As the head of customer and marketing for Western Union’s B2B division, Nicole Zimmermann has seen the impact of digital transformation on many a legacy company first-hand – including her own.

A veteran marketing executive with more than 10 years of experience at Western Union, Zimmermann has come to embrace a hybrid approach to digital transformation, encouraging analogue companies across the spectrum to join the 21st century while accounting for the benefits that come with having a strong legacy brand.

Nicole Zimmermann

“The latest trends, of course, show brands driving customer experience by leveraging disruptive technologies,” she says. “But there are benefits to having a legacy market and experience to draw from too.”

Zimmermann reached out to ITBusiness.ca during a recent tour of Canada, which she called one of the most important components of Western Union’s international market. Read on for her thoughts on how legacy companies can best connect to customers, and why they’re best positioned to learn from history’s mistakes.

ITBusiness.ca: How can marketing companies use technology to expand their market?

Nicole Zimmermann: I think the largest benefit is the way it enables customers to serve themselves. With more customers going online, connecting to the digital space every day, it is imperative that businesses be able to meet them at the touchpoints of their choice.

In Western Union’s case, this can mean offering self-serve opportunities through artificial intelligence like chatbots, which we use to serve our clients in Facebook Messenger, or using robotics on the back end to optimize the customer service process and make it easier for customers to transact with us.

Once that infrastructure is in place, your marketing can define our value propositions that explain how simple it is to interact with your business – in Western Union’s case, to move money and payments across the world.

ITB: Why do you think customer expectations have changed as quickly as they have?

NZ: That’s a great question. I think it’s because of the convenience these new technologies have literally put into consumers’ hands. With a touch of your fingerprint, your mobile phone gives you access to the world, and it’s up to businesses to make sure their go-to market approach arrives at the same place where customers go every day.

ITB: Many of the companies that most need to implement this change are established brands that are just stepping into the digital transformation waters. Do you have any tips for how they can make the transition easier.

NZ: I think you’re right. A lot of established brands like Western Union are the ones that need to evolve and follow changing customer behavior.

If you are just starting this journey one way could be through partnerships. One of the amazing things about Canada is the number of innovative entrepreneurs with great ideas about how certain parts of an end-to-end process can be optimized, and companies can partner with those startups to bring their innovations in-house.

There are also benefits to having a younger employee base. We have a very young employee base at Western Union. These employees are really in touch with new technology in their personal life, so they bring a lot of their insights to work to optimize our corporate processes and improve the customer experience.

ITB: Now usually when we talk about digital transformation involving enterprises, we're discussing legacy companies who seem to be doing everything wrong. But you believe there’s an argument to be made for the benefits of a legacy brand, correct?

NZ: Yes. That’s also an excellent question, because obviously we ask ourselves about our own status as a company with a 160-plus-year heritage of innovation and connecting nearly every country in the world. We commenced our digital transformation about five years ago and today we are the largest digital operator for money movement between individuals by revenue.

I would say that having a legacy helps the most when it comes to learning from the past and making sure that you are not repeating the same mistakes that you have before – for example, failed product or service development ideas that are not truly based on customer needs or addressing a customer experience pain point.

It also means you have existing customers you can connect with while your customers are changing. I think legacy businesses can offer great learning opportunities when it comes to examining an operating model, or connecting with customers, so that businesses are better prepared to absorb something like the digitization of their go-to market, or service and operating models.

ITB: So how has Western Union changed its own marketing efforts during its digital transformation?

NZ: Especially in the global payments arena where we are servicing business customers, we have made a real effort to understand which type of business customers want which self-service options: Some are comfortable dealing with their payment needs online themselves, while others look forward to working with an account manager or customer service associate who can address their needs.

As I said, it’s important that businesses understand how customer needs are driving today’s marketing, and in Western Union’s case it’s had a big impact on our go-to market approach as well. We’re delivering much more personalized, targeted content than before, and it’s changed the products and services that we develop for our customers as well. There’s a greater focus on addressing need like convenience or self-service and offering solutions for it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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