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Confronting Innovation Challenges: Behind AllianceBernstein’s Business Transformation Journey

by Neil Marcus
August 13, 2019

At Innov8rs in New York, Alpha’s co-founder Thor Ernstsson was joined onstage by Koley Corte, AllianceBernstein’s Senior VP and Global Head of Business Transformation, for a mind-meld on customer-centricity and corporate innovation in today’s fast-paced world.

Thor began by sharing the results of a test run on Alpha’s platform, where nearly 300 respondents were asked to provide feedback on the worst customer experiences they’ve endured, including the type of companies most often guilty of providing poor customer experiences.

Across the board, car dealerships, cable companies, healthcare providers, and airlines topped the list. All of these companies, Thor explained, are missing one key seat at the decision-making table: the voice of their customers.

Despite calls for customer-first organizations, it’s clear that very few companies actually put the customer first — and risk alienating them with bad customer experiences or product/market fit that misses the mark.

To avoid that fate, you need to put customer insights at the center of everything you do. Get customer perspectives early and execute based on their insights, Thor said. He then elaborated on the three ways you can do exactly that:

  1. Don’t launch, or fail fast. Just learn.
  2. Emphasize execution over planning.
  3. Allow teams to freely test and learn.

Koley went on to share how AllianceBernstein is putting that third recommendation into practice — and what they’ve learned so far in the process, with their own three key learnings:

  1. Find ways to get customer perspective and incorporate it into solutions development.
  2. Align internally on shared goals to help others embrace test-and-learn.
  3. Look outside your own industry for inspiration!

How customer-centered thinking and customer-led design are enabling AllianceBernstein to drive business transformation and next generation distribution

While innovation and business transformation are often used interchangeably, there are nuanced differences between the two concepts.

Transformation is what comes out of repeatable innovation that drives measurable business value.

So, as AllianceBernstein turns its attention toward transformation in the digital age, they are focusing on deepening their knowledge, understanding the customer, and delivering value-added solutions to address customer and employee pain points. This is enabling AB to expand the breadth of their customer solutions and the depth of those relationships, and accelerate the ease of doing business internally and externally.

One important evolution is to bring tangible insights and data about institutional and retail customer needs into the decision-making process. “We might think we know what the customer wants, but have we asked them?” asked Koley.

That’s where testing and learning comes in, a transition from legacy customer-centricity strategies to a more agile approach. With testing and learning, the team is able to gather timely and actionable feedback to inform solution offerings and go-to-market strategies.

AllianceBernstein conducted tests with Alpha to quickly gather insights assessing the size of a potential opportunity and help determine the effort and impact of an emerging transformation initiative.

Koley surfaced meaningful examples of these tests, including getting feedback from financial advisors on potential enhancements of a sales tool and conducting a series of tests to better understand advisors’ perceptions of products.

These feedback factors influence the investment solutions they recommend to end clients and their perspectives on where they expect to allocate more assets in the future. “Our goal is to use technology in innovative ways to empower our employees and our customers and advisors,” said Koley.

This slow shift in strategy is necessary for the organization, but it wasn’t met without resistance. How is Koley building momentum and support around data-driven decision-making?

For starters, Koley said that she is proactive in conversations with AllianceBernstein’s executives, leadership teams, and stakeholders across the firm. She doesn’t just describe concepts, she allows teams to experience the solutions and tools being tested in proof of concepts. “When trying to shift the hearts and minds of your employees, you need to build an understanding of the business and build internal relationships,” said Koley.

To change behavior and help employees become comfortable with experimenting and risk-taking, Koley recognizes employees for simply sharing their ideas on how to address customer and advisor pain points.

Focusing on business results, being able to tie impact to specific goals, and delivering and celebrating quick wins is key. For example, one of AllianceBernstein’s goals is deepening its customer understanding. Using Alpha and other methodologies to understand customer pain points, online behavior, and preferences, Koley is able to bring the voice and point-of-view of the customer into ongoing discussions and solutions development.

In the quest to find new and different ways to drive growth, testing and learning always starts with the customer. In fact, it’s a brand new way to operate and scale for their future business.

Neil Marcus

Client Partner Director at Alpha, the platform that enables management teams to make data-driven decisions about users, products, and new markets.