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Using the employee experience to influence and enhance the customer experience with Kristen Cronyn from M&T Bank

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In this week’s episode, Chuck Gose is joined by Kristen Cronyn, Administrative Vice President for Employee Communications at M&T Bank where they talk about how the employee experience influences the customer experience, and how to bring meaningful content to your frontline employees.

“I’m a big believer that you have to love yourself before you love others, and I feel the same way about the employees at the bank… we have to love them and make sure that they have the right tools, the right technology, the right access to information, so that they can then love our customers just as much.” — Kristen Cronyn

What’s in the mix.

  • Kristen shares her background and a bit about how she created a digital ambassador program to help train frontline employees on their mobile platforms, so that they could, in turn, offer a better experience for the customers.
  • Then, discover how bringing a communications element to data and analysis is important to large institutions, especially financial. 
  • Listen to how she learned to lead with the ‘why’ not the ‘what’, to create employee communications that are more creative and engaging.
  • Later in the episode, Chuck and Kristen explore how having a platform like SocialChorus FirstUp allows their frontline employees help customers feel more connected to the company’s strategy and brand.
  • And not to be missed, learn the ins, and outs of virtual charcuterie!

Interested in learning more? 

  • Learn more about the Digital Employee Experience: How FirstUp can help simplify and create and an easier workflow for everyone.
  • Make every worker feel included with a platform that gives every employee a way to get involved.

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode 46 Transcript

Chuck Gose: Hello, everyone. This is Culture, Comms & Cocktails, the podcast with internal comms served straight up. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, senior strategic advisor at SocialChorus, and on this episode of Culture, Comms & Cocktails, we have Kristen Cronyn, administrative vice president for employee communications at M&T Bank and charcuterie artist, which we’ll get to that at the end. Welcome to the podcast, Kristen.

Kristen Cronyn: Thank you so much for having me. I’m coming to you live from snowy Buffalo, New York. It’s very cold here, but excited to be on. Thanks.

Chuck Gose: It’s nice to meat you. That’s my one charcuterie pun that I’m going to throw in for the whole podcast and then we can get into the rest of it a little bit later. I mentioned that you are at M&T Bank. Describe to us a little bit about the role, your career progression, and something about M&T Bank for people that may not be familiar with the company.

Kristen Cronyn: Yeah. I have been at M&T for seven and a half years, and I grew up in marketing communication agency lifestyle, so when I came over to M&T, it was a little bit of a culture shock. We’re a community bank. We are in seven different markets across the East Coast, and my first task was to work on online and mobile banking and to sell the idea of doing a tablet app to the executives at the bank. When I first got there, I looked around at the table, I’m ready to present this awesome idea of doing a tablet app for our customers, and I recognize that the executives are using Blackberry. I’m pretty sure M&T was one of the only companies at the time still on Blackberry, and I recognized at that point that it was going to be really hard for me to be successful in this role if I don’t help get them off of that technology.

I ended up going into technology and started an employee mobility group, which was focused around getting the right tools and technology into our employee’s hands. We believe that that was really important for us to create a better customer experience, so throughout my career at M&T, having the employee experience at the center of everything that we do has really been at the heart in my passion, and as I sort of navigated through technology, I went back into digital banking. I helped launch Zelle.

We did end up creating a much better experience for our customers when it came to mobile, but the challenge with that was that we recognized that a lot of our frontline employees… So if you walked into an M&T branch and you pulled out your phone and you asked them a question about mobile, they really were disconnected to what we were doing online, so I created a digital ambassador program to help explain and train our employees on the digital offerings so that they could then provide that to customers. I recognized that there was a really large disconnect at the bank with all the different initiatives and all the things that were going on and what our employees actually knew about them.

At the time, I was asked to help communicate some of these initiatives, and a podcast was thrown around, and I decided I was going to create a podcast designed for our employees to feel connected and empowered to all these things that were going on across the bank. I started our internal podcast called Meet & Talk off the side of my desk while I was in digital banking, and it started to organically grow. One of the biggest challenges that we had was that we didn’t have a platform for things like video podcasts for all these great stories to be told. We didn’t have a platform that was suitable, so we were on a 2010 platform. I called the head of our internal communications at the time, and I said, “I think I have this thing, this channel, that’s really catching on, and I don’t have a great way to display it to our employees. Do you mind if I come into your group and revamp our entire internet and the way that we communicate?”

The role was drawn up. I moved over into internal communications and I’m now our internal communication product owner, and we just recently launched CommunityONE, which is through SocialChorus, and it’s really helped transform our communication.

