The word ‘engagement’ is as common today in C-suite and boardroom discourse as ‘share’ and ‘analytic’. But what does it really mean? And where does it start?

The digital era is providing powerful new ways to engage. But the tools are only as good as those designing, developing and deploying them.

In organizations across the world, much is spent on ‘engagement’: defining it, tracking it, revealing it, analyzing it and improving it. Most of this is either customer or employee engagement. In my experience, much could be saved by having engaged leaders – leaders who engage with customers and leaders who engage with employees.

One such engaged leader is the Head of Digital1at a traditional, iconic bank that until recently, rated lowest among banks in customers’ digital experience. This bank (Bank of New Zealand) now leads the New Zealand banking sector in customer digital experience.2

I was intrigued. What made this transformation possible? I met with Stephen Bowe, BNZ’s ‘digital catalyst’, to ask just that.

Unsurprisingly, I got the impression that when a leader articulates a compelling purpose that has ‘the customer’ at its core and engages with customers, employees and cross-functionally through an organization, anything is possible.

While business success is always a collective effort, it does start somewhere. It is hard to imagine business success without a compelling reason to be doing things and a belief system including the following:

  • Customers matter
  • What customers think of a service provider counts –  as does the customer ‘experience’
  • “Moments of Truth” deserve attention – those ‘make or break’ moments in the service (or dis-service) experience where customer perception is at its most fragile3,4
  • Employees are instrumental in developing and delivering technology solutions that drive customer engagement

When there is a clear and compelling purpose, work has inherent meaning driving a whole new level of commitment, ingenuity and contribution. A compelling purpose can challenge traditional organizational blockers to success. These are beliefs that came through during our discussion.

As a customer of three banks in as many decades, I was encouraged listening to Stephen speak about how:

  • Banks can be more than financial service providers to customers – this digital team has redefined the nature of the relationship
  • Banks have not traditionally been responsive to customer needs but this is changing
  • Banks have traditionally focused on transactions, not people; and yes, this is changing

Customer ‘usability sessions’ that reveal how customers view their money and innovation days (when the digital team disperses across town to talk with customers) ensure this digital team wraps their technology solutions around human beings and their lives.

The impression I got was that a digital team member working with this leader will find their work inherently meaningful. A human being who believes their work counts is not only happier but is also likely to be healthier. Indeed, Stephen aspires to have his team do the best work of their career with this team.

This digital team, with such engaged leadership, is likely to see diverse functional units operate collaboratively, from one shared view of what’s most important. Unlike many agile teams that find themselves out of sync with rigid, legacy organization systems, I have faith that a customer-centric approach drives cross-functional collaboration. “A key feature of digitized IT is the commitment to building networks that connect devices, objects and people.”5 (This article goes on to describe cross-functional IT teams that automate systems and optimize processes.)

When you have engaged leaders, articulating a powerful purpose that impacts positively on the lives of customers, you engage not only customers but employees across an organization.  With the flow-on effect to enhanced reputation, you are also likely to drive investment i.e. shareholder engagement.

Achieving the #1 banking customer digital experience in New Zealand is clearly not the end of this story. I got the impression this leader is driven to achieve more and is mindful of the work still to be done.

Challenges include:

  • How do we get more customers using more of what is available digitally so they are good with their money?
  • How can we keep connected with our customers, keep them connected with their money and make their digital experience even better?

These challenges will keep this team striving, driven by an aspirational quest to be better, do better and continue to transform each customer’s experience of banking.

I was fully engaged. That’s leadership.


1 “Stephen Bowe of Bank of New Zealand: The digital catalyst” by Divina Paredes (CIO New Zealand) 27 September, 2016.
2 “Your customers’ digital experiences define you” by Divina Paredes (CIO New Zealand) 11 July, 2016.
3 “The ‘moment of truth’ in customer service” by Marc Beaujean, Jonathan Davidson, and Stacey Madge.. McKinsey Quarterly. February 2006
4 Carlzon, Jan. Moments of Truth. Ballinger Publishing Company. USA.1987.
5 “What ‘digital’ really means” by By Karel Dörner and David Edelman. McKinsey Quarterly. July 2015

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