Why wouldn’t we make customer experiences easy?

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at an event about how to nurture a customer-centric culture. One of the key issues I referenced is that too often we have a gap between the sky-high corporate ambition (such as “to be the world’s best customer experience company”) and the lower-altitude commitment to making that a reality.

We see the consequences of that misalignment regularly. Just in the last couple of days alone I’ve experienced a tale of two cultures. Two very simple questions put to two organisations with two very different results.

I’m sharing them in the hope that one inspires and the other prompts us to ask ourselves, “Could that happen in our business?”.

Firstly, my bank. I had a general enquiry about one of their processes. A client bounced a cheque on me so the bank had automatically represented it. When it was returned the second time I was charged for the pleasure. So, I wanted to know what the bank’s policy was on how many times they would represent the cheque (and therefore how much I’d be charged too).

Their brand proposition proudly talks about wanting “to help businesses thrive…to help people realise their ambitions”. But they’re one of the world’s biggest players anyway and as I had a simple question my expectations of a quick response were high.

My problem though was not that I didn’t get an answer. More, it was ridiculously difficult to ask it in the first place.

My first attempt started after 10pm and the helpline was closed. Fair enough, though people managing their own businesses necessarily tend do the admin at either end of the day. I resorted to the FAQs on the website but after much trawling there was nothing relevant . The LiveChat was not live either.

So next morning I called back. The IVR route made me enter my branch sort code number. Then I needed to type in my account number followed by my date of birth and two digits from my security PIN. For some reason I then had my balance read out automatically. Twice. Topped off with a declaration about the difference between the balance and cleared funds.

I then had to navigate three further levels of IVR options before listening to the on-hold music for five minutes. Then someone picked up the call.

At that point they very helpful. The question was answered inside a minute. Added to the time I’d spent the night before though, the effort to get that point was disproportionate. I only hope they measure customer effort rather than, or aswell as, overall advocacy otherwise things won’t change.

Compare that with my second experience the same day. Next week I’m chairing sessions on passenger experience at the Rail Festival in Amsterdam. I was wondering how I get from Schiphol airport to the city centre by train. So, when a reminder about my flight popped up on my KLM app with a very clear ‘Contact Us’ button I sent them a quick question via Twitter (I could choose which messaging platform to use).

I sat back and carried on with my evening. Twelve minutes later, I had a response from the airline pointing me to where the rail ticket office is inside the airport. Sorted, with very little input from me.

But more than that, after only nine minutes, a delightful lady who runs a company helping law firms in Holland intervened and forwarded my request directly to the rail company, NS. They too then quickly confirmed what I needed to do.

Not only were the airline and rail company right on top of things, one of their own customers was willing to help another. I was very grateful but also intrigued about why she’d done that. She told me the motivation was that she is very proud of the Netherlands and wanted to help anyone who was visiting her country. Her intent was not so much to help the airline or rail company directly but subconsciously had confidence the issue would be resolved quickly.

And indeed, I’d had a swift response. But beyond her wider motive I thought about rail passengers in this country. If we happened to see a message from someone coming to the UK and they’d asked the airline about rail travel here, would we put our own reputation on the line by trying to help out? Would we be so confident that the rail operator would pick up the baton so quickly and easily? Hmmm.

 

They say the experience on the outside reflects the culture on the inside. If it feels like wading through treacle to get answers to simple questions then that business is more than likely carrying excess costs. If it’s easy for customers there’s less processing and support needed from the business. Unnecessary complexity also does nothing to support the wider brand promise; quite the opposite. If the reality of the experience is working against the expectation so much of the Marketing budget is wasted.

It’s easy to set sky-high ambitions but as CX professionals we need ensure there are no gaps between them and what it’s really like to be a customer. As KLM and NS have shown, if it can be easy, why wouldn’t it be? We already know that better experiences mean customers will come back more often, spend more and tell others to do the same. And if that then makes customers feel willing and able to help others customers too, that’s got to be a win for everyone, surely.

(Oh, if you’re interested, in the UK a bank will usually represent a cheque four times. Some though apparently will keep representing many more times, conveniently charging you each time. Be warned!).

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. 

