Today’s post is the first in a two-part series by Ben Motteram, customer experience strategist and founder of consulting firm CXpert. I share this post because it covers a hot topic in customer experience circles today: journey orchestration.

Ben recently had a conversation with Jon Briggs, Executive Vice President of Commercial Payments at KeyBank, and Tim Attinger, Co-Founder and President at OvationCXM, about how KeyBank significantly improved customer retention after implementing OvationCXM’s customer journey orchestration platform, CXMEngine. This post is an edited transcript of the first part of their conversation.


BM: Let’s just start with a bit of background, Jon. Can you tell us a little bit about who KeyBank is and what you’re responsible for there?

JB: KeyBank is a 200-year-old financial institution located in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s a super-regional bank, with $195 billion in assets and a retail footprint that covers 15 States primarily across the northeast and the northwest. Key also has a commercial business that operates in all 50 States. 

My focus is on product and innovation on the commercial side of the business, where we serve the mom-and-pop dry cleaner down the street to Fortune 100 global companies. The complexity in serving that breadth of clients across a product set that is enabled by several homegrown capabilities, as well as third-party capabilities, creates a lot of fun from a servicing and client experience perspective. 

BM: So, what were the challenges facing KeyBank prior to implementing OvationCXM? What made you realize that you needed it?

JB: Our journey with OvationCXM started within our merchant services business. A little background on our merchant business: it’s third-party enabled. Most banks in the US will partner with the likes of either a Fiserv, FIS, or Elavon. We partner with Fiserv and Elavon. It was late 2018/early 2019, and I had just taken over that part of the business. At that time, we had a significant amount of attrition in the business, and it was hampering our ability to grow. We were growing at what I would consider to be industry averages, but it didn’t reflect the potential we had in the business. 

As we peeled it apart, it wasn’t that our front of the funnel or sales teams were under-performing. It was the fact that on the back end, we were losing more clients than we should be. We had an attrition problem. We started to unpack why and discovered we had a terrible client experience in that part of our business. 

Clients, KeyBank teammates, or third-party partners had no clue where the issue was. I describe it as a game of 1-800 ping pong that we put our clients through as they were calling into the bank. The bank was saying, “No, no, this isn’t us. This is a merchant issue. You need to call Fiserv.” And Fiserv would say, “This isn’t us; this is the banker gateway.” Nobody knew exactly what the real issue was that the client was experiencing. Even once we understood the issue, nobody knew where that servicing hot potato was on the path toward resolution for the client. 

We had what I’ll describe as a lot of servicing complexity. It was a nightmare for our clients, and it was having a direct impact on our P&L and the growth of our business. 

BM: Were you able to quantify the impacts? Do you know how much it was costing the business?

JB: There were good peer benchmarks around client attrition rates that we were able to get from our partners, and at the time, we were above them. Not materially, but we were above them. We were under-performing relative to some of the benchmarks. We used a hypothesis at the time we made the investment with OvationCXM that was like, “What’s it worth if we start to turn the dial on that attrition rate by just a point? Two points? Three points? What happens if we just get in line with our peers?” And so that was the foundation of our business case over a period of 18 to 24 months. We were going to materially dial down the attrition that we were experiencing. 

When we first signed the statement of work with Tim, a team started the journey mapping session. We knew the process was broken, but it was a question as to whether these financial impacts would come through. It took a leap of faith. Fast-forward 18 months, we took our attrition rate from being a laggard relative to our peers to best-in-class across the industry, and we became a leader within our peer set that sits on Fiserv and Elavon. Nobody had a better client retention rate than we did. We blew the original business case’s number out of the water. 

In a bank, innovation doesn’t typically happen in cost centers. It happens in profit pools. This was about innovating in something that’s typically viewed as a cost center that delivered a very visible top-line benefit in terms of our growth trajectory.

BM: Tim, tell me a little bit about OvationCXM. Why was the company created?

