How the retail banks are addressing customer experience

A few weeks ago I attended the Customer Experience Management for Banking and Financial Services conference, presenting on driving agility into your customer experience.  There were some great presentations, it is great to see the banks taking customer experience seriously. From my notes, what follows are some of the presentations and ideas that resonated with me.

Anthony Thomson, Metrobank

Anthony Thomson, chairman of Metro Bank was inspiring. Everything they do is from the customer perspective.

For everything Metro Bank do, they ask ‘why are we doing this?’ Is it going to make our lives easier, or is it going to give our customers a better experience? The second trumps the first every time.

Metrobank see that they (like all banks) are essentially a money shop who sell the same products as their competitors. The only real differentiator is experience and service. With the Vickers Report recommending “the early introduction” of a system that makes it easier to move accounts and that is “free of risk and cost to customers”, this is going to become increasingly more important.

Retail is detail is the old adage. Think about something as small as the pen on the counter. Chaining it down may suggest security, until you see a chain with no pen attached. Anthony questioned what is the cost of a pen? What is the value of having your branded pen in your customers’ kitchen? Talking of branding he showed a picture of a Metrobank van. Banks use vans all the time to transport the pens and stationary to the branches, but they are never branded. Is this security trumping marketing? A lack of joined up thinking? He commented on the press comments on Metrobank attitude towards dogs. Focussing upon the dog misses the point. Customers love their dogs, why shouldn’t they be allowed in the stores and be positively welcomed! By saying “no dogs” are you saying we care more about our carpets than our customers?

Another detail thing – how often have you waited outside a bank to open in the morning, or be hassled out because it’s the end of the day and is now closed. Metrobank have flexibility, they’ll open a little earlier if people are waiting outside and stay open till the last customer leaves.

A theme through Anthony’s presentation was of empowerment. Empowering staff, removing pedantic rules that get in the way of delivering a compelling customer experience. He told a story of how a customer had to wait longer for assistance than expected and incurred an £8 parking ticket. A member of staff wanted to refund the customer and suggested giving them £4. To which Anthony commented “and only half piss them off?”

Empowerment starts with recruiting good people. Only a fraction of the people who apply get to work for Metrobank. They understand that skills can be trained so they recruit for attitude. If someone whose job is to interact with customers on a daily basis doesn’t smile, they don’t get the job. When it comes to targets, they ‘measure what matters’. They incentivise on service not sales because with good service comes sales.

Rob Hawthorn, Barclays

Empowerment was a theme that ran through the presentation that Rob Hawthorne from Barclays gave. He’s taken a leaf out of the hospitality industry and borrowed from Ritz Carlton with their Credo Card, a single sided card that reminds their staff of the levels of service they should provide. Barclays corporate staff are empowered to fix the problem. Like Metrobank they strive for no stupid rules and put the customer first. For example a customer pays in £230.60 and only £230.20 is credited to the account. They now refund then investigate. By introducing this policy change they say a 65% reduction in customer complaints.

Everyday, in every Ritz Carlton hotel they have The Line-up. This is a fifteen minute meeting to review guest experiences, address issues and identify how they can improve service. It is an opportunity to tell stories, both top down (what’s going on in the company overall) and bottom up (what can we learn from individuals and their interactions with customers). Barclays corporate do this across the organisation. From the top down they have one version of the truth; what is happening in Barclays world, what is important and what are customers saying today?”

The fifteen minute meeting is a familiar concept within agile, known as the standup it’s a brief meeting where the team review what they did yesterday, what they are doing today and any issues or blockers they are facing.

“How often do you see your complaints data?” Asked Rob. What use is seeing it once a month? You should be seeing it every day. Better still (and this is something that I alluded to as well), walk in the shoes of your customer. Get out into the branches, into the call centre and see what is going on for yourself.

