Manpreet Singh, Senior Managing Director & Group Head – Customer Experience Management, CIMB Group

Prior to her current role of Senior Managing Director and Head of Group Customer Experience Management at CIMB, Manpreet Singh garnered over a decade of experience managing sales and service business functions in retail, commercial, SME, and corporate banking roles in Malaysia and India. She built a solid foundation in straight-through processing and delivering changes that delight not only customers but also employees. She is also a member of Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) member and holds a Forrester CX Pro (CX-I) certification.

Throughout her journey in banking, Manpreet has had the opportunity to understand the industry from the ground up. “When forming and pursuing a strategy to improve CX in the bank, it is vital to strike a balance by putting on a customer lens while also considering internal perspectives regarding preparedness, potential challenges, and feasible solutions,” shares Manpreet. “Having served as a frontline staff and then taking on a strategic role responsible for determining the roadmap guiding the overall experience has given me a deep appreciation of what it really means to put the customer first.”

Today, Manpreet continues to not only successfully demonstrate transformational leadership but also encourages and empowers her team members to make a mark in the highly competitive and complex banking environment. She has successfully navigated a career built around putting the customer first and championing CX as a way of life, inspiring others along the way to adopt a customer-centric mindset.

A Strong Academic Background

Having grown up in a business family, Manpreet acquired entrepreneurial skills from an early age. At 15, she managed part of an MLM-style cherry distribution network. This was followed by doing multiple creative works for her father’s printing business and running a tutorial center during her graduation and post-graduation days. “This experience of teaching and running the tutorial center became a great advantage in my career later on as it prepared me to always be aware of my audience and adapt my communication style,” reveals Manpreet.

In college, Manpreet studied Zoology as a discipline and completed her bachelor’s and master’s degree in the same subject from Delhi University. She then pursued her post-graduate programme in human resource management at Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies. Being an exceptionally bright student, Manpreet gained the opportunity to conduct research at some of the finest institutes in India (National Institute of Communicable Diseases, New Delhi, and PUSA Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi) and also has national and international publications to her credit.

An Impressive Career Trajectory

In 2001, Manpreet took on the position as a cross-sell officer at a Citigroup subsidiary. This marked the beginning of her career in banking as she discovered a passion for the industry. Following her time in the Citigroup subsidiary, she took on a leadership role in customer service at ABN AMRO Bank, where she managed frontline officers and a branch team. Subsequently, she had an 8-year stint with HSBC, where she grew her career to lead the Customer Experience and Service delivery throughout East Malaysia and later to develop the Customer Experience and Touchpoint Strategy for all customer interaction points of HSBC Malaysia. She later took on the role as the Head of Customer Experience and Relations. Following that, she led the Group Customer Experience at Maybank before coming to CIMB to head the Group Customer Experience Management department in 2016.

Manpreet pioneered the CX roadmap in CIMB by setting up and leading the function across all geographies by creating a standardized customer experience and delivering sustainable value regionally. She leads the regional team responsible for operationalizing strategic initiatives to accelerate the CX transformational journey within the organization. “My overall focus aims to shape a Customer-First mindset across all business and employee chains and, ultimately, make it a key differentiator for the bank,” states Manpreet.

She has led the way in building a concerted effort across the organization to shift the focus from being primarily on service quality to now being firmly centered on putting the customers at the forefront of everything which is done. The transition required a multi-prong approach of rebuilding the organization’s measurement ecosystem for an outside-in perspective by determining key metrics that matter to customers, focusing efforts on intentional design and delivery with customers in mind, instilling a customer centric culture internally and making Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) central to the corporate culture.

Milestones that Matter the Most

One of the most pivotal moments in Manpreet’s career was during a training she attended while at Citibank. At that time, the trainer had mentioned that to create magic, one needs to combine service knowledge with passion and understand the reasons driving a person’s actions. “This session impressed upon me the importance of reflecting on finding my own reasons and understanding how they align with what I can do to further the collective goal,” shares Manpreet. She was among the first to push through a deal over the phone and successfully anchored her relationship management on forming lasting relationships with her clients through transparency and a clear demonstration of what she could do to make things easier for them. “A few of these relationships have even lasted well beyond my stint in Citibank and taught me the value of developing human connections and taking a genuine interest in a customer as an individual,” affirms Manpreet.

