Confirmit: hearing the voice of the customer - Claire Sporton

Trust is a highly prized commodity in the banking industry, which is trying to win back the hearts and wallets of customers. Loyalty from customers is no longer a given, so the pressure is on to adopt a customer-centric model that delivers the right products and services at the right time. As Confirmit's Claire Sporton explains, that model fundamentally relies on understanding what it is that customers want.

The financial services sector knows it has a lot to prove in the eyes of its customers. The enduring hangover from the financial crisis that began in 2008 has forced banks to look at how to perform better in a more complex, multichannel environment in order to build positive sentiment in a customer base that can switch banks more easily than ever.

The solution is customer-centricity, and achieving it means starting with the simple things that underpin the innovative, value-added services that ultimately act as differentiators.

"The level of trust in financial institutions has fallen off a cliff," says Claire Sporton, vice-president of customer experience management at Confirmit. "You've got to get the basics right; you have to make sure there is consistency of approach across numerous different channels so that customers get the same experience. That is what is going to build trust.

"Before you start trying to delight customers in every way possible, which may not be cost-effective or even desirable, make sure you are getting the basics right and delivering on your brand promises," she continues. "That is what people want in the first instance, from financial services, airlines, hotels and everyone else. Understand what you are providing and then do it really well."

Confirmit is a leading voice of the customer and market research solutions provider, which helps businesses capture the value of customer feedback as a driver of organisational change. It provides secure, reliable and scalable data collection solutions for 'voice of the customer' programmes, as well as employee engagement and market research. Its solutions work not only across direct channels, but also incorporate indirect social media monitoring and collection from inferred operational systems.

Banks know why they are pursuing customer-centricity, but, with the capability Confirmit's solutions give them to tap into a wealth of customer data, they can start to look beyond the 'why' and towards the 'how'. Key to that is the consistency of services across all channels.

"Trust is about consistency," says Sporton. "When customers contact their bank, they want the bank to know who they are, and to have a similar experience every time and through every channel. Building trust in this industry is about knowing what customers expect, and then being able to deliver and deliver and deliver. Get that right and then you can move up the pyramid of needs and start looking at how to delight customers.

"The financial services sector has had a wake-up call around multiple channels and the push to digital. But, fundamentally, cross-channel services are key. Take First Direct, which started with a call centre strategy and got the basics right, then delivered much more than that. Then it moved to delivering services online. The important thing is that customers should be able to move between channels easily."

Keeping pace with change

Keeping a consistent level of service across multiple channels is no easy task, particularly as new channels evolve. Social media, for instance, is a key area for the industry, as it is increasingly the forum through which customers comment and recommend service providers. What the industry must understand, however, is how to put that channel to best use.

"From the perspective of customer experience and tracking feedback, the key is being able to track an individual customer across all channels," says Sporton. "If you send them a customer survey, for example, use the channel that they choose. If a customer prefers emails, then send the survey by email. If they use mobile banking, then send it to their mobile phone.

"A few years ago, people were quick to say that organisations would not be asking questions any more as they would get all their feedback from social media. It is not the case that the survey is dead. We see very much that you can use social media to identify new trends and new areas that you might not have been thinking about. You can use the blogs and online communities to get an idea of what customers are thinking about, but is that feedback adequate to help organisations drive change? No."

"Trust is about consistency. Customers want the bank to know who they are, and to have a similar experience every time and through every channel."

For Sporton, the problem is that social media does not necessarily provide a representative sample of an organisation's customer base and, therefore, may not be useful in highlighting specific areas where change is needed. That said, it can certainly be a source of valuable information for financial institutions, as well as providing a channel through which banks can reach out with their brands.

"Social media is hugely powerful for providing a heads-up on new issues, but then you need to follow it up with more robust feedback to identify what the issues are," she says. "Social media plays a key part in getting an overview, but it is not the answer to all of our prayers.

"New channels will always emerge, so you have to keep thinking about how you will capture feedback. The big thing now is mobiles and tablets, which give you the option to capture video and audio files, as well as geolocation data. You can capture not only the voice of the customer, but also the face of the customer when they give feedback. Organisations can see and hear their customers commenting on the quality of products and services."

Mining for gold

The many ways in which financial services providers can drive engagement and capture customer feedback mean that there is more data than ever before at banks' disposal. However, the possession of this data in itself is not what will give a bank the edge. The biggest challenge of all is not to bring all of the relevant data together, but to derive value from it.

Lying in the huge volume of data on customer satisfaction and customer behaviour is crucial insight on how to change an organisation in a way that enables it to develop and deploy the products and services that customers want. That is the information that will enable banks to move in a meaningful way towards a customer-centric model and to differentiate themselves from their competitors, including the new entrants into the financial services market.

Sifting through the data to unearth that insight is not a core competency of banks. It is, however, an area of expertise for customer experience experts like Confirmit.

"We can capture so much data from numerous sources that we end up with this bank of information, but the real issue is what we do with it," says Sporton. "That is what is important. You have to take it out of individual silos, bring it together and start to talk to your stakeholders. People talk a lot about customer journeys - understanding the experience from a customer perspective. What people do less well is look at an internal perspective and ask what their organisations need to do differently.

"As well as walking in the shoes of customers, we need to start walking in the shoes of our internal audiences to know if people are doing something different in light of the wealth of customer experience data they have," she continues. "It may emerge that they don't need a 70-page report on customer feedback, but a one-page report that highlights the top priorities and what they need to do next. People are busy, so we need to use the technology and the experience of customer insight professionals to help people understand what they need to do, rather than just giving them all the data. Distil it into useful, clear guidance."

Claire Sporton, vice-president of customer experience management at Confirmit.