is a seasoned customer experience professional with a demonstrated history of working in the financial services industry. Her expertise in this space helped UAE Exchange win two Customer Experience Benchmarking Index Awards for 2014. As a brand, UAE Exchange believes in ‘Going that extra mile’ for its customers by providing them with prompt and customised services as per their financial needs. Devika and her work are embodiments of this spirit!
About UAE Exchange
Founded in 1980, UAE Exchange is one of the leading global remittances, foreign exchange, and payment solutions brands in the world. Headquartered in Abu Dhabi, the brand has spread its footprint across 31 countries in 5 continents with close to 800 branches. The primary differentiator of UAE Exchange is its customer-centric approach. Its customer-centricity reflects in its core values: integrity, commitment, empowerment, and care.
It was an honour to interview Devika and receive her outstanding responses to the following questions.
As a professional, you have contributed across geographies in customer-centric roles. Let us know the role CX has played in shaping your career as a professional?
As a CX professional, I believe what differentiates a successful project is the thinking that goes into it right at the time when it is constructed to meet an objective. The construct itself has a tremendous impact on the outcome rather than just the conduct. So, I ensure that all projects I drive are designed around the stakeholder, so as to get their continued patronage, scalable enough to transcend networks, and demonstrate consistent performance results. This approach supports the leadership vision of developing a ‘customer-first’ mindset across the organization, involving its every employee, right from frontline customer agent to the backend support executive.
During my extensive tenure with financial institutions of all scales and sizes, I have been fortunate enough to gain experience in operations- both retail and corporate, business development, marketing, and customer experience. CX has played a vital role in transforming me into an ardent operational efficiency advocate, who can discern opportunity in every aspect of business, be it enhancing the efficiency of a customer process or bringing in technology innovation to customer engagement.
I am also privileged to be associating with the Dubai Quality Awards, an initiative of the Dubai Department of Economic Development, as an assessor from 2012. This journey has also helped me in my continuous learning of the EFQM (European Foundation for Quality Management) Model and its best adoption at various leading organizations in the Middle East.
In your diverse career, you would have led multiple initiatives to impact customer experience. Which is one such initiative you are really proud of championing? What was the problem it was addressing and what results were you able to achieve?
I have joined my present organization on the cusp of its growth that allowed me to explore unchartered territories and establish quality milestones. When I reflect back on them, I find my experience highly gratifying and fulfilling. These initiatives cut across the spectrum of consumer engagement and differentiated services for optimum revenue realization. One such initiative that stands close to my heart is that of Customer Month.
This is special for me because it has demonstrated in fiscal terms, the value and spirit of customer experience. It has reaffirmed that CX is cardinal and practically applicable across all our customer segments – from high net worth to the low-income, SMEs to large corporates. It is about the spirit of celebrating the customer and bringing together the entire organization across geographies, responsibilities, and hierarchies to celebrate, improvise, and innovate for the customer. Our customer engagement is not just driven by retail branches across the globe. Rather, it is driven by innovation and improvisation across functions and processes. This helps prioritize the need of customers over anything else, enabling significant value addition to the entire value chain.
I am profoundly happy and proud to note that this initiative has attained a cult status within the organization. It has donned on an aura of a festival within the organization, and is today, owned and managed independently by teams across the globe. This, indeed, highlights the real essence of collaboration and consumer-first spirit. Having been able to institutionalize this from a nascent stage is worth a celebration for us who envisaged and cherished this initiative from its early beginnings.
It is particularly fulfilling to see the positive results of this initiative, some of which are better customer engagement, increased lifetime value, healthier fiscal results, and above all, an array of happy customers. All in all, this initiative was the cornerstone for CX projects for us.
Businesses are always caught up in initiatives that are already planned. In this endeavour to meet their existing KRAs, they find it difficult to prioritize an initiative that could create a major impact on the customer experience. How would you handle such a situation and get the buy-in of stakeholders?
This is a very practical question, so I would rather give an answer based on how I have been dealing with such scenarios instead of how I should be.