TA: From inception, we’ve been looking at reducing complexity within the delivery of financial services and commercial banking and, in particular, in the business line that Jon was just describing because it is almost exclusively ecosystem delivered. And across multiple client journeys – discovery, sales process, the activation process, and ongoing servicing – we realized that there were these villages of organizations around financial institutions to deliver on these solution sets. And they weren’t well organized: communications were not great, and customer experience was suffering. 

And so the value we deliver is in abstracting away all of that organizational complexity of that ecosystem from the customer experience. So, giving customers a single front door to come through and finding a way to say to a customer, “Just come to me with your problem. Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, whatever journey you’re trying to go through, we’ll figure out how to solve it and deliver it in a concise and consistent branded way.” 

BM: How do you help customers?

TA: The way we do that is essentially to put the connectivity into all of those organizations behind the scenes and then deliver collaboration capabilities and, quite frankly, orchestration functions that allow a business owner to say, “Here’s how I want that customer experience to look end-to-end regardless of who’s involved. I want these five steps. I’m going to show the customer where they’re at so I can give them the Uber experience: here’s where you are, and here’s when your food is going to show up.” But do that for financial services, and do it in a way that is consistently excellent and gives the business owner control over that customer experience and, frankly, makes it easier for the people internally to do their jobs and drives adoption from a customer base. 

In KeyBank’s case, we saw improvements both in external customer satisfaction as well as in internal employee satisfaction. Because frontline workers now had the tools to do their jobs. They weren’t wondering who had the ball, who was getting it next, or what play the team was running. They knew because it was right there in front of them in this tool.

BM: So Jon, did you try to address the issue in a different way before looking at OvationCXM?

JB: Yes, we tried the age-old solution of throwing more people at the problem. But it wasn’t a people problem. We tried to get tighter management of the third parties to try to control the experience. But SLAs were not the issue. We even looked at some well-known technologies. But they just weren’t purpose-built for this type of complexity. For all those reasons, we partnered with Tim and the team at OvationCXM. They had a demonstrable track record of solving this very real problem that we were staring down in that part of our business. 

BM: How did you build the business case to start with?

JB: It was predicated on driving incremental revenue growth for the business as a function of driving better client retention. It required an investment in not only the OvationCXM technology but also integrations into our systems and our processes. We had to stand up a team to manage the orchestration engine and manage it like a product. It was going from “client experience is really important – and we should try to continually drive client satisfaction” to “here are the tools that are going to enable us to do it and the team responsible for waking up every day, understanding through the orchestration engine how our clients are working through the system to optimize it.” 

Those were the inputs into the business case. Our baseline expectation was modest in terms of what we thought the benefit would be. We were hoping for two to three points of client retention improvement. We ended up delivering right around four times that! It was a materially better outcome than we had projected. 

This was a new thing for us at the time. Fast forward to where we are today in our journey, we firmly believe in the continued proliferation of fintechs and SaaS companies. We believe in a partnership strategy to help drive and advance our roadmap. That’s at the core of our strategy, which means we will perpetually bring servicing and client experience complexity into our ecosystem just by the definition of partnering with these entities. From pre- to post-OvationCXM, I would say we have a much clearer playbook and standard around what it means to partner with KeyBank and bring a solution through the KeyBank channel. It involves delivering our standard of client experience, and we couldn’t do it without the technology.


That wraps up the first of this two-part series. Next week, Ben will share challenges, unexpected benefits, and advice for your own journey orchestration implementations. Check it out here.

About Ben

Ben Motteram is a customer experience strategist with over 25 years of experience developing customer acquisition and retention strategies that have increased growth and created loyalty. He founded a consulting company, CXpert, in 2014 with the vision of contributing to a world where customers feel valued by the organisations they choose to give their business to, and employees are inspired to do their best work every single day. He now works with some of the world’s most recognisable brands in areas such as strategy, culture, and customer and employee experience. Connect with him on LinkedIn and/or follow him on Twitter.


Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business (Advantage|ForbesBooks), which is available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your EX and CX game.

Image courtesy of Clemens van Lay on Unsplash.