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

 

 

Making technology relevant to the passenger experience

(This post was created as a guest blog for Total BlueSky in August 2015)

The speed and breadth of technological change not just in the aviation world presents fantastic opportunities.  The challenge however, is to take advantage of the right opportunities not just the latest opportunity. Understanding the things that passengers value most helps prioritise where investment and resource is best focused.

“We need to think like retailers, we need to be more digital” is the rallying cry in many away-day strategic planning session. After all, the retail sector is often the first roll-out new technology and in stores, online and bridging the divide between the two. Passenger experience

On the flip side however, why not use technology to create an airline that retailers aspire to be like?

As passengers we are all also consumers in other markets.  It is those interactions when buying a coffee, returning an item bought online or getting our telecoms provider to explain the latest bill that set our expectations.  Replicating best practice creates nothing new and is soon overtaken.  Even mobile, Apple and contactless payment methods quickly become established. Applying the right technology to the right problems on the other hand is a winning strategy.

That however, raises a few questions, not least in the debate about using the latest tech because we can, or using the most relevant tech.

Should our planning horizon be months rather than three or 5 years? If mobile, beacons and wearables are the answer, exactly what is the question? And if technology is so good, why do airlines automate check-in for passengers in economy yet retain the personal touch for those in business class.

It might make processing more cost-efficient but if I’m using it for the first time or it’s not working properly I’ll still expect someone there to help me. It feels very transactional, all about barcodes and processing with no apparent desire for any kind of relationship.  If I fly business class one week and economy the next, I’ll be paying less but I’ll also remember how the different approach made me feel when I’m booking my next business-class flight.

So another question might be “Who is benefiting most from the technology?”.  Is it the airline or airport who can leverage the benefits of data, measure processes more efficiently and drive down operating costs?

Or is it the passenger, for whom technology makes it easier to do business than with a competitor and so they return more often, spend more and tell everyone else to do the same?

At an aviation conference recently I asked a fellow speaker for their views on where technology and passenger experiences meet. Will there be a time in the not too distant future, I wondered, when I won’t be able to fly if I don’t have a smartphone?  The immediate and enthusiastic response was an unequivocal “Absolutely!”.

Nothing wrong with ambition, but there’s a real risk of making the assumption that owning a smartphone means being willing and able to use it in the way that airlines want passengers to.

A large US carrier launched its lost baggage app with a big fanfare and indeed, it did shows where a bag was and how that compared with where it should be.  That’s not an inconsiderable amount of time, money and opportunity cost to develop technology that is unlikely to be at the top of a passenger’s wish-list.

As a passenger, I expect my bag to make the same trip as me.  I accept that problems happen and that bags do go missing or not make onto the flight.  BA’s recent problems at LHR Terminal 5 highlighted that all too well. But would I download an app and keep checking it when the chances of it going missing are slim anyway and I’ve got a hundred other things to do?

On a trip to Poland recently, my bag didn’t make it.  I went to the information desk and got things sorted. Having just landed in a foreign country late at night, the baggage reclaim area was not where I would have expected to try and connect to a new mobile network and rely on an app to know more than the people in the room.  I would still have gone to the information desk anyway.

I put it to the airline who had developed the app that its usefulness was there, but limited.  The response was that passengers always want to know where their bags are. Personally, I assume they’re where they are supposed to be but if you go to the effort of producing an app, I’m inclined to feel less confident and believe now that’s a frequent occurrence.

And, I was told, as people in transit can run through an airport quicker than bags can be processed, it’s good to check if your bag is going to make it or not.  We then fell into a debate about designing (unintentional) experiences where people have to run, whether they’re fit, have just had a hip replacement, have amplified anxiety and so on.

The point is relevance.

We hear headlines that people are “always connected”. They will be connected to the things that are most relevant to them and help them do what they want to do.  In the case of lost bags, I know the airline has my cellphone number – they’ve reminded me to check-in early and stock up on duty-free goods ­- and I know they can link the bag to its owner.  So if there is an issue why can’t they get in touch with me before I even know there is a problem and solve it.

The slightly introspective approach also manifests itself in the green, orange and red “How was it for you?” buttons that greet us after security, by the gate or exiting customs.

