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Management Strategies

05:30 PM
Lisa Valentine
Lisa Valentine
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Revamping the Customer Experience

Today, financial services firms aiming to provide a quality customer experience have to revamp processes, support multichannel communications and — most critically — actually talk to the customer.

As recently as a few years ago, many financial institutions would gauge the quality of the customer experience largely by the length of time it took the customer to complete a transaction. A fast response time from the online channel, minimal wait times in the call center and accurate information were measures of success.

Times have changed. Customers still value speed, accuracy and ease of use, but they’ve added some requirements to the definition of a quality customer experience: the convenience of performing ever-more-complex transactions on mobile phones, personalized service that recognizes and treats them as individuals, and seamless movement among various channels with a consistent experience at each.

Unfortunately, many financial services firms haven’t significantly changed the customer experience they provide in almost a decade, says Peter Hazlehurst, SVP at Yodlee, a Redwood Shores, Calif.-based provider of personal financial management (PFM) and integrated payments solutions. “Ten years ago, customers wanted to view information such as account balances from online channels,” he says. “Today, the customer wants to see an interpretation of those balances, such as how a change in an account impacts their net worth. The new definition of ‘customer experience’ — and what firms will need to deliver — is the ability to control and act rather than just observe.”

One reason that banks and insurance companies haven’t been able to improve the customer experience is that they don’t look at their business processes from a customer perspective, contends Ron Shevlin, senior analyst at Aite Group in Boston. “Firms worry about what screen colors to use and where to place the navigation bar when they should be worrying about whether or not a customer accomplished their goal,” says Shevlin. “Firms need to improve the customer experience by changing underlying business processes.”

According to Chris Cottle, VP of marketing for Salt Lake City-based Allegiance, a provider of voice-of-the-customer (VOC) and feedback management software, firms may think they are offering a quality customer experience, but often they are not. For instance, retail banks continue to believe that wait times are critical to customer retention.

“Wait times just aren’t that big a deal to customers, yet banks focus on wait times while ignoring other issues that are more important, such as having well-trained product experts at the front lines,” asserts Cottle. “I won’t leave my bank because I have to wait a few minutes, but I will leave if I can’t get the information I need.”

Why Don’t You Ask Me?

So how can banks and insurance carriers determine what customers really want from their financial firms? It’s actually quite simple, says Cottle. Ask them. A variety of survey tools exist, including traditional paper-based questionnaires, online surveys and mobile phone text messaging, he notes.

Since August 2009, Homesite Group — a Boston-based provider of homeowner’s, renter’s and condo insurance with $321 million in annual premiums — began using the Satmetrix (San Mateo, Calif.) Net Promoter Score online survey program to ask customers what they value in the customer experience. “We are looking to measure the ultimate question: How likely is it that a customer would recommend Homesite to a friend or family member?” explains Alex Punsalan, the carrier’s VP of claims. “We’ve been able to identify areas where we can improve the customer experience and drive their loyalty.”

BBVA Compass, a subsidiary of BBVA, a global financial services company with more than $760 billion in assets, measures both overall customer satisfaction as well as specific processes to help drive its customer experience initiatives, reports John Wessman, the firm’s director of customer experience. For example, since customer communication is a key focus area, when the Birmingham, Ala.-based bank surveyed customers about their overall satisfaction with the institution, it included questions to determine if they were happy with the advance notification the bank provided about upcoming fee changes. The results were encouraging, according to Wessman.

“We’re making good progress,” he says. “But we’re not done. We look at improving customer experience as a long-term cultural endeavor.”

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