Another significant challenge in forming Manpreet’s leadership acumen was in 2011 when she was posted to head the East Malaysia region. This was unchartered territory for Manpreet, with the cultural change, language barrier, and different management styles. Never afraid to take on a new challenge, Manpreet took on her role with perseverance, determination, and panache. “My time there fostered resiliency and adaptability, which have served me well throughout the years as they pushed me to explore new horizons and develop my leadership philosophy to focus on empowering and trusting my team,” says Manpreet. This experience shaped her perspective and taught her that leaders should guide with wisdom and delegate confidently, both of which she strives to embody every day.

A Day in the Life of a Leader

Manpreet gets a head start on the day as an early riser by habit. Before going to work, she likes having breakfast with her family. “Being with my family grounds me for the day ahead and reminds me of why I do the things that I do,” says Manpreet. At work, her schedule is packed with meetings and calls. However, she tries to schedule blocks of uninterrupted time to address urgent matters and focus on deep work.

When it comes to staying calm under stressful situations, Manpreet admits to having days when she is pulled in multiple directions to solve urgent issues that require all hands on deck. But instead of getting weighed down, she tries to look at them through different lenses and ensures to grow her team’s capability to respond to similar situations in the future. To unplug from work, she reads or meditates. She also enjoys spending quality time with her energetic toddler, who is her biggest stress buster and the joy of her life.

Lessons Learned Along the Way

According to Manpreet, there are no shortcuts to success. Leaders must embrace the hard work it requires and do it with honesty and integrity. It is also very important to believe in possibility thinking, recognize personal potential, and remain a lifelong learner. Given her diverse experience throughout her academic life, Manpreet considers her adaptable and flexible nature as an essential quality for her current role, as no two days are alike in the CX world. Her ability to think on her feet and to rally those around her have proven invaluable in fostering collaborative problem-solving and promoting the practice of recognizing colleagues who go the extra mile to make things better for customers.

Mantras behind Building the Best CX Team

Since the beginning of her career, Manpreet has been and continues to believe that a successful leader is always backed by a brilliant team. She considers her CX team at CIMB as one of her biggest achievements as she has successfully pulled together a harmonized group that is highly skilled, diverse yet inclusive, driven by a passion for customer centricity and genuine assets. As a result, at external award ceremonies on several occasions, CIMB’s CX team, led by Manpreet, has been recognized as the “Best CX team.”

Therefore, when it comes to motivating her team members, Manpreet likes to maintain an open line of communication with them so that they are free to offer a suggestion to ease daily tasks or a solution that has the potential to be scaled up to improve things across business lines. She also likes to keep her team regularly updated on the latest developments as it allows them to understand the organization’s goals and contextualize and take pride in their own role in reaching them. Likewise, she also takes the time to get to know them personally to foster camaraderie.

As custodians for the customer and champions of change, there are times when Manpreet’s team runs into difficult situations. Manpreet recommends that they be objective and data-driven and keep emotions out of the equation. She also suggests they be passionate about the cause but know when to detach and let go. Being relevant, adding value, and bringing the outside-in perspective are also important. Above all, Manpreet insists her team members to always remember that ‘Customers are the Boss.’

Ongoing Projects and Planning for the Future

Currently, Manpreet and her team are focusing on a transformation programme which seeks to enhance customer journeys, improve employee experience, and refine processes to make CIMB a simpler, better, and faster organization. This programme also aims to encourage staff to explore new areas within the organization by participating in projects that appeal to them.

“Bringing together staff from different backgrounds ensures that we can optimize the range of knowledge and expertise brought into the projects while opening avenues for all levels of staff to develop skills in cross-functional teams,” reveals Manpreet. “This directly supports the organization’s values of holistically enabling talent, collaboration, and customer-centricity.”

Manpreet believes that there are many opportunities in the road ahead to bring CX to the next level. In considering the future, Manpreet shares that while the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated society towards digitalization, there needs to be a hybrid “phygital” (marrying both physical and digital environments) strategy which could create the optimal experience for customers if it is operationalized correctly by combining the right functional and emotional values for a much more complete, integrated, and seamless journey. Therefore, managing such an engagement lifecycle requires a holistic perspective as it entails balancing CX, EX (Employee Experience), and Operational Efficiencies. To make this happen, Manpreet suggests, “The best way to build up all 3 areas simultaneously and effectively can be done with the 3D approach of Design, Delivery, and Delight.”

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