Chuck Gose: Listening to you talk through all that, is there anything you haven’t done at the bank?

Kristen Cronyn: Financial banking things. I mean, that was really… That was the culture shock, right? I don’t have a background in finance. My background is in communication, and I think it took me a while to recognize how important communication really is to a large institution, especially a financial institution, making sure that there is that human element to the data and analysis that is going on.

Chuck Gose: I loved hearing you link the customer experience with employee experience. I think sometimes those tend to be very, very separate, so why was it so important for M&T Bank to invest in the digital employee experience, company, right alongside that customer experience?

Kristen Cronyn: I’m a big believer that you have to love yourself before you love others, and I feel the same way about the employees at the bank, right? We have to love them and make sure that they have the right tools, the right technology, the right access to information, so that they can then love our customers just as much. We love our customers. I think that’s one of the best things about M&T is the relationships that we build with our community. If you’re utilizing… If you can’t access something on a mobile phone, or if you’re not privy to information that might be happening at our headquarters or somewhere else, you’re missing out on an opportunity to really give that experience to our customers.

As I looked around and saw all these incredible initiatives happening, I recognized how little was known about it across the 17,000 employees, so I needed to find a way to help connect them. Again, I think putting it into their hands and making it easy for them to digest and understand was incredibly important and the technology had a lot to do with that.

Chuck Gose: With the launch of CommunityONE… In a previous conversation, you use these words that it… You said it has transformed employee communications there at CommunityONE. We’re going to dig into each of these separately, but high level talk through, how are all the ways that employee communications is now different at M&T bank?

Kristen Cronyn: I think in the past, we really led with the what and not with the why, and it was very corporate, sanitized way of communicating. The platform itself, like I said, was on a 2010 platform. We relied a lot on email, and we have 35 communicators, embedded communicators, across the bank. That’s a lot of people that are charged with making sure that their division is up to date on what’s happening. I think with CommunityONE is what it did is not only gave us the ability to centralize a lot of the communications into one space, but it allowed us to be more consistent, it allowed us to have our communicators think more creatively and engaging. They can create more engaging content. Now, they can think in the form of an article or in the form of a video or in the form of a podcast because the platform will allow them to display it in that way, and it makes it really easy for them to do so.

Now, we can create this sort of ability to proactively get information instead of just constantly pushing it out to them, and they can customize it. Right? Think about all the different… 35 different communicators. All this communication coming at you, you can now pick and choose the things that are most important to you, and I think that made a huge difference in the way that we as communicators think about the delivery.

Chuck Gose: You had mentioned 35 communicators being a part of this. We often don’t talk a lot about governance on the podcast, so some people might get really excited about hearing… “Wow. 35 communicators out there.” But at times, as you mentioned, you’ve got now 35 creators out there. How did you begin structuring where they published, how they published knowing you’ve got 35 other communicators out there wanting to create content?

Kristen Cronyn: Yeah. We started this integrated communicator community, and that was pulling… First of all, we were dispersed across the organization. A lot of us didn’t… We met within our own divisions and not together as a cohesive group, so we started pulling people together throughout the CommunityONE launch in an effort to bring them along, to get your feedback, to make sure that the system itself was going to deliver on the things that they needed to communicate. Pulling everyone together was the first step. The second step was sharing best practices and putting some guidelines and governance around what’s working and what’s not. I think what’s been really interesting and fun.. Again, giving them this landscape to be able to play and create, we’ve seen really great things come out of it.

We had one… Our technology group, as an example, they did a giveaway, so if you followed their channel, you were entered to win a backpack or something along those lines. It was a really great, fun, engaging way to leverage the platform and to gain followers. We brought that to the communicator group to say, “Hey, here’s a great way for you to start thinking about your channels and to start bringing people in on.” We’ve also been working really hard on a channel strategy, so we’ve been focusing on the key themes that we want to communicate as an enterprise and we’ve been trying to align our channels and align our communicators to start thinking through ways that they can bring stories to life and bring these initiatives to life utilizing CommunityONE. We’ve created some structures and some guidelines around it. Some best practices.

SocialChorus, I think has done a great job of giving us ideas. If we bring to them, “Hey, how can we do this?” SocialChorus comes back to us saying, “Here are five ways that you can leverage this platform to its fullest extent.” And that’s really helped us put some structure around what we’re doing.

