The Customer Confidential Podcast
How does a multinational company accelerate improvements in customer experience, particularly digital improvements, while still meeting the unique needs of individual countries? This was the challenge facing UniCredit, a major banking group with operations across Europe—and the topic of my recent conversation with Francesco Vercesi, UniCredit’s head of Agile, practice sharing and customer service.
The answer, as his title implies, was to create a centralized Agile process, with product owners in each country empowered to set their own development priorities.
Francesco describes himself as neither an Agile practitioner nor a software engineer. Previously, he led the Group Stakeholder Insight function at UniCredit and served as chief operating officer for one of its bank units. Based on that experience, Francesco was tapped to lead UniCredit’s Agile efforts—developing a single prioritized backlog of projects across the organization but allowing each country to own the products. This served the needs of individual countries while highlighting customer needs that were common across the organization.
During our conversation, Francesco explained how observing customers has allowed UniCredit to create new banking systems that deliver real benefits. “What I like the most is that sometimes the feedback you have does not necessarily drive to the fact that the feature was poor,” he says. “Sometimes the feedback you have simply shows the customer having a bad moment, or they needed something different, or there was something that the team developing the feature could not address directly. But having this information allows us to close the loops and implement activity. You move everybody into problem-solving mode.”
He also learned that Agile requires UniCredit teams to embrace a steady stream of change in their daily work. “We understand that customer experience is a moving thing,” he says, meaning that each innovation or new standard of service almost immediately creates a need to step up to an even higher level. “I think the earlier we accept this, the easier it is.”
In the following excerpt, Francesco explains how Agile teams made up of people from different functional groups begin to coalesce around a new, customer-focused mission, creating a new sense of identity.
Rob Markey: To what extent do the teams develop their own identity, their own sense of belonging? One of my observations is that functional teams that work together over long periods of time—it can be a subgroup in IT, it can be a subgroup in risk management or in compliance—they develop a set of norms, a language, a team identity, you know, an esprit de corps. And when I’ve watched Agile teams in other organizations, they have developed a similar sense of team identity, even naming their team, naming their workspace, things like that.
Francesco Vercesi: Yeah, it happens here as well. Especially when we move from team-based Agile to a larger scale, I think we need to combine two dimensions of identity. One is to instill the individual team—the vertical. You know, the bigger domain where the team belongs. And you see it, you see that they need to form a squad, a team—like in sports where they play together. And, in fact, coaches here help them to build an identity where they are working together. Where I think the individual dimension still needs to be fed is at [the level of] capability, [of] practice.
Rob Markey: Yes!
Francesco Vercesi: You still need a developer to be able to talk to developers about things. And there the language is more the language of technical skills—
Rob Markey: —the functional expertise.
Francesco Vercesi: We are indeed building horizontal capabilities that are close to the functional ones, where we need to build practice ability. For instance, user experience is one of them, data is another one, coaching is another one.
So, I think we have to combine these two dimensions. One is the team: You need to know which team you belong to. You need to know what purpose you have. It’s interesting to see that the stronger the team, the earlier they will be able to talk about their purpose, their mission, as one team. But at the same time, I think we still need people for the individual [functional expertise] they have.
Rob Markey: Well, that’s the risk, isn’t it? One of the benefits of a functionally oriented organization is the expertise that develops. And when you break them into these Agile teams, and you embed them with people in other disciplines, you do run the risk of slowing down the sharing of expertise among members of the same kind of skill discipline.
Francesco Vercesi: Yeah, I think that’s a possible risk. To be honest, in the last few years we have seen an acceleration of practice sharing. Probably because one of the main initiatives we used to foster our digital strategy was best practice sharing. So we decided to have a platform where we would encourage people to share practices in identified areas. We stated what these areas were—it could be customer service, it could be data management, it could be consumer finance. Actually, the taxonomy of these practices was evolving around the strategy we had and the emerging opportunities. Then we asked any bank in the country to submit what they thought was a meaningful experience. And then we built a language to help us define what best practices were.
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