Digital transformation is the key to staying relevant 

Travelex has completely transformed itself from a transactional bricks and mortar business to a digital organisation in just 24 months; using an organic social media strategy that adapts to the ever changing nature of customer expectations.

Travelex is the world’s largest specialist provider of global foreign exchange, trades in over 80 currencies, does business in 50+ countries with 8,000 employees, 5,000 of whom work in its 1,500 stores including at all the major airports, and 1,250 ATMs around the world. Over 40 per cent of the world’s travellers pass through airports where Travelex operates.

Additionally the organisation provides wholesale currency services to banks, supermarkets, travel agencies and other businesses. In 2016 Travelex celebrates its 40th anniversary; it was founded as a bureau de change in London in 1976 by Lloyd Dorfman. www.travelex-corporate.com

As a traditional bricks and mortar business that has historically been very transactional in nature, Travelex has typically interacted with customers at the point when they are buying and selling currency; this fleeting interchange didn’t allow for the natural development of on-going customer relationships or an optimised customer experience.

This changed in 2014 when Sean Cornwell was appointed as the organisation’s first Chief Digital Officer to lead the complete digital transformation of Travelex. Shortly after, Sabrina Rodriguez joined as Global Head of Social Media.

 Sabrina Rodriquez.

“Our board had recognised the umbrella challenge facing the financial services industry – the digital shift in customer mindset,” explained Rodriguez. “People are savvier, have digital and mobile needs and are much more exposed to other offers around. Google allows them to search for what is out there regardless of marketing spend.”

Three marketplace challenges!

Initially three major marketplace challenges stood out to Rodriguez and the digital transformation team. The first was a lack of data. Travelex traditionally had not invested in market research and didn’t have the infrastructure in place to truly understand their customers on an on-going basis.

Assumptions about consumer behaviours were based on transactional trends over the longer term, however behaviours have been changing at a faster and faster pace and it was proving more difficult to spot key changes Travelex should be responding to, as well as what the organisation was doing well and what could be improved.

Keeping customers was the second challenge. Without robust consumer insight, it was hard to develop information flows and relevant or timely customer offers that would drive retention and build meaningful, loyal relationships.

Thirdly, while Travelex had a recognisable visual identity in its red and blue logo, the organisation struggled to articulate its core brand essence. Leaders and employees were unable to answer the ‘why do we exist’ and ‘why should customers engage with us over competitors’ questions.

“Customer engagement and advocacy of our brand were minimal, especially online. We live in a world now where the customer is fundamental to the success of a brand and we weren’t fully embracing that,” said Rodriguez.

Start with business strategy!

Travelex addressed these marketplace challenges by refreshing the business strategy right across the organisation – in building customer relationships, building the brand, innovating with products & services, and optimising customer data. Social media provides the platform underpinning and linking these four areas of focus.

Unsurprisingly the team began by using applications their key stakeholders were familiar with: Facebook for telling the brand story, Messenger for serving customers, Twitter to engage with customers and influencers, Instagram to inspire with curated content, and LinkedIn for recruitment, partner and employee engagement.

As part of the social media strategy, Travelex has tripled the size of its customer support team and boosted training to develop a customer-first and advocacy mindset among advisers. That along with bringing on board Conversocial, a smarter inbox for managing all incoming customer queries, resulted in a reduction in response times by 83 per cent and a 46 per cent increase in response rates.

Four-pronged social response.

Rodriguez’ social media team began by developing a simple, global infrastructure that helped customer service advisors fix the problems customers were facing. Over time this infrastructure has morphed to support on-going conversations and build more meaningful relationships beyond just resolution.

“Over 50 per cent of customers who come to us on social are looking for the answer to a query, so it is vital we answer them. For me, fixing problems is really just the first step. We can’t keep a customer on the phone, we can’t keep a customer in store and we certainly can’t have long email chats. But we can use social over time to drive meaningful conversations around our brand, marketing and products, whether that’s over a matter of hours, days or months.”

Brand was the second area Rodriguez’s team focused on with the aim of building awareness and engaged communities. They put word of mouth and user-generated content at the heart of all brand activities, encouraging employees, customers and influencers to share stories of their experiences in the context of the Travelex brand.

One example is the Travelex Supercard trial during 2015-16. Participants began talking positively about their experiences in a proactive way in the trial digital forums. Rodriguez harnessed this openness by building a hub modelled on Humans of New York where they could share their stories about traveling with Supercard around the world. Many have done so since then.

“Everyone loves a story and everyone likes listening to what other people have done. Getting customers to tell others why Supercard is great and works for them is far more powerful than us telling them why they should use it!”

The third focus was using social in driving valuable data and insight, from marketing to product development. Social allows Travelex to tap into consumer beliefs and feelings to fine tune existing products and create new ones that customers genuinely love. Rodriguez’s team has found social is one giant focus group waiting to be used. She says that it doesn’t take lots of encouragement to get customers talking actively about brand, products, marketing, services and competitors.

Another example: early insights led to a beta testing group on Facebook for two digital products that were in development. Initially conversations were led by the product owners, who used the group to asked participants for their views on bug fixes, new features and tweaks.

“Members were very responsive. We found the more mature the community became, the more proactive they were in terms of giving us ideas and feedback not just on the products but also on what else we could be thinking of – that was really interesting.

“Many were customers who had recurring problems. When we asked for their feedback we would say ‘it would be great if you could be involved in our beta testing platform’. For these customers it was really important for us to be seen as a brand that listens and takes their voices seriously, not just a robotic ‘thanks for your feedback and good bye’. It is amazing how quickly this mediates conversations if the relationship is heading down a negative path.”

