PNC Financial Services Group had plenty to celebrate in its latest quarterly results, including double-digit earnings growth and solid gains in commercial lending. But Chairman and CEO William Demchak has zeroed in on an area where the Pittsburgh company has room to grow: consumer banking.

Karen Larrimer, as head of retail banking and chief customer officer, is a key player in that effort. Her job is to lead the charge to cultivate customer loyalty and ultimately gain more wallet share. First, she focused on Net Promoter Scores as her gold standard for gauging customer loyalty. If customers love PNC, then they will recommend it, so it’s worth finding out what they love — or don’t love — about the bank, she reasoned. Larrimer took that a step further and turned to an employee Net Promoter Score to better gauge employees’
enthusiasm for their bank.

Larrimer also led the restructuring of PNC’s retail bank, moving small-business clients with revenues over $5 million into PNC’s corporate bank and eliminating a financial specialist role from the bank’s branch network. And she’s in charge of managing PNC’s Innovation Lab (or iLab), where the bank test-drives products before launching them in the branch.

Recently, Larrimer talked with American Banker about these efforts. The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

What have you learned so far from using Net Promoter Scores tied to customer and employee attitudes about the bank?

KAREN LARRIMER: Over the past year, we started to throw in what we call driver questions, to understand what would really drive a high score or a low score. That data is helping us get underneath what would cause a movement in the score and put in place what we call action planning. The groups that have the best results look at that data and put very specific actions around how we can use that data to get better at what we’re doing. It’s real-time feedback that we can respond to and get into action to fix, especially if we see something that isn’t right.

It’s early on to actually tell you any specific results because we’re still learning from it. But the strong belief that we’ve held as a company over the years is that strong employee engagement yields strong customer engagement and that ultimately benefits the bottom line, and that’s what we’re driving for, strong customer loyalty that will eventually improve relationships and improve the bottom line.

Can you share an example or two of something you’ve changed because of that?

Responding directly to customer feedback, we have made enhancements to our online banking navigation, developed changes to give customers easier ways to access their account information and redesigned the layout of to enhance our customers’ experience when navigating our site.

Inextricably linked
"Strong employee engagement yields strong customer engagement, and that ultimately benefits the bottom line," PNC's Karen Larrimer says in discussing her efforts to strengthen the bank's retail operations.

We’ve listened to our customers and made enhancements on the types of credit card rewards programs that they prefer as well as the ease in activating their rewards. We have also provided additional coaching and training for our bankers on how best to set and meet expectations on the time it takes to open an account, ensuring that there is more clarity around the time frame and communication with our customers.

Lastly, listening to direct employee feedback in our eNPS survey reinforced PNC’s move to introduce significant changes to our parental leave and adoption time off, short-term disability for birth mothers and increased vacation benefits for some.

You kept small-business customers with under $5 million of revenue in the branch space. What are some of the tools and services you’ve built for them?

By yearend, we will enable small businesses to open accounts with us in a branch and walk out immediately with an active debit card and active online and mobile banking capabilities. This way they can start transacting with PNC right away in the channel of their preference. Their account will be live, and they can make their first deposit with the instantly issued debit card during that first visit. Beyond that, we are able to help them immediately set up their online banking. Of course, this new capability also provides for speedy replacement cards for those that are lost, damaged or stolen.

We are also introducing a number of enhancements to our lending process. For example, we recently launched an online credit application for our unsecured Choice line of credit and term loan products via We will continue to add additional credit products and functionality throughout the remainder of this year and into 2018. In addition, our improved Rapid Application lending process has received strong customer feedback. Now, customers who apply for an unsecured loan for up to $100,000 through our branches or our customer care center can receive a decision same day or next business day instead of waiting several days.

Lastly, we are enhancing the digital-buying experience across all of our products. In the merchant space, for example, we will be introducing a PNC Merchant Services online application that will provide our customers with a simplified shopping and buying experience. Our objective is to eventually leverage this technology to build a multiproduct online application platform so customers can seamlessly open up a business checking, credit card and merchant services account within the same online session.

Give us an overview of the iLab.

We wanted to have a place where our employees could go to think things through and specifically design through the customers’ eyes, and we’ve used that iLab to test customer conversations, to test new product capabilities, new technologies. We’ve choreographed what the branch experience would look like as we roll something out. We actually have a mock-up of our branch in there. We have a mock-up of our call center environment. We bring technology and new ATMs in there. And we actually bring people in to experience any changes we’re going to make before we put it into the marketplace. That that’s really the key: to learn before you roll something out rather than to roll it out and then have to react to changes.

Can you talk about something you changed as a result of working on it in the iLab?
As an example, we leveraged the iLab experience successfully with customers to gather feedback and test best practices in our consumer-account-opening process. We worked on testing ways to make sure that our engagement in branches with customers is personally relevant and compelling, and that our conversations are positioned clearly for the consumer.

We learned, for instance, that customers like interacting with iPads in the account-opening process and prefer to work side by side with our employees rather than across a desk. Additionally, the customer prefers to take control of the iPad during the experience rather than having the employee holding the iPad and walking them through the process. While these may seem minor, in our desire to ensure the best customer experience possible, these nuances make a real difference. Without testing these with customers in the iLab before launch, we would have launched our process in a very different manner.

We have tested new technologies and consumer reaction to them in the iLab and as a result have changed course in a number of instances. As an example, we tested innovative technologies that enable real-time selling over video channels, but concluded we couldn't yet deliver the quality of experience that our customers deserve and expect. So we will continue to experiment with new technologies and delivery modes for video-based selling in the lab and will roll it out when our testing indicates we've gotten it right.

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