They give a score, an indication of satisfaction at the point of interaction and add to the wealth or metrics and data. What they don’t yield is a qualitative element; why did someone tap the green button with a smile or punch the red button in frustration?

Without that, how do we know what to change?  And as a customer, if I’ve already told you what I think, why should I bother telling you again when I get an email the day after travelling back?

Thinking like a retailer might be a step in the right direction and there is obviously a place for technology.  But what makes the technology a good investment is the mindset and culture that it’s nurtured and developed in.  For example, where everyone in the project team understands and can keep on top of how and why passengers and therefore the business will benefit.

London City Airport has a huge focus on technology but for the primary reason of making the travelling experience better.  From that, they know, will flow more passengers and more revenue.  And the results are testimony to that approach; passenger numbers are expected to exceed 4 million this year.  Customer reviews suggest it’s the kind of airport you hope your airline will fly to.  And commercially, the owners have just put the airport up for sale with an estimated price tag of £2bn.

Technology plays a huge part but I recall LCY’s chief executive Declan Collier keeping things in perspective about how it’s used in an interview with Forrester in 2013. He said “Customer experience is nothing without delivery, and in our business, our propositions stand or fall on the ability of our people to deliver them”.

Adding to the sentiment from New Zealand is Andy Lester, Chief Operating Officer of Christchurch airport.  Such was the devastation of the tragic 2011 earthquake that much of the city is yet to be rebuilt.  However, speaking in Barcelona about how the airport has got back on its feet, he said “We have a great opportunity … but if we think like an airport or think like an airline we won’t see things the way our customers do”.

Airlines have access to some amazing technology. Passengers have a choice about who they fly with. Understanding the two sides and bringing them together in the right way will create a winning combination.


 

Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  Since 2012 I’ve been a consultant helping others understand how best to improve their customer experiences.  If you’ve any questions about this or any other CX issue do please get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

Thank you Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Angrave

CCXP LogoCustomer Experience awards judge

British Gas and United: learnings from their customers with special needs

Understand where customers and companies meet

Understanding what happens when customers and companies meet

Companies who treat Special Needs customers with genuine empathy, supported by internal engagement and education, not only do the right thing but see benefits for all their other customer segments too.  There are two contrasting stories here about how companies deal with the same type of customer in completely different ways; the differences being understanding and communication and clear answers to “Would you buy from us again?”.

There is no upper limit on how strongly I feel about how organisations should really understand their customers; and for personal reasons, even more so when those customer have special needs.  Those people have conditions that may not necessarily be visible but are nonetheless extremely real for them and the people they are with.  They see, and interact with, the world in different ways and a company that is genuinely customer-led will get it.  Others will try to shoe-horn round pegs of customers into the square pegs of their processes and wonder why – or worse, not realise – they do more damage than good.

This is not just about it being the right thing to do.  Companies can be so much more efficient and profitable with the right thinking and attitude. And for those companies saying it’s a customer segment too small or complex to worry about, neither the planning nor delivery is expensive but can be so rewarding in many other ways.  Elite athletes and leadership gurus say that we need to exaggerate what we are trying to do and stretch our imagination if we want to get anywhere near our goals.  If you want to fly above the clouds, shoot for the stars.  The brilliant thing about people with special needs is that they can teach us so much about ourselves, put what we see as the norm into perspective and really challenge the way we do things.  If we get it right for them, we get things right for most other people too.  I wrote more about that in a blog on customer experiences for people with special needs last year.

I’m highlighting two very recent examples here to illustrate what an unintended (to give them the benefit of the doubt) lack of empathy looks like compared with one where they have it sorted.

United Airlines were once again in the headlines this week for less than good customer experiences.  According to the headlines a pilot made an emergency landing and had police officers remove an autistic 15-year old girl and her family – because she had been displaying behavioural signs that most autistic people do. I’m not privvy to the facts and I have every admiration for pilots who get me home safely and are making life and death decisions day-in day-out.  However, the airline knew about the girl’s condition, the family had let them know that before flying.  Flying with an autism is a brave thing to do, for the family aswell as the child.  That anxiety-filled experience would have started as soon as planning the trip began.  People with such conditions rely on routine, on understanding what will happen step by step and can live moment-by-moment so if certainty and boundaries are absent, any emotion becomes amplified.  Autism isn’t a rare condition and for me, the airline and crew should know that and be able to respond accordingly.

