Lessons from working with lots of financial services brands to improve customer satisfaction

June 4, 2024
minutes read

About five years ago, we became the first tech spin out from Barclays Bank and set about trying to make it much easier for customers to connect with financial services companies. 

Since then, we’ve engaged with hundreds of brands, from high street banks to small brokers. Thousands of customers download one of our apps every week, with amazing results in the form of +90 NPS satisfaction scores, and thousands of five star reviews. 

This week, I’m preparing to present at a Financial Services Customer  Experience conference on what we’ve learned so far. So I thought I’d capture the key points in this blog.

Our top 5 lessons are:

  1. Look for phone, email, and post – that’s where you’ll find the things that make customers mad that can be fixed fastest. 
  1. Make the connection to financial benefits – that’s key to getting your idea prioritised and delivered. 
  1. Keep the solution simple - that’s all most customers really want. 
  1. Brace for objections - not everyone will want you to succeed. 
  1. Prove it, then scale it - focus on validating key assumptions quickly, then double down based on what you learn. 


Lesson 1 - Look for phone, email, and post 

I was thinking about what might be interesting for a presentation I’m doing to an audience of people from brands like NatWest, Nationwide, Lloyds, Coventry Building Society, Bibby, JP Morgan, Close Brothers, Citibank, Aviva, and Axa, and for inspiration I looked through through their recent TrustPilot feedback. 

Most of the bad reviews could be traced back to a frustration with phone, email, or post. 

There were loads of examples, across all of those brands, all recent, all driving people mad. 

This was across different types of process, from new mortgage applications getting stuck on hold for 3 hours, to existing customers going round in circles of telephony IVR menus.

More technical processes such as unblocking accounts frozen with a Fraud flag, Bereavements, and Power of Attorney stood out as pain point themes characterised by long waiting and elapsed times, channel hops, promised call backs that never happen, lengthy forms to fill out, hordes of paperwork, documentation, proof of identity, other evidence, and approvals, high error rates, moving things around departments, and duplication of effort. 

It’s understandable that customers get cross because not being able to pay for stuff is annoying, and dealing with a family death or serious illness is emotional.

Despite billions of pounds invested every year to digitise processes, pretty much every financial services company still uses phone, email, and post a lot, for tasks that could be digitised. 

If you can find where this is happening, get underneath what customers are saying about their experiences, and understand the process, then you will find opportunities to deliver big jumps in customer satisfaction. 


2. Connect customer satisfaction to financial benefits

Once you’ve identified where legacy channels are causing bad customer experiences, then it’s time to get some budget… 

Sizing the bottom line financial return on investment is crucial to get the initiative prioritised above lots of other good ideas for how to spend finite budgets. 

The key is to make the connection from solving the pain point that is caused by phone, email, or paper to a benefits case; ideally showing at least 10X Vs. cost, and realised in £’s on the bottom line within a matter of weeks. 

As inputs, you’ll need some base current state performance data such as volumes of customers going through the processes, conversion rates, wait times, elapsed time, effort, complaints, the number of staff employed and their costs, and the value of additional products - e.g. how much interest is generated on each completed loan. And you’ll need an understanding of the process to a level that lets you identify areas where phone, email, post are causing dropouts, delays, duplication, and errors. 

With those inputs, you will have enough data to make an informed assumption on the percentage improvement that can be delivered across staff productivity, conversion rates, and retention can be improved. 

Cost reduction can be simpler as it is usually easy to believe that by digitising away from phone, email, and paper can improve staff productivity, but I usually get more excited by revenue generation benefits cases - where better customer experience coupled with improved productivity combine so that our clients are to sell (or retain) more products by addressing the pain points that lead to people giving up on applications or getting so frustrated that they close their accounts. 

Here are a couple of examples, based on the bad customer reviews above… 

A customer wanting to start a remortgage application is being kept on hold on the phone for 3 hours. This is one of 50K+ applications per year, conversion target is 80%+, actual performance is 62% and dropping. Each completed deal is worth £8K per annum in net interest revenue. The demand is there but reliance on phone is causing dropouts, so it’s easy to believe that if we offer a 24/7 digital alternative that’s easy and convenient, then more of the customers who want to apply will follow through. Then we can size a percentage uplift in mortgage completions per month and multiply this by the value of each mortgage, and we have a meaningful revenue case. 

A customer left because their account was incorrectly flagged for fraud, and it took them lots of calls, emails, branch visit etc. to sort it out. This drove them mad enough to leave. We know we have 15K complaints about this, we know 20K customers switched their accounts to another bank last year, and we know each current account is worth £80 per annum. Then we can size a percentage reduction in account closures and multiply this by the value of each current account. 

