You don’t need a weatherman… Time to face Customers

I participated to the annual ABI (the Italian Association of Banks) Conference “Dimensione Cliente” (in italian, Dimension: Customer) in 2012 and in 2013. The Conference hosts several speeches by bankers, consultancy firms and MR agencies.

I read some papers by 2014 edition. And I continue to think “Something doesn’t work”.

Bankers talk us about different manners to open or enable channels from customers to banks: new layouts for agencies, changes in online channels (i.e. advanced home banking platforms, home banking apps for mobility), advanced Customer Care touch points (i.e. video chats).

But a lot of these initiatives seem to me “atomized”, like series of disconnected software libraries: pieces that are necessary for a good operating system, but the operating system is still in beta version.

Banks are facing a new age in their business: used to wait their customers at the counter, they are realizing that customers’ likelihood to switch is worryingly high. The main outcome is banks are dealing with “talking” with their customers, not only by codes, contract statements and compliance norms. But the outcome is incomplete: they must go to their customers (from bank to customers).

I am not an expert about finance, but, sure, I spend a lot of my time observing and talking with customers. A lot of them are banks’, financial institutions’ and insurance companies’ customers… These are the main mistakes or incomplete steps customers (not I) report about the financial companies they work with.

1. Banks don’t rule unexpected events. Inefficiencies happen. Trying to eliminate them is quite impossible (and if it was possible, costs in term of money, personnel and time would be unaffordable). Rule them is often more realistic. Banks have a lower percentage of inefficiencies if compared with other services (public transports, retail stores, internet providers, telephone providers, cable TV and so on). Banks are perfectly oiled mechanisms and they work without problems in 99% of cases… when a mistake, an inefficiency, a hitch occurs, banks appear unable to react with the same implacable ability they use when the “event is the norm”. The chain to recall where or when the problem was originated appears too long. Let’s imagine the lapse for solution.

Corollary: an inefficiency is what a customer call it “inefficiency” – a classical mistake in organizations is to define “error” or “inefficiency” only lacks of process or non-compliance events. Whereas the customer has a clear definition of inefficiency: something that impedes, delays or stops one of his/her expected result. One week to deliver a copy of a document is a  KPI quite accepted by the organization… But it could be an unacceptable amount of time at the eyes of the customer. He/she has reported it to the local agency. He/she has written to the Customer Care email address. He/she has called to an office. In his/her opinion, he/she has spent a lot of his/her valued time to report the fact. Now he/she is waiting, and no one (absolutely no one) is able to tell when the damned copy will arrive.

2. Banks define an “a priori” service model. Life changes habits and, more than all, vailable time. People can lose their job, relocate, have sons. And, except losing job, people often plan such kind of changes. When and individual is planning a new car, a new home, a new member in the family, his manner to consider relationships is changing… before the act to buy or to become pregnant. Banks enjoy of a huge quantity of data about their customers. But such data is the “present” not the “future” in customers life.

3. Banks replicate service models though different channels. This is not an only-bank typical mistake. A lot of service companies commit the same. Let’s take a bank’s smartphone app (I challenge you: whatever). It seems an elementary version of a remote banking site. A lot of banks offer their own smartphone app. Statistics are quite cruel: customers use apps for an incredibly tight range of functions (reading the statement, a glance to stocks performance, etc.). A lot of gurus will explain you that “customers feel uncomfortable or unsecure” doing operations by a tablet/smartphone. Another school of gurus, probably, will tell you that “advanced customers” are increasing, it’s only a matter of waiting the “mainstream monet”. Following a classical urban legend, advanced customers are always affluent people, high-class professionals etc. Okay: it is false, simply. The answer is less complicated (remember Occam, please): people look for easiness. They don’t want to use asymmetric cryptography to pay the monthly installment. People use credit cards because they are “easy”. Not because they consider dangerous carrying a lot of cash.

Corollary (linked to point 1): if you provide an online chat to your customers, or a brand new Facebook page, DON’T answer “We are forwarding your problem to the Customer Care office” (or, worst, “Please, contact the Customer Care office”). Because YOU (damned online chat, damned Facebook page) ARE the Customer Care office.

4. Customers doesn’t want relationship. I lost the number of times I heard “Customer wants relationship” (I wrote down the number on a post-it, I am so analogical sometimes…). Please, don’t believe in urban legends. Customers DON’T WANT relationship. They ASSUME relationship. And relationships have their rules. First: I can call you for a lot of topic you can’t solve, but I call you because you (normally) listen to me. Then: customers, sometimes, communicate to have someone to talk with (please: take the chance to listen a normal customer satisfaction survey recorded interview….).  Second: I can invite you to a beer because I want to ask you for a loan, or I wan to discover if you sleep with my wife (okay, language is so polite… to sleep is not the correct verb), or I want to spend two hours. Then: customers can report you a topic but often they are considering a lot of other questions. Third: if I invite a lady to dine, if I cover her of roses, if I open her the car door… and, in the remote hypothesis, she accepts my courting… she will perceive immediately if my “service model” is changing after the engagement. Then: it’s not a matter of gifts (every customer knows that some conditions to close the deal are quite temporary: 200 free minutes of conversation, first year interest rate, etc.). It’s a matter of soft, quite non verbal communication. Ask a lady if she would accept 15 working days to know if her partner will drive her to cinema.

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