So being in a state of heightened anxiety, maybe just about getting through life emotionally and probably not having had a good night’s sleep for years, how must they have felt at being ‘responsible’ for diverting the aircraft and delaying others while trying to keep calm and the situation under control?  How must they feel to have police officers escort them off the plane? How did the airline then help them cope with the unplanned visit to another destination when they are so dependent on routine, familiarity with the environment and certainty?

From a personal and a commercial customer experience perspective I would love to understand what happened and what the airline did. The airline itself says “The United brand vision is more than just words on paper. It is shaped by every aspect of our customer and co-worker experience“.  Very true.  The brand is what customers tell each other it is.

Other airlines know it’s an issue and deal with it well.  Even Los Angeles International Airport now lets customers with special needs pick up a discrete sticker badge to wear, so that staff can be quicker to anticipate issues and help when it’s needed.

Continuing on that more positive note and with the other example, it was refreshing to see that a switch can be flicked to send a company into a different mode when they know they are dealing with someone with special needs.  A British Gas engineer came to service my boiler at home. He was very polite and got on with the job quickly, leaving with a message to say all was well.  I then left for a meeting and returned later that afternoon to discover that not only was there no hot water, there was no water coming out of the hot taps. That’s not a great scenario heading into tea-time and bath-time for the kids.  I rang the helpline, who told me I could not have an engineer out until tomorrow at the earliest.  Things were not looking great, feeling that I am now having to pay for their mistake.  “Really?  There’s nothing you can do? You’re leaving us with two kids and no hot water?”.  “Sorry, I’ve checked again but no.” was the reply.

I’m lucky to live in a country where we take fresh and hot water for granted and there are bigger problems people face day-in day-out.  But at that point in time I was concerned – my son has special needs that mean he needs a wash each day, something he can’t do by himself.  And like the position the girl on the plane found herself in, without the routine and at the tired end of the day, things were now predictably going to be stressful and unpleasant.  I mentioned it in passing to the lady on the helpline, thinking out loud and not to get any special favours but just because I wanted her to know the consequences of their actions. “Special needs?” she asked. That changed things immediately. She asked about the condition and then for what they call “vulnerable” customer, all the stops were pulled out. “It won’t be a problem, we’ll get it sorted tonight. Leave it with us”.  Sure enough, an engineer rang back and was able to talk me through fixing the problem – the previous engineer had left a valve closed, which needed turning 90 degrees to open it.  Simple. All sorted, over the phone.

I appreciate what British Gas did in the end and am grateful the evening remained calm.  But I couldn’t help wondering why they keep that process tucked away for vulnerable customers when it’s what any type of customer needs if they are in a predicament, especially one created by the company in the first place. That will remain the prerogative of their commercial decision-making.

But in one of many sectors where differentiation is sought as much as it is a necessity, the companies that show their employees how to genuinely understand customers will be the ones who get more people coming back, spending more and telling others to do the same.  By paying attention to those with special needs, the treatment of all customers will benefit.  The companies that don’t will simply have all the wrong headlines and wonder why their customer base and profitability is shrinking.

 

If you’d like to know more about this subject or how I might be able to help with any other aspect of customer experience do please get in touch – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or can be contacted by email at [email protected].  ja speaking

Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and thought-provoking, and please feel free to add your own views below.

Jerry Angrave

The job of the customer experience manager

The need to improve customer experiences has been around since cavemen traded rocks for fish.  And as our understanding of complex customer experience issues has grown, so too have the opportunities for those moving into leadership and management roles.

Having credibility to influence change is at the heart of the job.  But in reality, it can sometimes feel like ours is a lonely customer voice at a crowded and loud business table.  Therefore to be a successful customer experience practitioner isn’t just about being good at what gets done;  it’s every bit about how it’s done too.