Richard Brimble, Veolia Water

Not FS, but Richard gave a view on customer experience from a different viewpoint.  He gave an engaging presentation that started by asking if you are a blue tit or a robin. Blank states from the audience, so he elaborated. After the first world war milk companies started sealing milk bottles with foil tops. Until then the bottles had open tops and both robins and blue tits would drink the cream from the top. With the foil tops the birds had to learn to peck through them. By the 1950s the entire blue tit population had learned this. Robins never did. Robins are territorial and solitary creatures, whilst blue tits are social. They may be scruffy compared to the elegance of the robin, but they are innate communicators. They share their learnings and copy each others successes. As an organisation are you a robin or a blue tit?!

Sean Gilchrist, Barclays

Is Barclays going all Lean Startup? Sean Gilchrist from Barclays told a story of their lean customer development approach to developing their mobile bank Barclays.mobi. The journey started in data; a significant minority of customers were accessing internet banking using mobile devices. A clunky experience at best. Rather than going the Big IT route they went lean and did some customer discovery. “What’s important to you?” they asked customers.  “Checking balance” they were told. “How about paying bills on your mobile?” they asked, “No, we just want to check balances” was the response. “How about a branch location finder?” to be told  “No, we just want to check balances”. In eight weeks and on a shoestring they built and launched their minimum viable product, Barclays.mobi. The product was instantly successful and gave the team leverage to continue development.

Sean told another story about the perils of just pushing something into production without thinking about how people behave on-line. To access account information on on-line banking the customer has to use a security device that displays digits that are then entered into the application. The digits were displayed in two blocks of four:

1234 5678

A decision was taken to replace the single field on the application where this number was entered into two fields that better represented the way the number was presented on the screen, i.e.

|1234| |5678|

The week they made this change they received over thirty thousand complaints about this change. When I’ve recounted this story to Barclays customers they can remember when this happened and what a pain it was. People who don’t touch type look at their keyboard, not the screen. They entered the number as one continuum, not in two blocks. Tabbing between fields is an ‘advanced’ technique. Suddenly the customer was unable to enter the number without having to use their mouse to move to the next field. A change that was suppose to reduce errors ended up causing more. The issue was fixed by have an auto-tab between the fields, but not before customer complaints. Usability testing (oe even having an experienced usability expert on the team) before going live would have picked this issue up.

Trent Fulcher, RBS

Finally Trent Fulcher from RBS presented on the customer experience and innovation work he has been doing at RBS. A key takeaway from his presentation was that at RBS they demonstrated a positive correlation between advocacy and revenue per customer. Not only are advocates more profitable, they also bring new customers to brand. RBS accepted that they will always have detractors to the brand and are happy to take a calculated decision not to focus upon changing their perceptions, rather focus on ‘passives’ and move them to advocates. He demonstrated how RBS modelled their customer journeys, understanding what customers value and expect from every touch point. What they discovered is that for some touchpoints they were overreaching on these expectations, enabling them to understand if they were focussing effort on the parts of the journey that Make A Difference.

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Live chat MVP

I heard a good story this week about in insurance company getting a minimum viable product for Live Chat on their website.  It was when live chat was first starting and as a service was too expensive for them to pursue.  They had a call centre so what they did was a cheap workaround.  There was a call to action for Live Chat on the site, with a picture of an agent ready to start messaging.  But when the pop-up chat window opened, it had a message apologising that all their live chat agents were busy.  But if the customer entered a telephone number they’d get a call right back on their phone.  This was technology they already had. By all accounts it was successful, focussing upon the goal (get an agent talking to the customer real time) rather than the tool.

Who’s deadline is it anyway?

I’ve been rather tardy of late with blog posts; too much else is going on, not least the writing a book Agile Experience Design with Lindsay Ratcliffe to be published in November. Lindsay writes a great article for our publisher on how the design process is no longer fit for purpose, being stuck in the old advertising/ print world with outdated concepts that are irrelevant for the digital world.  Not least is the concept of the deadline, working towards this mythical date for the final reveal.