Chuck Gose: Then with so many different end points available… We have customers who love the email part and the web experience part, or, “Oh, we already have an intranet. We’re putting content amplifiers in that part.” You, in a previous conversation, mentioned mobile being so crucial and beneficial to M&T Bank. Why that one end point for the organization?

Kristen Cronyn: We really have not had anything employer related mobile. We do have our HR platform. That was probably one of the first that came out as a mobile off network application, so mobile for us has always been a challenge, especially when we’re even reading emails or viewing a video. It was something that always had to be done on desktop, and when I thought about the podcast, people don’t typically consume podcasts on a computer. Some people do, but most people are listening to it on Apple Podcasts, or from their phone, or while they’re driving, while they’re running, while they’re eating lunch, so it was really important for us to give content and deliver content in a space that people typically utilize. We’ve been really trying to push mobile a lot. It’s definitely a change of behavior. I don’t think a lot of people are used to having that ability to access something off network in a creative engaging way, so this has really been the first time that you’ve been able to watch a video or listen to a podcast from your phone that’s internally focused.

It’s also really helped us with our sharing. We’ve been really encouraging sharing the incredible stories that we’re now highlighting across the bank onto social platforms. When you’re using something like the mobile app, it makes it really easy for you to share a story to LinkedIn or to share it to your Facebook or your Instagram, and really showcase and show off the culture and community that M&T is.

Chuck Gose: Then with that company advocacy element of it, the first time I crossed paths with you was seeing you share something from CommunityONE on LinkedIn. Are you starting to get a sense for what employees like sharing that the team is creating, and what is also not Bills Mafia or Buffalo Bills related that they like sharing in them?

Kristen Cronyn: I was going to say that-

Chuck Gose: What do they get excited about?

Kristen Cronyn: We do a lot around… We did a lot around… We had the Ravens as well, so we’re in Baltimore. We’re the sponsor of the M&T Bank stadium in Baltimore, so we had a Ravens versus Bills sort of thing going on when they were both in the playoffs, but we have a channel called Your Voices. A colleague of mine had started that up, and it really features very personal blogs of our employees, and those… Whenever we feature anything like that, they’ll get over a hundred likes and comments because I think people… First of all, we’re all dispersed. Right? We’re working from home now. It’s really hard to make those personal connections, and having these blogs has been really great to get to know your colleagues better, get to know something about them that you may not have known before, maybe learn something from them, so we find that those are probably the most engaged… We find the most engagement when we’re featuring a blog about an employee.

The sharing aspect, though… I think anytime we do any video or any time we do podcasts, people love listening and seeing those things, so we found a lot of engagement if we shared those externally as well.

Chuck Gose: Then, when we think about all the different types of content you’re creating… You had mentioned this podcast, which we’d remiss on a podcast not to talk about your podcast. Why do you think that particular form of content has been so successful with the employees at M&T Bank? Is it the novelty of it, or is it… This is just a brand new way that the company is communicating with them?

Kristen Cronyn: I think what I’ve been doing is just amplifying voices that may not have been heard before, so that’s the first thing. Then the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s giving people access to our executives in a way that they may never have seen before. It’s almost humanizing our president, our CEO, our office of the chair. I’m asking them personal questions. I’m asking them… I’m trying to dig a little bit deeper into the major strategic things that are happening so that frontline employee that’s making a difference for our customers truly feels connected and understands strategically what we’re trying to accomplish because, again, I think it’s all related. I think hearing all the different voices across the bank, feeling more connected to our strategy has… And the podcast allows me to do that because I’m able to interview them in a way that highlights and showcases that information, so I think that’s why it stuck.

Chuck Gose: I’m obviously very biased on the topic as we’re here recording a podcast because I think it gives organizations a chance to go so much deeper into topics and deeper in the strategy, and I loved your comparison of, or use of the words, other voices, new voices, or perhaps it’s more localized voices, people that they maybe only seen their picture before and just hearing that person’s voice adds depth to it. Certainly, I love encouraging employees, or communicators, to do podcasts for employees, and I applaud your success on it.

Kristen Cronyn: Thank you. I also really like getting them involved. I reach out to them frequently for feedback, for questions, for people they want to hear from. It’s for them, so I think what CommunityONE has allowed us to do is as I post the podcast, I now have access to comments for people to share what they think. For people to say, “Hey, I wish you would have asked this question.” Or, “Hey, can we hear from this person?” And I deliver on that, so I’ve created almost this community of followers that now can… I’m like the conduit between the people of the bank and the executives of the bank and being able to amplify those voices has been incredible.