 

The good news is that business leaders are more empathetic.  They know the impact on customer experiences of how they think and act.  It’s important because it means they are making things better – and stopping things getting worse – for their customers and balance sheets.  Job done?  Not quite.

customer experience manager

The job of the customer experience manager

The bad news is that despite the evidence it works not everyone, sees it that way.  As a customer experience professional, we therefore need to be increasingly influential with those making the decisions.

Beneath the shiny veneer of perfect customer experience platitudes is a real world that’s arguing with itself;  relentless short-termism in one corner and profitable longevity in the other.  Sometimes, indeed often, the two protagonists are in neighbouring departments.

One CEO recently told me, in front of his team, that getting customer experience right “couldn’t be more important”.  And yet a few days later when it came to making strategic decisions, it was all about taking (not necessarily the right) costs out.  The customer’s voice was not being sought, let alone listened to.  And as a result they will continue to do the wrong things well and see managing exceptions as the norm.

It’s a stark reminder that despite the proof that improving customer experiences creates better commercial outcomes, many business people remain wedded to traditional scorecard metrics, processes and tasks.   They don’t get it, they may not want to get it or their boss won’t listen even if they do get it.

Maybe that’s our fault as customer experience professionals because our own approach has not been empathetic enough.  We believe in it passionately because it works, we just need to convince the sceptics.  It’s only part of the role, but a huge part nonetheless.  And so, from my time as both practitioner and consultant, here are ten themes that I know makes our role more effective.

  1. Hunt out your stakeholders – sounds obvious, but map the web of people (not departments) who intentionally or unintentionally make the customer experience what it is.  Whatever their level, whether they’re front-line / back-office / central support or external third parties, they should all be on your list of people you want onside.  Prioritise them, pick them off one-by-one, stay close to them and then get them collaborating with each other.
  2. Build your army – chances are you can’t bring about the right changes on your own.  You need pockets of supporters, advocates in all corners of the business who will help open doors to those stakeholders and tell you what the real challenges are.  They might spring up from the most unlikely of places but people who express an interest in what you do and why you do it are invaluable.  They’re our equivalent of finding a rare Gauguin painting at the back of the garage.  Take them under your wing and they will become the veins through which the oxygen of customer experience will flow into the business.
  3. Listen to understand – make time to understand what stakeholders see as their role in the organisation, what their objectives and challenges are and why they have the issues they do.  Observe carefully;  their most important and personal motivation is often revealed in an off-guard comment or in general conversation about the state of the nation.
  4. Make it matter to them – help them look good. Use what you hear to show specifically how better customer experiences can make their job more effective.  Show how having the right experiences can help them get a better result in their own personal and team objectives.  Give them early warning nudges over a coffee rather than surprise them in the Board Room.  Let them take the credit for being more customer-centric (your boss will know it’s you who made the difference).
  5. Map their journey – if we want to see how we fit into a customer’s world and create the right responses, we map their journeys.  Why not do the same with internal customers too?  It makes conversations much more empathetic and less adversarial.  And it’s not just about their role per se – if you are inviting them to a workshop, how can you position it and present it in a way that guarantees they turn up and contribute?
  6. Invite them in – take any opportunity to show or reinforce the customer strategy.  Have your compelling and targeted “How Customer Experience makes our business better” material handy at all times, especially in your head.  Show them customer journey mapping visuals, build a physical mock-up of a customer’s world.  Host a regular customer experience forum where you get senior people from all your stakeholder areas to share their perspectives.  Create “Customer experience for non-customer experience people sessions” to help spread the word.
  7. Make them empathetic – use real warts-and-all feedback to show them what it’s like to be on the receiving end of what they do.  Remind them that they are a consumer in their own lives.  Get them to think like a customer.  Ask them how the experiences they deliver compare with other organisations in other markets they deal with.  After all, those are the ones pushing the bar of our customers’ expectations ever higher.