I’ve recently seen several projects where deadlines have caused all sorts of issues.  Here’s a theme.  The business owner picks a date in the future for the new product to be launched with great fanfare.  An agency are engaged by the business to develop the creative concepts.  This creative stuff has to happen offsite, and certainly nowhere near IT (who are seen as party-poopers, unable to be visionary, rather doomsayers with their constraints).  Aligning the creative and IT is a challenge, but there’s a deadline for the agency to deliver the creative and this fit’s into the IT plan.  What happens next is that the creative slips.  The concepts are not quite right; the business asks for them to refined.  Their deadline passes.  IT raises it as a risk on the plan, but the delivery date for launch remains fixed.  Finally the creative is complete and signed off by the business who are delighted by the innovative concepts.  IT aren’t.  They got an unrealistic product vision to be delivered in an unrealistic timeframe with no control over the launch date that has been announced to the market.  As the date approaches and difficult conversations are had, who gets the blame?  Not the creative team who produced the hoped-for award winning design.  They are long gone.  It is IT who get the blame, once again failing to deliver on time or on budget.

None of this would happen if designers and developers collaborated.  If ownership of both the process and the product was shared.  How can we facilitate that sharing?   That’s coming in the book.  That I ought to get back to writing. To meet the deadline.

The cart before the horse

“We need a digital strategy to map out our roadmap to success”

“We’ve got to use <insert Content Management System / Product> because we’ve paid for licences for it”.

No you don’t.

You need to think about the what, then just get going on the how.

To overuse the metaphor, you need to stop thinking you need a horse and a cart.  Don’t spend your time  designing the cart, or worse still putting it in front of the horse.  You’ll never get anywhere. Your horse will be perfectly good to get you started on the journey.  If it is an old nag you won’t have invested much time and effort on designing a cart that’s not fit for the horse.  And if it’s a thoroughbred you can build a cart that is fit for the journey when you need it.  And that roadmap? What use is it in uncharted territory?

Lean startup machine and the problem with parallel dating

Can you build a business in a weekend?  Can you take an idea, validate it through customer research and launch it to market in forty-eight hours?  Can you pivot in the process- realise that your proposition isn’t as compelling as you thought to your target market and either fail fast or change direction and build something even better?

Eric Reis has written about Lean Startup Machine in a blog that suggests you can.

Inspired, I travelled to NYC over the weekend to experience what Lean Startup machine is all about. I was blown away.

Here’s what happened.

The event kicked off at 6pm with networking then presentations on Lean startup and what it is all about.  Anyone who had an idea was given a minute to pitch to the group.  These were voted on and the best 12 ideas were selected.  People self selected the team they wanted to join – six per team.  The team I wanted to join had seven people, rather jet lagged I agreed to leave and move to an under-resourced team – at the time not my first choice of product to start up, but oh what fun it was to be.

First step was to document our hypothesis and assumptions. Our hypothesis was that men and woman who are active daters have problems with remembering / keeping track of their dates.  The customer value proposition was essentially a dating CRM system.  So I’m happily married so not the most obvious of product choices for me, but this is what the weekend was all about; coming up with a proposition and challenging it.  With a clear hypothesis, at midnight we hit the streets of New York to test it on our target market.  Interviewing people in the lines outside clubs and on the streets around we sought to understand whether there is in fact a problem.  We assumed that people date many partners at the same time and that they would be open to a system to help them manage their relationships.  Our hypothesis was partly proven, there’s clearly problem that is felt more by men than women.  Any solution would be targeted at men.   There are workarounds that men use, for example using fields in their phone address book to capture data such as place met, key features.  And the more ‘advanced’ parallel dater does indeed have a “little black book”.

To back up the qualitative data we built a surveymonkey questionnaire.  This would further validate the concept and capture insights into what data parallel daters need to remember their dates.  To drive traffic to the survey we planned on using Amazon Mechanical Turk to place ads on Craigslist personals through the night.  Unfortunately on Saturday morning both services had rejected us so the survey didn’t get as many responses as we’d have liked.

