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Prioritizing the Customer Experience

Customer experience is much talked about in retail banking organizations today. The common wisdom holds that in an industry characterized by a high degree of commoditization (and perhaps overcapacity), the customer experience matters far more than do the products (easily obtained and copied) and prices (easily matched), particularly in the more affluent markets. There is no doubt that consumers in this country exhibit a willingness to pay premiums for what are perceived as better experiences as evidenced most notably by Apple products and the store/app/design experiences that go with them.

Many banks continue to struggle to overcome organizational obstacles and make the investments needed to build differentiated, appealing experiences for their customers. This is an absolute priority, however, as banks seek to improve the efficiency of their operating models.

Programs designed to improve perceived service quality and ultimately enable the delivery of a differentiated customer experience are typically organized, at least at the outset, in a three-dimensional framework:

The customer view. What specific aspects of the customer’s experiences with the bank drive dissatisfaction, satisfaction, delight and perceived differences from what others can provide? How does this differ across the various customer segments served by the bank?

The employee view. How do employees perceive the bank’s abilities to deliver on critical drivers of customer value and address deficiencies, resolve customer problems, communicate effectively, etc.? How do employees experience the bank and what drives the perception of an exceptional experience as an employee of the bank?

Operational excellence. Regardless of customer and employee perceptions, does the bank actually deliver reliably, consistently, accurately, and responsively on performance factors that matter to customers and employees?

Every job function in the company should understand the importance of thinking about customer expectations and the performance of the bank in meeting or exceeding those expectations. This has proved much easier said than done. In fact, in my experience (which goes back a way), there is a tremendous inertia that resists dramatic changes to operations and often a high tolerance for suboptimal work flows, customer communications, channel design, and skill sets at the frontline – the most obvious areas where customers experience the brand on a regular basis.

Only after a bank succeeds in getting everyone on the same page relative to a customer-first mentality can the bank begin to design and successfully execute truly differentiated experiences for its customers. Consider the following guidelines when developing a customer experience improvement program at your company:

  • Make the improvement of internal communications regarding the importance of putting the customer first in every interaction your highest priority.
  • Require sales, service, product, channel, and operational areas to identify and recommend steps to eliminate known roadblocks to satisfactory performance. Start with getting the basics right every time and making this part of the standard job definition.
  • Invest to obtain the right customer insights to define the specific factors that drive dissatisfaction or create delight.
  • Know your competition: benchmark against and learn from best practices in retail banking and in other retail businesses that are leading the way.
  • Create innovative experiences across customer touch points to differentiate the company. The sum of these individual differentiating elements will ultimately differentiate the company (think Southwest Airlines – no baggage fees, simple rewards program, friendly and casually dressed staff, open seating, etc.).
  • Organize a rigorous measurement and accountability system.  If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

Competing on experience is the new mandate. As banks work to restructure their delivery systems, improve efficiency, reprice/redesign products, etc., efforts to improve customer experience should follow in lockstep.

Ms. Sullivan is the managing partner of Capital Performance Group LLC, a Washington, D.C. based management consultancy. She can be reached at [email protected].