    Find ways to help them help themselves

  8. Talk their language – keep it commercial.  Relate using the vocabulary of what matters to them.  Link customer experience to revenue, costs, efficiency, loyalty and margins.  And despite the fanfare around the subject, don’t start the engagement of a sceptical, process-focused but key stakeholder with “Can I talk to you about customer emotions?”.  Eyes will roll and you’ll lose them before you begin.  You know how emotions fit in the bigger picture so that can come later.  Much better to say something like “I’d appreciate your thoughts on how what we do now drives what our customers do next time”.
  9. Lead by example – be proactive and be responsive. Get a reputation for having the clearest, most unambiguous emails and reports. Little things go a long way – always turn up for meetings on time, keep promises, return calls and show an interest.  I’m indebted to David Hicks of Mulberry Consulting for a great example – my answerphone message promises to call back asap but “certainly within 3 hours”.
  10. Keep the momentum going – stay on the look-out for quick wins and use them as proof of concept.  Provide updates, share successes and relay stories of what others in other markets are doing.  Be the one to create an engaging company-wide forum focused purely on customers.  And invite yourself to talk with colleagues around the business at their team meetings.

 

There will be more ways so it will be great to hear what you think.  How do you influence and manage your customer experience stakeholders?

One last thought.  To see people, attitudes and companies change for the better as a result of what you have done can be the most rewarding job in the world.  In fact, it then no longer becomes a job.  So stay true to what you believe.  Expect progress to be slow but up the ante by planning to be quick.  Whatever happens though – and I thank Churchill for his words of wisdom – Never give up. Never give up. Never ever give up.

 

Jerry Angrave

Certified Customer Experience Professional – a practitioner and consultant on the strategic and tactical ways to help organisations improve their customer experiences

 

 

 

 

 

Customer experience without trust is costly

The new challengers in the energy market must be thanking the so-called “Big 6” for making their job easier.  A report just out by Which? shows the polar extremes of customer satisfaction, much of it driven by trust.

On the satisfaction scores, the smaller companies such as Ecotricity, Ovo and Good Energy are over 80%.  With nPower at 35% and Scottish Power at 41% none of the larger legacy retailers nudge above 50%.

Making matters worse for them, less than 20% of customers trust their suppliers.

Why can one group get it so wrong and others get it right?  Only the internal workings of change programmes with workstreams that don’t talk to each other, customer impacts seen at best as an afterthought and metric obsessed planning meetings can answer that.  But while companies like nPower are working hard to hang on to  what they’ve got, the challengers are welcoming new customers in with open arms.

It may be their way of thinking.  If those who run the Big 6 think and act like an energy company they may be missing the point.  Ovo Energy for example has a culture where they are a tech company, a retailer and then an energy supplier.  Subtle, but huge differences.

And what do we mean by trust?  As in any thriving relationship it’s emotive and essential.  Where one party shows contempt, whether perceived or real, the damage is often irreversible.

So little things add up. Making what should be simple enquiries or transactions difficult have consequences. Customers want their questions answered when they call in, not to find they’ve been routed through to the wrong department by an overly-eager IVR.  They want agents to call them back when they said they would and they want to be able to understand their tariffs and bills.  Business customers have different needs from residential yet a lack of empathy is all too often apparent.

Getting the employee experience is vital here too.  If they’re not proud to be delivering the customer experiences they are asked to, the lack of connection shows.  I’ve spent time with one of these companies where employees said they would rather make something up than tell people where they worked.

Reports like this latest update from Which? show the trend of shifting to new players continues. But it’s been doing that for some time and little seems to be changing.  Maybe we should change their label to the “Running out of energy 6”.


 

Do we, and banks themselves, have the appetite to change current accounts?

The Post Office announced today that it is to launch a current account into the UK market, supplied by Bank of Ireland.  It will therefore go some way to allaying the Office of Fair Trading’s fears that because 75% of the market is sewn up by just four banks – Lloyds, RBS, Barclays and HSBC – the restricted choice is not good for competition.  post office atmBut, what will customers make of it?

Current accounts are notoriously sticky, perpetuated by the perceptions of how difficult it is to change and lack of differentiation.  Research by JD Power says that switching is more likely to be triggered by a change in a customer’s circumstances such as a new job, marriage or moving home, than by the attraction of special fees or by suffering bad service.  So it’s no surprise that, according to MoneySupermarket, eight out of ten people have no plans to change in the next 12 months.