Our first Minimum Viable Product was a landing page using unbounce. A little more than twelve hours after the initial concept being pitched we had a product, live in the market.  BeBop was born (another variant was datingCRM was also launched to test the URLs and the effectiveness of the calls to action).

Landing page created using unbounce

At this stage the product was a landing page and a call to action “I’m interested”.  Clicking on that took the user to a form that included an email capture address and an option to sign up to the free version and to be notified of the paid-for ‘pro’ version when it comes available.  This way we could judge if the idea would easily generate revenue.  (All the people who completed the form indicated an interest in the $5 a month version).  The idea was to drive traffic to the landing page using Google adwords, but google didn’t like us and this was denied as well.

With our learnings from the previous evening’s customer research we did some design thinking.  The team sketched up ideas of how we could solve the problem.  This exercise was repeated six times – people are precious of their first design, by the sixth they are clutching at straws and this is when left-field ideas can brew up.  And it did.  Why did the product have to be an application?  We’d seen some non-smart phones the night before; an iPhone on Android app would be of little utility to some of target market.  What about an SMS texting service.

Pivot.

The afternoon was spent building a texting service based upon the Twillio platform.  Customers could text their name to a number and they were signed up.  All they they need do is text the contact details of their date to the service and it would be stored.  They could retrieve it by sending a message “info: name” to get that contact texted back to them.  We included some gamification to encourage usage.

The phone texting interface

Saturday night and we hit the clubs and bars again.  This time putting the concept into the hands of potential customers as well as handing out cards with the telephone number.  More customer research.  More often than not our target market was with women, so it was hard to gauge interest.  One guy pretended to throw away the card when the girl he was with expressed shock at the concept – with a slight of hand he tucked it into his shirt pocket as he brought his hand back.

Sunday morning and we reviewed the results.  Some vanity metrics – 150 cards handed out, around 50 meaningful conversations with more customer validation, 15 sign-ups and 7 messages sent.  Was this success?  Hard to tell.  We’d also built a basic MVP android app that we launched Sunday morning and the next step is to test this MVP with customers (the issue we had is that our target market is best found at night so customer testing in the daytime would be hard).  We talked about pivoting again and exploring taking the product to a wider market – do people with non-smart phones have problems managing richer contact details other than just a name and number?  One girl who’d seen the datingCRM product said that she’d use it for that.  But by now time had run out to test this new idea.

Three thirty on Sunday afternoon and each team had six minutes to present with three minutes of questions.  We were first.  It went well.  But how did we do?  We came third overall and joint best MVP.  But it wasn’t the competition it was about, it was more the experience.  It was a real privilege to work with such talented and smart people.  David Young-Chan Kay, Yan Tsirklin, James Washington and Mikhail A. Naumov were an awesome team to work with.  More than that, the whole NYC startup movement is infectious and inspiring.

It didn’t end with our presentation.  There were some other, awesome startups with even better stories that were hatched over the weekend.

One team started with a hypothesis around supporting people hook up with mentors to help them choose the right career path when they were starting out or unsure of the path they are on.  The concept bombed with both the target market and mentors.  In an hour of desperation they realised there was a common theme they were hearing.  People love to bitch and moan.  And thus on Saturday night jobstipation was born, an anonymous place to vent fury and angry about your workplace.  When they presented, ideas of monetisation and tying the concept back to their original ideas were suggested.

Screen shot of jobstipation

The team that won the weekend worked on the hypothesis that teachers spend a lot of time prepping classes, that they spend a lot of time searching for decent materials on the web and that they’d pay for a service that would provide them with quality teaching materials.  Research with teachers validated the assumption that teachers spend a lot of time (thirty hours a week) preparing for lessons.  But the idea that they display economically rationale behaviour was refuted.  Teachers would not pay for the service.  But their principals might.  Pivot.  The team asked the teachers for examples of lessons they have hassle preparing for – geometry was one example.  So they built an MVP that demonstrated searching for quality geometry resources.  They trawled the web to find the information and on sunday morning called the teachers again and showed them the website they’d built.  It may have been ‘smoke and mirrors’ but it worked.  The teachers loved it sufficiently to recommend the concept to their principals – the people with money who would pay for it.  All this in a weekend.

