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Implementing improved customer service


For over thirty years customer service has been one of the most discussed topics in the financial services industry but it is difficult to name more than a couple of banks that have distinguished themselves in this arena. It is even more difficult to understand why customer service isn’t more of a priority when data shows that high levels of customer service increase retention and financial performance. For example, authors Emmet and Mark Murphy showed that a 2% increase in retention of customers has the same financial impact as reducing expenses by 10% while Bain and Company found that increasing retention by 10% increases the value of the company by 30%.

With that in mind, here’s an action plan for improving customer service:

Determine what customer service means to the customer. The customer must define the customer experience, not the company. This cannot be determined through online surveys; it must be developed by talking with customers directly. Financial institutions should meet with various customers (and lots of them) to determine what customers expect and want. Each segment will have different expectations and ultimately must be treated differently, although there will be many similarities.

Develop a mechanism for feedback directly to the CEO without any filtering. The CEO, of course, has to be willing to hear and respond to bad news. Included would be complaints, employee feedback and retention statistics.

Once the customers have spoken, the customer experience must be put into writing – simple, direct language that every employee can understand. Since this is a crucial step, it must be accurate and not open to interpretation, cleansing or manipulation by anyone, including the CEO. Personal coaches, athletic coaches and motivational experts all advise us to write down our goals and plans to reach those goals. Putting in writing the customer’s expectations allows each employee to understand those expectations without their own filters.

Frank Capek, Chief Customer Officer at Customer Innovations, has written, “It is the employee experience that drives business growth.” Employees need to understand how they are expected to act in order to support the expected customer experience. This also needs to be in writing and discussed regularly. Unless expectations are clear, each employee interprets his/her actions and thus consistency is lost.

Now that employees know what behavior is expected, they also need to know what behaviors are unacceptable. Policies and procedures that keep employees from acting in a manner that supports the expected customer experience need to be revised or eliminated. Performance evaluations and incentive programs that reward the wrong behavior need to be eliminated and new programs that support the ultimate goal need to be implemented. If your call center measures employees on how fast they “get off” the phone rather than how satisfied the customer is, then you have a long-term problem. 

Ultimately, employees want to do the right thing and have positive interactions with customers. Three factors always get in the way: policies and procedures that script every behavior rather than trusting employees, a lack of understanding of the ultimate goals of the company regarding the customer, and evaluations and incentives that do not reward employees for doing the right thing. All contribute to the disengagement of employees who become disinterested robots rather than thinking human beings.

With the unwillingness or inability of your competitors to make major changes around customer experience, the door is open to those who can make a difference and create that unique customer service experience.

Ms. Lintz is senior vice president and head of Consumer Banking at Bay Bank, FSB. She can be reached at [email protected]. Mr. Wood is the author of 70 Actions for Success and can be reached at [email protected]