So is another current account the answer?  Is the reason why there’s so little switching because it’s the “Same old same-old” rather than a different new?

To paraphrase Bill Gates, we don’t need banks or even bank accounts.  Rather, we need an easy, efficient way of allowing us to exchange money for goods.  Earlier this year, the Payments Council reported that over 90% of our transactions are for a value of under £25, making the adoption of contactless payment technology ever more attractive.

With a branch footprint that is larger than all other banks combined, the Post Office sees that as an opportunity to go back to more personalised, community banking.  But time will tell whether it’s a reliable point of differentiation in today’s channel-agnostic world.

A quick look at a recent survey by Which? on how bank accounts are rated shows that three of the top four – First Direct, Smile and the One Account – do not have a high street presence.  Tellingly, the fourth, the Co-Operative Bank, is not one of the ‘big four’ either.

At the other end of the scale, reaffirming that price is not the be-all and end-all, Santander scored the lowest despite having the highest interest rate on credit balances.  So the challenge, for customers to decide if they should switch and for providers to offer the right value, is not insignificant.

But that may be changing.  Choice is growing and with it the opportunity for new entrants to clear away the complexities of fee charging structures, to start with new technology that gets the basics right every time and to position themselves to take full advantage of the more stringent switching mandates coming into effect later this year.  The energetic Metro Bank is opening new branches and getting good reviews from its customers and – literally – their dogs too.  The purchase by the Co-Operative Bank from Lloyds Banking Group of a ready-to-go operation made up of customers, accounts, staff and branches is also drifting to a conclusion.

And two others to watch.  In the background, the shy but highly effective Handelsbanken.  With 150 locally-focused branches, a decentralised decision-making philosophy and a belief that banking is about customers and not products, the Swedish bank has quietly created greater, genuine loyalty among its customers, a stronger reputation in the markets and a higher average profitability than its competitors.

In the United States, Simple has created an invitation-only banking proposition that is making a few C-Suite Executives sit up and take notice.  Being purely technology-based doesn’t create lasting differentiation but its attitude is hard to replicate by established banks.  There are no fees, the revenue is generated by the spread between asset and liability pricing.  Their call centres are very light on scripting, encouraging conversations rather than transactions – humanising the experience again.  Their debit cards arrive presented as a gift, not tucked inside an A4 tri-fold covered in barcodes.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, current account providers are seeing the revenue generated from an active account reducing.  The OFT calculates a fall from £152 per account in 2008 to £139 in 2012.  So what’s the appeal for those wanting to play?  The real opportunity lies in the ability to use the account as a foundation for deepening the relationship, otherwise known as “selling more products”.

That’s where the likes of the Post Office may be able to grab an advantage;  to make the most of their face-to-face interactions, building trust and empathy that do lead to additional sales and revenue, just in a less adversarial way.  One of the biggest gripes about banks is that every time we are in touch with them, it seems they are always in a rush trying to sell us something.  It’s probably not without reason either.  Highly complex algorithms have been trawling through vast data warehouses as they carry out their propensity modelling.  In a thirst to meet balanced scorecard objectives, they generate more sales leads than the front-line can handle.

Current Accounts - how will they evolve?

The writing on the wall for current accounts: how, will they evolve?

What that looks like to a customer is, hopefully, what the new entrants can avoid.  It’s ok to get what’s labelled as a customer service call saying “I’m just ringing to check that everything’s ok?”.  But when it’s followed by “Ah, sorry to hear the kids are playing up right now, but would a personal loan be useful so you can all go on holiday?” that’s not very helpful.  What’s worse, is when I say “Actually, yes, I want to talk about that duplicated direct debit last month, which no-one has contacted me about” and I’m told I have to call someone else about that.

Evidence suggests that most providers are still heavily reliant on looking to transactional current accounts in order to create relationships.  More of the same isn’t really a sharp enough stick with which to poke ambivalent and inert customers into switching.  But for some, innovation based on having an absolute understanding of what it’s really like to be a customer and what they are looking for will see them evolve from same-old to different-new before their competitors.

And when banks change their current account, that is when we’ll change our current account too.