Rodriguez has since set up a Product and Social Committee, where every couple of weeks the local community manager meets with the Head of Mobile and Head of UX/UI to discuss all of the latest product feedback, whether from the beta testing group or more widely from community conversations. An on-going customer feedback log is updated, which allows Travelex to revert to customers with transparent answers and updates, further embedding a customer-centric mindset and demonstrating that Travelex is becoming a brand that truly brings the customer voice to the table. The organisation can therefore focus its efforts on areas that matter to customers – in the belief this will ultimately drive better business decisions.

Rodriguez says that Travelex is learning far more about its customers through analysing social conversations than it ever learnt by analysing transactional data. This might be beta testing feedback, repeat purchase conversations, or data that indicates frustrations at a particular touch point on the customer journey.

The fourth focus area for the social media team is driving the social transformation of the business, both through people and functions. When it comes to building a successful social function, Rodriguez considers it vital to drive internal awareness, engagement and amplification of Travelex branded social activity, as well as driving more general internal education around how to use social to work better and think differently. Working with function is also key to ensure that a social and customer-centric mindset is embedded in areas such as HR, internal communications and retail. Travelex has since recognised the importance of this with its latest appointment of an HR community manager, responsible for driving a brand new social recruitment strategy.

“We are building a customer first mindset across the business to drive social awareness, social engagement, social skills and ultimately amplify our brand. By adopting social recruitment we are not only driving employee branding online, but also driving efficiencies across media and agency spend, and building engaged online communities of employees and prospective candidates who share experiences and testimonials.”

Board willing to invest in social.

Rodriguez adds that she has not faced internal resistance from leaders or laggard employees; instead the challenge has been getting leaders to understand and buy into social media as a strategic function that requires significant investment in terms of talent, tools and paid support.

Her success in doing so is underlined by the Travelex board’s willingness to increase their investment in social media, both in mainstream and emerging channels. It did take time to convince leaders of the need for an on-going paid Facebook channel; once launched this significantly improved customer engagement and has paved the way for investment in other social media areas.

LinkedIn has also been a significant investment from the business that took time to agree; it is now a key app for talent and recruitment activities.

Travelex is also at the early stages of investing in Instagram and has already built a network of over 140 brand advocates worldwide – travel and lifestyle bloggers who engage with Travelex on a regular basis and talk positively about the brand with their online communities that number over a million people.

“Social is not free, this is a myth that needs to be busted. It is absolutely a paid channel and needs investment, a robust strategy, resources, talented management, infrastructure and a sufficient operating model.

“Without investment from the business, and by relying purely on organic growth, communities can take years, not months, to grow. That’s an expectation that absolutely needs to be set.”

Social continually evolves!

Travelex has found that social strategy is a whole different beast to traditional business strategy. There is no five-year plan, instead social media activities are organic and continue to evolve in response to the ever-changing nature of the market.

This was a surprise to Rodriguez. Since she joined, the social strategy has undergone a number of iterations. Initially the focus was on supporting brand, customer service and sales.

As Rodriguez has been exposed to and more fully understands Travelex’s business strategy and marketplace challenges, she has grown the social media strategy to address product development and management plus data.

“Social media has become much more relevant across the business than I originally anticipated. I wasn’t expecting so many iterations of the social media strategy; we are talking months before it changes again.

“Our strategy is a living breathing thing just as social media is a living breathing thing, so it always needs to adapt to the ever changing nature of the market. That’s why it’s so important to be the communicator in the business.”

She adds that it is important business leaders understand why social strategy is organic, as well as why it is critical for any organisation. “if you are leading social media you need to engage leaders across the organisation; not just in marketing but in customer service, product, retail, public relations, finance, legal, IT, compliance HR. Mine is very much an ambassadorial role where I need to engage the whole business.”

Watching out for big changes.

Rodriguez says that ultimately her job is to keep her eyes out for big changes; perhaps emerging platforms, changes to terms and conditions, algorithms that impact paid activities.

For instance, Facebook and Twitter chat bots have been huge talking points recently both inside and outside Travelex. These are algorithms that allow self-service and automated responses, offering service providers the potential of moving the entire customer journey onto social.

“It’s a massive indication for me that we should be thinking more seriously about the product aspect of our strategy. Do we need to start working with the product teams to build social products, for instance? What about social payments, for example? It is a really big thing that is pivoting our social media strategy once again. If an organisation doesn’t have a person on board with this big picture focus it is very easy to fall behind within a matter of months.”

Travelex also relies on quantitative data. Diagnostic tools provide Rodriguez and her team with a wide range of return on marketing investment data. These include service measures like percentage engagement, response times and sentiment; business measures include word of mouth marketing, site traffic, query handling, awareness, customer-driven product feedback; commercial measure is actual financial return on investment.

Benefits the team track over time and are particularly proud of include:

• Customer service – cost savings per contact, quicker handling times, multiple query handling – advisors can deal with up to five conversations at a time on social, positive customer feedback
• Brand – website conversations per month, media spend cost savings, value per fan, word of mouth advocacy, size of influencer network
• Product – focus group and market research cost savings
• Customer data – customer acquisition cost savings, repeat purchases, retention through tailored communication activities and services
• Recruitment – agency costs, reducing attrition by improving the quality of candidates
• Employees – increasing employee satisfaction, reduced churn, more social ways of working.

“For me it is really simple! Our customers are already on social; they are already talking about our brand with or without our strategic direction. For me it is no longer a choice of whether you should be on social or not, it is an absolute must because otherwise your brand is having its own life without your strategic direction or involvement.”


Jo Ann Sweeney is a corporate communications consultant with 25+ years experience marrying the needs of executives and their audiences, ensuring communication activities deliver for both. Typically, she acts as communications lead on complex HR and technology programmes, facilitating development of effective internal and external strategies and then managing implementation.

Image courtesy of kanate at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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