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Five steps, sure bets on the road to customer experience success


Let’s say your bank or credit union wants to raise its customer experience game. What step would you take first? Balloons in the branch lobby? A cute email on the customer’s birthday? Or how about something substantial—like New Math 101?

“The first is that you have to acknowledge and understand that customer satisfaction, management and monitoring is a data-driven, empirical discipline,” says Christopher Maher, president and CEO of OceanFirst Bank. “Come up with a measurement philosophy” or you risk not understanding what you’re doing.

“Then it’s important to have several data points you can directly connect to the success of your business,” he says. “We use a Net Promoter Score—the number of customers that would recommend us to a friend. We’ve adopted that because there is a clear link to customer retention.”

Maher’s strong focus on data raises a salient point: In the customer experience game, hard numbers don’t just inform soft tactics. They also present a clear, unbiased picture of where banks succeed and fail, while setting the stage for buy-in at all employee levels.  

“You have to get organizational alignment—not just a couple of people in marketing or some folks in the boardroom,” Maher stresses. “It’s about making it a cultural, wide-based program in the bank. That means that compensation practices have an element tied to customer satisfaction.”

The NPS measure, then, impacts incentives both individually and in groups at OceanFirst, an $8 billion regional bank serving customers in New Jersey, and the Philadelphia and New York metro areas.

The financial models also have to understand and respect how much value that customer satisfaction generates.  “Let’s assume your attrition rate, like many banks, is in the 8-to-9 percent range,” he says. “That means that if you grow by 10 percent, you create 1 to 2 percent customer growth. Many banks operate there.

“But say you improve retention rates. Instead of losing 8 to 9 percent, what if you lose 6 percent? The net growth in customers will be 4 percent, rather than 1 to 2 percent.”

The changing state of satisfaction

Decades ago, customer satisfaction decisions were expensive: extended bank and/or drive-up hours, for example. But digital transformation “has turned that on its head. The most satisfied customers use the digital app, which allows banks to cut operating expenses and improve customer satisfaction.

OceanFirst started a “Certified Digital Banker” program, training employees to help customers download an app, do a remote check deposit and address an issue with Venmo, Zelle or PayPal. A total of 538 staffers have passed it, he says: 100 percent of customer-facing employees.

Another small change with big impact: Mobile check deposits at most banks, he notes, have either a daily or monthly size limit: “Our customers hated that. We waived it. Now we will accept any size check through a cell phone deposit.” That includes, he adds, something as hefty as a $200,000 check from a real estate sale. (In that case, better make sure your smartphone camera is in sharp focus.)

“We found that [the new policy] been exceptionally well received by customers.” (For more on this topic, see “Closing the mobile banking gap” in this executive report.)

Five steps to customer experience excellence

Robert Berini, managing director of customer strategy and applied design, financial services at Deloitte Consulting, strikes similar notes.

One: “Change the executive priority a bit,” Berini says. “In many cases, banks lack a chief customer officer, so elevating it from an organizational leadership perspective is important—to create that leadership impetus and demonstrate the organizational priority.”

Two: “Really think about customers from a new lens.”  The bank, he believes, may understand internal roadmaps for, say, a mortgage application or a car loan from beginning to end—but lack understanding of the customer journey.

”This is about redefining the journey in non-bank terms. If someone’s buying a home or in the market for a car, it’s defining what journey a customer is on.”  

Three: Have a clear, unambiguous definition of value across the organization. Ask: “How do we think about the metrics for customers in terms of satisfaction and loyalty, and how they promote us?”

Four: Focus on introducing experiences, then test and adjust those experiences, whether physical or digital, via prototype and iteration.

Five: “We see a lot of banks improve the technologies to get more actionable feedback and measurements related to customer satisfaction, customer journey and customer value,” Berini says

Courtney Coss, vice president of retail operations and property management at the Credit Union of Texas, adds that from her experience, an accurate blueprint is one thing but a precise roadmap quite another.  

“First thing is to realize that it’s not going to happen overnight,” Coss says. “The first thing we did as a team was sit down and map out what we wanted the end to end experience to look like for our members, not just in the stores, but on the website and all other channels. We then developed a roadmap of what it would take for us to get there.”

What happened next? One example: They changed customer tracking from the old clipboard and pen to lobby tracking technology (also known as visitor management system).  

“Even though we have greeters who sign in each member, we at times have members who leave before being served because, for whatever reason, they don’t have the time to wait,” she says. “That is potential business walking right out of the door.”

With lobby tracking, “We’re able to capture as much information as we can upon a member’s arrival. So if they do walk out, we escalate those individuals to the appropriate referral queue so they can be contacted, hopefully within minutes of leaving the store.”

Parting thoughts: Three more lessons for success

Courtney Coss: “Be flexible. Your vision may change throughout the process. For instance, we initially had tech bars planned as part of our roadmap. But as we got further down the road, we decided that the lobby tracker system could do most of what we’d envisioned the tech bar doing for us, so we decided to save that expense.”

Christopher Maher: Make sure to correlate customer satisfaction measurements with events that might impact it, such as combining branches or acquiring another bank. “Look at the long-term metrics for customer satisfaction.”

Robert Berini: “Many clients may have started building a customer journey but have done that by not talking to customers. The number one mistake is not taking a blank-slate approach. Really listen to clients about the problems they’re actually trying to solve, and what their pain points are.”

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Jeanne Pinder is the founder of ClearHealthCosts.com, an award-winning startup bringing transparency to the health care marketplace.