My approach to CX initiatives has been well-structured and comprehensive, especially for those which I see impacting business performance. Ultimately, it should translate to achieving one or more business priorities or objectives. We are inherently guided by the strong belief that we have to yield results which count for the organisation, whatever our roles may be. However, what might often be overlooked, is the fact that at the end of the day, what really matters is how it has added value to the customer, what is his take on the matter, as the one who is the sole and precious fuel for the business engine. So, when a customer experience initiative is well analysed and numerically proven to optimize the experience, it has to lead to increased customer engagement. Hence, it is imperative that such an initiative gets prioritised, which, in most cases, has not been a problem, even in the light of immediate short-term interests.
It is seen that a diligently planned and meticulously delivered CX initiative with visible and quantifiable impact, targeted to sustainably solve a well-analysed problem is easier to be prioritised over anything else. Onboarding the leadership team, key influencers, and stakeholders at an ideal stage of the initiative design coupled with a direct hotline with the top management to address issues real-time, have always been helpful to the cause. The key is also to optimally collaborate across the board and across the life-cycle of such an initiative. Last but definitely not the least, appropriately defining the value proposition, correctly scheduling and on-boarding the right stakeholder at the right time, and bias towards impactful and result-oriented action will always dispel any hurdle that may present itself in its course of execution.
What is your vision around customer experience at UAE Exchange? How will it evolve over the next couple of years? What new surprises can the customers expect?
To put in brief, we would see CX transitioning from an enabler of business to an absolute differentiator – business enabled by technology and by the two distinctly underlying themes of ‘high personalization’ and ‘value-driven simplification’. Let me elaborate on this further.
We have been successful in establishing superior and inclusive service experience as the core of our company’s value proposition. In future, we see it progressing in leaps and bounds to be more inclusive yet personalized, increasingly digital without losing sight on brick and motor excellence, and far more intuitive and simple.
The first and foremost part of our CX vision will continue to be focused on making customer experience a unique value proposition that would be a tangible brand differentiator for us across all the markets where we operate. Further, we believe CX will be the sustainable and economic driving force behind repeat business and revenue growth.
The second part of the CX vision is to continuously focus on gaining competitive advantage in markets where we operate through uniquely designed products and superior services to the customers. It would also help us acquire new and additional consumer segments.
We continue to explore and adopt technology of the times and implement it on real-life use cases to solve customers’ problems. Cognitive technologies customized to bring efficiencies and personalization to the consumer processes continue to be the mission that we are pursuing.
So, in short, customers can expect innovation that would be significantly better than what they have seen in the last decade or so across the industry as a whole, given that we are intentionally gearing up to serve the next generation of consumers as well, who are more mobile, agile, on the web, value-driven, and above all, profoundly informed.
What is your word of advice for a business trying to embark on the journey of customer centricity?
It is essential to clearly understand the context of the journey and map the magnitude of change required with the timebound priorities of the business. Clearly understanding the current phase of business and aligning customer experience priorities with that of business objectives remain the core of any CX transformation initiative of scale. This essentially means charting clearly the goal of transformation and its objectives with well-articulated temporal-linkages. It also includes further planning for actionable milestone-based projects to achieve the objectives. This calls for investing bandwidth judiciously while clearly drafting a framework for change. Such meticulous planning also helps in getting the leadership and in-principle stakeholder alignment – both of which are absolute mandates when bringing about such changes of magnitude.
In such an endeavour, it is imperative to focus on your own backyard first. So, it is important to have the basic structure crystallised, a process that can not only implement but also sustain the continuous process of innovation. This is the organizational culture of keeping the customer’s interest at the core of everything one does. It’s advisable to back this up with a comprehensive program running targeted projects bifurcated into quick wins (which is very important in building the momentum), structural enablement and tectonic innovations each with specific well-articulated contribution and relevance to the cause.
Also, while technology adoption remains the core of most transformations, it has to be in accordance with the dynamics of the organization and market segment it operates. For example, a process automation that might be a value-add for certain consumer segment or industry may be a relationship breaker for the other.
So, to paraphrase, contextual planning of a clearly defined and measurable purpose, cognizant to business objectives and dynamics backed by organizational alignment and leadership sponsorship with the potential to showcase time fragmented (short – medium – long-term) results remains key to the success of the journey.
Image courtesy: Bram Vanhaeren – HypeBea
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