Trust is easy to lose and difficult to gain back. Cutthroat competition in several industries is making it essential for organizations to retain customer trust or, if they've lost it, work hard to earn it back.
The financial services industry has been going through a PR crisis in the past years, as bailouts, subprime lending, and stock market declines have led to negative perceptions of the whole industry. As Jonathan Levitt, CMO at OpinionLab, points out, when customers hear the name of a bank or a Wall Street company, many times it's related to major bailouts or massive bonuses being paid to executives. "The events of the past five years have changed the mentality of customers with regards to financial services companies," Levitt notes.
This cloud of negativity has fueled the need to become more customer centric, bringing about a silver lining to a dark period in the recent history of financial entities. "The financial industry was shaken from its apathy and forced to listen to customers," Levitt says. Stacey Haefele, CEO of HNW, agrees. "Trust is deeply shaken," she notes. "More than any other industry, financial services organizations have a big job to earn back their customers' loyalty," notes Simon Angrove, senior vice president and general manager for Verint's retail financial services.
Further, the financial services landscape is changing, and traditional entities are having to compete not only against their direct competitors but also non-traditional financial services companies, for example peer-to-peer lending organizations. "Customers have several different options for borrowing money and are no longer locked in to financial institutions like they used to be," notes Levitt. This is pushing traditional institutions to become more nimble and customer centric.
In order to recover the trust they have lost, change some customers' negative perception of them, and beat their competition, many financial services organizations are making an effort to listen to their customers and then take action on what they're hearing.
Integrating cross-channel feedback
Because today's customers are communicating with the brands they do business with across multiple channels, different departments in an organization are gathering their own customer feedback. According to experts, a major setback for companies is their inability to bridge departmental silos and bring this fragmented information together, allowing them to glean a more rounded view of their customers. "We're living in a multichannel retail world where customers complete their buying journeys across many different channels, making it imperative for organizations to get a cross-channel view of their customers across these touchpoints," Angrove notes. He adds that while there are a number of financial services entities moving towards feedback integration, this is still an early trend.
Levitt agrees that cross-channel integration of feedback is the biggest challenge that financial organizations are facing. "We've seen companies that are making huge strides in collecting information, but stitching it all together is still a problem," he notes. Levitt says each interaction between a customer and an organization is part of the overall brand experience, so business leaders need to make sure they're gathering data from every part of the company. Geico, Levitt notes, is one company that is managing to effectively gather information from different channels and meshing it together to tell a comprehensive story.
Blue Shield of California addresses the potential problem of silos through a monthly meeting among managers of different channels. During the meeting, they share details on customer insights that they've gleaned, notes Mallika Madakasira, insights consultant at the insurance provider. Further, a daily newsletter that includes customer insights is sent to key decision-makers. Sharing insights across different departments helps reiterate the company's determination to do what's right for the customer.
According to Madakasira, Blue Shield of California's efforts to listen to what its customers are saying have also translated into a cultural shift within the company, turning it into a more customer-focused organization. Madakasira notes that Blue Shield of California is currently working to drive a more customer-centric culture where the conversation begins with the customer in mind, with employees looking at everything from the customer's viewpoint, allowing them to prioritize what's important for their customers.
Employing novel VOC techniques
Listening to customers is not enough. Organizations not only need to hear what their customers are saying and understand their pain points, but they also need to act on this insight in order to rectify any problems. As Adele Sage, customer experience analyst at Forrester Research, told 1to1 Media last year, companies that excel in their VOC initiatives are distinguished by their ability to connect the dots between listening, analyzing the information, taking action, and looking at results. Levitt notes that organizations, including financial entities, are still making the mistake of not acting on their voice of the customer insights. "We're great at gathering information, but not so much at acting on it," he notes.
This is due in part to VOC techniques historically being very manual, for example reading comment cards and employing mystery shoppers. Angrove notes today organizations can gather feedback from an increasing number of sources. These include looking at what customers and prospects are saying in social media, both about that particular organization and its competitors. Secondly, voice analytics technology is making it much easier for businesses to understand what their customers expect from them.
In order to get the best insights, some financial entities are experimenting with novel ways to analyze and aggregate VOC from across the enterprise. According to Haefele, some companies are recruiting large format focus groups and allowing customers to interact with each other and discuss the companies they do business with. Haefele notes that while representatives of the company that commissioned the research are present, they try to remain unobtrusive, making space for customers to be more vocal and truthful in their discussions.
Financial entities are also engaging in ethnographic research by interviewing customers in their own homes. Haefele says brands are sending participants a video camera and sets of exercises and corresponding questions and asking them to film themselves answering the questions, allowing businesses to get insights and also observe customers in their own homes.
Experts highlight the importance of not forgetting frontline employees, who are always a great source of information since they are in constant contact with customers. Further, including frontline employees in VOC exercises allows organizations to be more agile in addressing problems and fixing potentially problematic relationships.
Finally, financial organizations need to close the loop and let customers know what they're doing to address their concerns. Angrove notes that savvy companies are identifying causes of dissatisfaction and immediately reaching out to that particular customer to ask for more information and also explain what steps the organization is planning to take to resolve the problem.
Customers who are not satisfied with the way a brand is treating them are likely to lose trust in that organization. As Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D., write in their latest book Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage, "the penalties for untrustworthy behavior in a highly interactive and transparent world will be severe and immediate." Since lack of trust is not only a phenomenon present in the financial services industry, with Forbes highlighting research indicating that almost a third of online consumers are more likely to trust the opinion of a stranger above that of a brand just last month, all entities would do well to listen to their customers' voice to better understand what they can do to improve the relationship with them.