Remove unintended barriers to the intended email Customer Experience.

It’s an inconvenient truth that in promoting the use of email as a contact method, it is surprisingly easy to leave the wrong message.

I’m not talking about the content here, there’s plenty of focus on that.  The issue is about the realities of the customer experience when there has been a lack of thought given to the subject heading and the email address itself.

We wouldn’t set out to create an intentional experience that deliberately stops customers from being able to get in touch with us.  Not least, we wouldn’t want to be the one having to explain it to the Board.  And worse, it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have to justify it to a customer who is trying to turn to us for help.

Surely that doesn’t happen in today’s hyper-competitive, customer-hugging commercial world?  But it does, very much so, and in the process undermines all the good work created by the brand investment, employee engagement programmes and those posters on the wall proclaiming “We put customers at the heart of everything we do” (whatever that means..).

Here are three examples of where it can go wrong.  To give them context, the first one has a customer’s perspective providing the commentary:

I’ve had an email from “DoNotReply” – how do I get in touch?

Bought my tickets online. It all went well, it was easy and the people were friendly. But in the confirmation email I had there were a couple of things that weren’t quite clear and so I wanted to check some of the details. Problem was, it was from [email protected]— so I wasn’t sure what to do. There was no other way of contacting them apart from links to “Subscribe to our newsletter”, “You might also be interested in these services” and so on.  I’ve never had a good experience with their call centre either.

I went back to the company website and looked for the “Contact Us” page but knew I’d have to explain all the information again. Turns out it wasn’t a freephone number so I sent a message using one of those forms. All I’ve had back is a note saying I’m a valued customer and they’ll get back to me in three working days. I’m still waiting.

If they can send me an email, why do they make it so hard to reply to it?

 

And the point is?

Stopping people replying to automated messages might seem like an operational efficiency but there’s going to be a greater cost in, at best, handling the additional enquiry or at worst, losing the business next time. To get an email from DoNotReply isn’t very friendly language. You’re effectively saying ‘Hey you. Don’t even think about replying. Ha. We’ve got your money so we’re off trying to seduce more new customers like you”.

Either put in place a mechanism for routing emails that do come in or provide an obvious and easy alternative. By their nature, automatically generated messages that fit a template are more likely to generate enquiries from customers whose lives are not governed by templates.

You get the drift. The second and third points follow in the same vein so I’ll rattle through them.

Dear “Info”, who are you, really?
When our customers or clients put the effort in and choose to go to our website, ideally we want them to get in touch. That’s why we have a Contact Us page. How many times have we read that we only have one chance to make a first impression; that it’s the first seven seconds where people make up their minds about us?

So it seems at odds with that if the first contact we offer them is a highly impersonal [email protected]— or [email protected]—. It can also be at odds with what the brand promises everywhere else on the site about being customer-focused. Whether your customers are buying a book or chartering a luxury business jet, it’s got to be reassuring for the customer to think they are sending a message to a real person. Simply changing “[email protected]” to, say, “[email protected]” makes it so much more engaging.

I know you’re here somewhere…
Linked to the two I’ve mentioned, this one’s about customers being able to find your emails later.

Chances are that during the life of your relationship a customer will want to get in touch. And if they’ve got an account number, membership reference, a password reminder or simply want your email address, it’s very likely they’ll look up an old email from you. We all do it, and the first thing we’re likely to do is to sort our inbox messages by sender.

However, the name of the company is often elusive. Instead, we have many messages from “Customer Services”, “Info”, “NoReply” to name but three very generic addresses. We want it to be easy for people to get in touch with us and we don’t want to give them a reason to give up searching or risk going elsewhere. It’s therefore well worth thinking about using an appropriate name that will appear in the customers inbox where they expect it to.

You may have all these and more covered, in which case that’s great. But if there’s any doubt, check it out. It won’t take long and if it starts a conversation between you and your colleagues about what needs fixing and how, that’s got to be better than the alternative “Please explain” conversation around the Board table.

Interested to hear your views, thank you.

Jerry

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Jerry Angrave
Managing Director, Empathyce Customer Experience
www.empathyce.com | [email protected]
+44 (0) 7917 718 072