IT innovation can be imitated, great brands can’t. Discuss.

Seen in a marketing presentation “IT innovation can be imitated, great brands can’t“. It’s a great statement that begs to be turned into an exam question with the suffix “discuss”.

What strikes me is this is how a senior marketeer perceives IT; as a commodity with little creative flare and talent. What it ignores is the fact that in truly great brands, IT is oxygen by which they breathe. Facebook, Google, Microsoft.  These are great brands that are IT.

Indeed it is this thinking that that destroys great brands.  Think photography; Kodak (great brand) and Flickr (IT innovation). Think vacuum cleaners; Hoover (great brand) and Dyson (technology innovation).

Enterprise IT has to drag itself out the depths of the organisational cesspool; be recognised not as an enabler, whose customer is the business, but as an innovator and a brand builder. And marketeers need to recognise that without IT, without the ability to execute, their brand will ultimately wither and die.

A tale of two innovation approaches

Last week I attended the kick-off meeting for the UK government’s Technology Strategy Board initiative “Collaboration across digital industries: creating sustainable value chains“.  They have £5.8m (of tax payers money) to award to ”Successful collaborators… to demonstrate how their proposed activity improves or creates new value chains and networks, and show where value is to be created from information, content and services.”

In plainer English, they are looking for companies / universities to come together to develop new digital products.  They talked about “pipes” (the ISPs), “Poems” (the content) and “people” (customer demand), with the sweet spot projects being at the interaction of all three.

Last Monday was the kick-off and the competition (document filling) starts on 14th March.  The funding will not be awarded until 19th August.  Five months before any innovation actually starts.  The funding is to support projects that “are expected to last 12 to 24 months”.

During the kick-off, attendees were invited to present their innovation product ideas.  These were then voted upon.  None were particularly earth-shattering (but then I suppose no-one was going to be putting their best ideas forward in a public space).  Moreover, none of them seemed to justify this long and over-engineered process.

Now compare that with this story.  Following the floods in Queensland, Australia, on a Thursday afternoon three ThoughtWorkers  came together to build a product that would support a Government Telethon to collect donations to help the flood victims.

They had “a little over 48 hours to develop, test and deploy an application that was expected to handle thousands of users. Not only that but an application that, should it fail, would prevent millions of dollars from reaching the people in need in Queensland.”

On Sunday the Telethon aired.   “720 requests per minute… with fast response times…  In about two hours [they] had over AUD$2,000,000.00 (two million) donated through [the] website”.

It has gone on to raise over $25m.

Another story.  Another 48 hours.  This time LeanstartupmachineEric Ries has a great write up on it. Teams get together and in 48 hours strive to get a customer validated product to market.  In some cases this meant ‘pivoting’, discarding the original idea to focus on something else it spawned.  (Flickr is the classic example of this, it started out as an online multi-player game, but the photosharing proved to be more feasible and the game was ditched).  Eric writes:

In one notable case, a team was able to conclusively invalidate a business that I have been pitched by venture-backed entrepreneurs many times – with a full day to spare. Compared to entrepreneurs who’ve blown millions of dollars pursuing the same vision, this is a way better outcome. Since they had extra time, they tried a pivot into a much more promising idea. By the time of the judging, they had an MVP in the market with real customers signed up.

The UK government has the best intentions with the Technology Strategy Board.  But do they need all the process?  Why can’t they do what these two case studies did?  Indeed it’s the same with most large organisations, innovation is rarely rapid in the way it could be.    Bring on the entrepreneurial enterprise that nurtures a culture of rapid experimentation, test, learn; confidence to fail and desire to invest in the successes.  Bring on Lean Start Up thinking into the enterprise.

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