Armed with some calculations and assumptions, the key next step is finding a sponsor who will take responsibility for realising the financial returns. This will either be by reducing their team’s headcount and / or taking a higher target. In our experience, when we take the time to find the processes that still rely on phone, email or post, sponsors are not that hard to find. 

Typically, it’s well known to a sponsor just how crazily bad the processes and customer experiences have become, they’re frustrated by this, losing faith that Exec’s promises of grand transformation programmes are ever going to materialise, so they will back a business case, and join the battle to make it happen. 


Lesson 3: Keep the solution simple

Getting razor sharp on the root problem behind why phone, email, and post are still used is crucial. 

The root problem comes back to communication, specifically balancing low friction, easy customer experiences with appropriate levels of security, and confidence that the person you are talking to is who they claim to be. 

To solve this, you must hold a ruthless focus on making life easy for the customer and keeping things simple. 

So what DO customers want?... Mainly convenience. Ideally simple, mobile experiences, that they can do at times that suit them, with no waiting on hold, no channel hops, no paper, low effort and fast fulfillment. 

For this, nothing beats instant messaging. It has exploded as a channel of choice, across all demographics, it is used every day because it is simple, familiar, and flexible.

The challenge with messaging is that the mainstream solutions, like WhatsApp, aren’t secure or compliant enough. They’re not built for financial services, and you can’t be confident that the person you are talking to is who they claim to be.

Verified Identity Messaging addresses this -  think a WhatsApp style experience, but with bank standard security, compliance, and ID verification built in along with a range of other FinTech features, automation, and integration capabilities designed specifically to digitise financial services processes. 

With thousands of downloads a week, we’ve learned that If you let your customers engage with you 24/7 over instant messaging, then you will get better satisfaction. Our clients have thousands of reviews like the ones below, my favourite recent three which I felt captured something compelling in their tone and highlight how simple solutions that are truly focused on making life easier for the customer leads to advocacy and loyalty. 

Time and time again, this leads to retention, referrals, upsells and value for everyone.

Lesson 4: Brace for objections 

Not everyone will want you to succeed. There will be governance committees, programme managers, suppliers, consultants, and lots of other people with competing motivations who will see this as a red balloon distraction from the thing they want to happen. 

We often bump into distractions in the form of the forthcoming transformation programmes that will apparently solve everything, the promise of omnichannel, and the potential of artificial intelligence. On these…  

Big transformation programmes are proven to most often run over budget and timescales while failing to deliver the intended benefits. They’re unlikely to be the route to addressing these customer experience pain points, because they will probably run out of steam before they get to them. 

Omnichannel… I once saw a talk on ‘how to deliver an augmented, integrated, Omnichannel customer engagement to ensure real time connection’ (or something like that). But keep that ruthless focus on what the customer wants; did any customer ever ask for an ‘augmented integrated multi channel customer engagement’? I think it’s better to deliver a smooth and simple experience in one channel before trying and deliver perfection across all of them. While I do understand the pitch, I wonder if omnichannel is more something created by successful cloud telephony companies seeking to keep that revenue growth on the back of their initial success.

Generative Artificial Intelligence… I think AI is about to unlock a revolutionary leap in experience and efficiency. But to realise this, we need to be engaging with customers, securely, over natural language. The first step is to get this channel in place so that the robots can do their thing. Research of the reviews also suggests that care is required with robots; if customers don’t get responses that they expect, they can get angry – lots of the bad reviews read like personal revolts against the banks’ AI services. Somehow the scale of bad experience is magnified in the customers’ mind because they see it as a move by the bank to cut costs at the expense of human interaction and a decent experience. 


Lesson 5: Prove it, then scale it 

When you do the business case, capture the top 5 things you need to believe for the benefits to be realised. This can be the reasons people tell you that it won’t work such as “nobody will download the app”, or the leading indicators that underpin benefits such as faster elapsed time per case, or the key performance indicators such as customer NPS scores or conversion rates. 

Then shape the fastest, lowest risk way to get real data across each of these areas, and run it, with a project steering committee involving senior stakeholders, and a meeting booked a month in advance, with papers and data results sent to these stakeholders a week before the meeting happens. 

Showing a tight focus on real data, live customer feedback, and demonstrating this type of delivery discipline and proactive communication are very powerful in building credibility. 

Verified Identity Messaging fits this approach perfectly. It can be launched quickly and early results proven within days without any integration dependencies, with confidence that APIs are there to integrate with core systems in due course. 

The more live customer feedback, scores, reviews, and ideally videos, that you can get = the better. 

With messaging, we’ve seen incredibly powerful results, customers love it, and they will tell you this. It’s brilliant to see the penny drop with Exec. when we show them the real feedback and results. Everything becomes so refreshingly simple for them to understand, and a world of possibilities open up for how this channel of choice can be rolled out more widely to deliver more value. 

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