Chuck Gose: Yeah. Any time you can have your listeners set your editorial calendar for you is a big win. That’s a big win.

Kristen Cronyn: Yes. Totally.

Chuck Gose: Next thing I want to talk to you about, and we sort of touched on this topic, but I want to go deeper into it. I’ve seen, and other past guests on this podcast have talked about, how the meaning behind their program… What started out as a news and information app or news and information program became more of a sense of community. That’s what they wanted out of their platform, and given that yours is called CommunityONE, the irony is not lost on me, but is that you think what people were seeking during this pandemic at M&T Bank? To get a better sense because… I mean, you had some employees on the front lines of this at banks adjusting to new procedures and weird customer interactions. As someone who’s had to go into a bank recently, it’s different now going into a bank, especially for those frontline employees. What have you seen them wanting to get out of CommunityONE now?

Kristen Cronyn: Yeah. 100%. we actually signed the contract, I think, March 31st. It was unbelievable. That, to me, showed a lot about where our leadership was at when it came to connecting our employees and the importance of communication during this time. Because we all shut down, a lot of us went to work from home. We needed that source of community. We need to feel connected to something, and I think we needed transparent communication from our leadership to the bank, and CommunityONE allowed us to be transparent. It allowed us to poll our employees and see how they were feeling. It allowed us to highlight the incredible efforts that our essential employees were… When you think about PPP and business banking and helping small businesses, there were some incredible things happening that we wanted the rest of our employees to be privy to and to congratulate and to encourage.

CommunityONE was essential in allowing us to bring those stories to life and essential into making sure that people were on the same page, that people knew where we were at when it came to going back to the office when these major critical topics were coming up. We were able to leverage CommunityONE to share the information, so it came at the most perfect time and really helped us pull us all together and make us feel connected.

Chuck Gose: Yeah. We’ve certainly had several customers come back with the what ifs. Like, “What if we hadn’t had this program in place, what would we have done?” And silly me, when I was using that banking example, I was only thinking about it from the consumer side, obviously because that’s what I live in. I didn’t thought about the small business and the banking side and the payroll protection program and all these other things that were so critical to keeping some communities alive and taking these… Your employees there were at the forefront of all of that great work.

Kristen Cronyn: Yep.

Chuck Gose: We talked about the pandemic. One of these days, Kristen, we’re going to be out of this pandemic. It has to happen. How do you see CommunityONE continuing to transform communication there? You’re locked into the podcast. You can’t let your fans down on the podcast, but what are some other ways that you see this continuing to grow inside M&T bank?

Kristen Cronyn: Again, I think getting our communicators officially all on board. We’re still slow rolling into that, so making sure that all of our divisions have a channel. Really trying to find ways to encourage the enterprise level communications, but also the divisional specific communication. One of the challenges that we’re working through is filtering fun, engaging things like user-generated content from the super critical information that… A rate has changed and somebody needs to know that, and that can’t get lost in the feed of ugly sweaters when we had an ugly sweater holiday contest. We’re really feeling through how do we parse out that information? How do we make sure that everyone truly understands how to utilize the system?

On the other half of it is revamping our intranet. That’s where we’re feeling all the resources are going to be living, so we’re in the process of doing that too and sort of converging the two faces together. I also am really seeing the use of video becoming more and more important. We’re really going video first, so I think we’ll be spending a lot of time leveraging CommunityONE to help us, again, tell these stories in really fun, engaging ways. Then as we work through our channel strategy, as we get everybody on board, I think we’re… Actually, our… I want to say we’re up to 16,000 out of the 17,000 employees enrolled in CommunityONE, so that was really surprising for us. I think we were… We weren’t expecting almost every employee to be engaged in this, but we’ve been able to really make it that central space, so I’ve been really impressed with that too. We’ll continue to try to get them not only registered in a role, but actually very incredibly active on it as well.

Chuck Gose: Well, I think that speaks volumes there that obviously during the pandemic, this is exactly what your employees were wanting out of a platform. You and the team there delivered it, so congratulations to everyone there. The podcast is called Culture, Comms & Cocktails, but I feel like now the podcast is Culture, Comms & Charcuterie. Now, we’re going to merge these two things. Apparently, Kristen, you’re a famous Buffalo charcuterie artist as I’m seeing on LinkedIn. I want to ask you, where did this interest and now passion come from with doing charcuterie?

