Some brand names are synonymous with customer service. Here in the UK, John Lewis has led the way as a retailer focused on the customer. It built its reputation on it. Ironically, the 2000s haven’t been kind to customers, as emphasis on shifting product took centre stage. John Lewis wasn’t immune to the slipping of standards, as companies around the world took to data instead of empathy to revive post-GFC fortunes. Many of the retailer’s customers “complained about a deterioration in customer service”, and a series of subsequent events didn’t help get business back on track.
I use John Lewis as a perfect example of how many businesses, particularly in financial services, have failed to notice what’s going on. Here’s the short version: people have voted with their wallets. The long version is more complicated, but not nearly as punchy. If anything gets to the heart of the matter quicker than the bottom line, I’d like to know what it is.
But whatever the motivation for refocusing on customers rather than corporate navel-gazing, the outcome is good. Customers have returned to the forefront of business strategy, where even banks and other FIs have begun to see the value in putting people ahead of product.
Yet, refocusing to build customer culture isn’t achieved overnight. It’s something that has to be nurtured, and is why Disney is still the bellwether when it comes to getting customer culture spot-on.
The power of trust in service transformation
The pressure is on to deliver people-focused services rather than product-focused offers, the weight of which has been felt more than ever since the world went into lockdown. Providing good service has always been a challenge for organisations, but a combination of digital knowledge, the pandemic, politics, and negative financial headlines have contributed to a need for more trust. People need someone to trust, and we know by now that people trust people. This is why corporate financial giants have begun to show their faces – their human side – and are responding to the demand for more customer engagement.
When Apple introduced Apple Pay in 2014, swathes of young people must have felt emboldened that they too could master their finances. Up to then, access to services was difficult. My banking app back then was a miserable mess, and hasn’t improved much since. I now also bank with a couple of the new banks in town, and can access anything I want, such as card controls, balances, payment schedules, spending reports, and can chat to someone within minutes. It’s something I don’t take for granted, and is only one example of how technology has enabled more human interaction.
We are obviously trusting tech giants more than traditional banks with our money. For instance, industry forecasts say Apple Pay will be the leading digital wallet (with 227 million users worldwide), with Samsung Pay and Google Pay expected to reach 100 million users (this by 2020 figures). Being able to manage my personal finances through digital self-service capabilities, as well as talk to someone when I need support, means I’ve developed trust in non-banking entities. That’s not a small thing.
Where technology has progressed
During the pandemic, while some FIs struggled to meet customer demand with insufficient call centre personnel, others learned from it. Over the past two years, we’ve seen an influx in technological progress. As our phones continue to pack on digital muscle, demand for services has increased. Personalisation has become the buzzword, and matching this concept to financial services has become the challenge. (And the challenge is clear: In the US, roughly one in four US Gen Zers and Millennials now call a current account from a digital bank their primary account.)
Many of the tools we’ve used for internal communications, such as Slack and WhatsApp, are now used to engage with customers. For years, organisations leveraged the power of social media for marketing purposes, and the clever ones continue to use the likes of Twitter and Facebook as customer service platforms. It’s where people are, so it makes sense. Customers can get real-time information and status updates from social media, and more rudimentary queries can be addressed by chatbots and virtual agents.
The advent of this transformation from being product-focused to being customer-focused is profound, but not everybody is up to the challenge. A Forbes survey of global decision makers found that 82% reported that a customer experience strategy is top of mind for the coming year, yet “fewer than a third have aligned their digital transformation strategy to their CX strategy”.
Digital progress that leads to customer-centricity
What’s the outcome if change doesn’t happen? More frustrated customers? Yes, absolutely. A loss of business income? For sure. Loss of trust and engagement from loyal customers who find themselves more able to switch to a competitor? Definitely. Technology and regulatory bodies have made it super-easy to switch services.
Back to that John Lewis analogy. What is it doing about this transformational shift from shipping product to focusing on customers? It’s opening a school for customer service. It’s returning to its roots as a people-first business. It’s walking the walk, talking the talk, and many a financial services organisation could learn from this example. True digital transformation that leads to service transformation can only occur by nurturing a culture of customer-centricity, and not by simply copying the Disney model.
If you’re led by your IT department when it comes to how fast your in-house technological progress occurs, it may be time to rethink IT. We’re all technicians now, from marketing and sales, to management and beyond. Digital isn’t something you call yourself – it’s something you are. As the Disney article above says: “Culture is not something you can fake.”
One thing we’ve learned about this era of digital transformation around services is that robots aren’t in charge. Humans are. Over the course of the next few blog posts, I’ll reveal some interesting examples of customer-centric progress in financial services, and how your organisation could (and should) be leading the pack. The opportunity to better connect with customers is today’s challenge, not next year’s.