Kristen Cronyn: Yeah. This was a quarantine boredom. I have two kids. I have an eight year old and a three-year-old, and it was just a random Saturday. I took our pancakes, bacon, fruit breakfast and I arranged it into a themed board and I posted the photo on Instagram, and it just got a ton of attention, and I didn’t realize that it would, but I… I also didn’t realize how much joy I found in doing it, so I started doing it more often. I ended up creating a dedicated Instagram account to my charcuterie creations. I started going into meat and cheese, and then people were offering to pay me to do it for their events. So, “Hey, can you come and do a breakfast board for my bridesmaids who are getting ready?” It wasn’t until then that I realized, “Wow. This could actually be a thing.”

Then Shea’s Performing Arts within our community. They reached out to me and said, “Hey, would you be interested in doing a virtual charcuterie class that benefits the community?” And I said, “Yeah. Why not? Let’s do it.” I did this class. We had 54 people register. Shea’s… We ended up donating a lot to the theater. People really enjoyed it, and I evolved the business into creating these private and public virtual charcuterie classes, so that sort of… It shifted from… I still provide a menu of charcuterie that you can order, but I really started doing the classes and I think that’s where it’s going to continue to grow, but it’s been really this fun passion that turned into a full-blown business, and I’m really excited about it.

Chuck Gose: Well, I’ve been eating meat and cheese my entire life, Kristen. I haven’t thought of turning that into charcuterie. I was trying to impress you in a previous conversation about my very limited charcuterie knowledge in that I saw that people were creating jarcuterie by doing them in these little jars, and you raised the bar up by telling me about… Was it charfluteries? Where you do them-

Kristen Cronyn: Charfluteries. Yeah, so champagne flutes.

Chuck Gose: … in champagne flutes. Just way fancier than jars, by the way, but for those… To swing us back to the cocktail theme, what sort of charcuterie cocktail recommendation do you have for everyone?

Kristen Cronyn: Cheese always pairs best with wine, and I’ve actually partnered with a local liquor store. They do virtual wine tastings, and I provide individual charcuterie boxes that pair with the wine, so they have a sommelier that will tell me, “These are the different wines. Here are the different flavors. Can you create something that will go well with it?” I’m personally a gin and tonic, vodka girl, but I become more interested in trying to find flavors that pair really well with wines. Anything white like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, that will go with your soft cheeses, a Brie or a Cannonbear. Then as you go down, Pinot noir, your red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, you’ll go with more hard cheeses, so aged cheddar and Gouda.

Then sparkling, if you’re into sparkling wine, champagne, that usually pairs really well with the blue cheeses or the Parmesan cheeses. I’ve been learning a lot from the sommelier because, again, it can’t just look good. It has to taste good. All the flavors have to go really well together, so I’ve been trying to educate myself. There’s actually a book called the Flavor Thesaurus. If you like cooking, just in general, I highly recommend this book. It has a flavor wheel that will tell you all different interesting things that pair really well together, so I’ve been upping my flavor game using that book.

Chuck Gose: What I heard, Kristen, is that we need all the meats, all the cheeses, all the wines all together. I’m now thinking we need some Culture, Comms & Cocktails and Charcuterie virtual event for listeners of some company to make this happen.

Kristen Cronyn: Love it. I’m in.

Chuck Gose: Well, always, Kristen, I love people following their passions, especially amazing to see this one happen during a difficult time for everyone. You getting joy out of doing that additional work. Again, congratulations for all your success, personal success, and organizational success at M&T bank with CommunityONE, and thank you for being on the podcast.

Kristen Cronyn: Thank you so much for having me, and thank you to SocialChorus for transforming the way we communicate. It has meant the world to us, so thank you so much. The partnership has been great.

Chuck Gose: That’s our job, Kristen. That’s our job. Thank you so much.

Kristen Cronyn: Thank you.

Chuck Gose: If you enjoyed what you heard from this episode and want to check out others, find Culture, Comms & Cocktails on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen, and when you do, hit that subscribe button, so you don’t miss any future episodes. This has been Culture, Comms & Cocktails, internal comm served straight up. Thanks for listening.

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SocialChorus is the creator of FirstUp, the platform that makes the digital employee experience work for every worker. Using our powerful orchestration engine, we bring personalized information and systems access to every employee where they are—on any endpoint or device, in any language, anywhere in the world. Whether they’re wired, mobile, frontline, distributed or essential, FirstUp gives employees what they need to do their jobs efficiently, and companies what they need to achieve agility. That’s how we help enterprise customers like Amazon, ABInBev, Ford and GSK continue to transform their businesses.

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