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The seamless customer experience – Where are the chinks in your armour?

Bumpy journeyA bump in the road

A small and silly thing happened to me recently, leading me to ponder how minor hiccups can have a big impact on an otherwise seamless customer experience.

Let me explain. Encouraged by a no fuss, free-returns policy I ordered several pairs of shoes from an online retailer with the intention of trying them on and returning a couple of pairs. The website was great, its filters were sensible and really helped me find what I wanted. The payment system was quick and simple and within three days, the new shoes had landed triumphantly at my doorstep. So far, so good.

I remember thinking how clever it was of the company to emphasise the ease of returns which encouraged me to order more pairs, because I ended up liking three of the four pairs and only returning one, upsizing my intended purchase considerably. Then, smugly, I filled out the return form, packed up the unlucky pair and went to apply the conveniently supplied return address label to the box.

And that’s when it happened. The sticky label would just NOT detach from the returns form. I folded the edges this way and that, I tried using my finger nail to separate the sticker from its backing, I even asked my five-year-old son to have a go. But that sticker was not budging. Finally, after some (not so) delicate manipulation on my part, I managed to shred the sticker down the centre, leaving the address obscured and both halves crumpled and unusable.

All of a sudden, my ‘no-fuss’ return felt like quite a bit of fuss. And after such a frictionless path to purchase and delivery, the sticker failure felt like a jarring disruption to the customer experience as a whole, and a minor but significant failure to deliver the desired ‘no-fuss’ experience.

So what?

The point of this long-winded introduction is to demonstrate how a matter as small as a misfiring address label can take the gloss off an otherwise excellent experience.

This same situation is repeated in countless ways across the corporate world, as customers are let down by the micro-experiences that slip through the cracks of the customer experience transformation project. Financial services firms, in particular, tend to have lengthy and complex customer journeys, making it easy for inconsistent customer experiences to sneak through.

Why pick on financial services?

There are a number of reasons why I’ve focused on financial services. Firstly, before joining an agency, much of my career was spent in financial firms where I was closely involved in the uphill battle of customer experience transformation, so I have personal experience of this in action. Secondly, the size and scale of financial services firms, especially long-established firms, make them particularly vulnerable to this issue. It’s incredibly difficult to create a full view of the customer journey across multiple departments and multiple products, let alone roll out and maintain a consistent customer experience across disjointed and disparate touchpoints.

And finally, as financial services have largely answered the call to become more transparent and approachable since the GFC, the gap between their new customer experience and their legacy customer experience is all the more noticeable and, therefore, jarring when any inconsistency persists.

Time to sweat the small stuff

Working with financial services firms across the spectrum to audit their communications and embed more approachable tones of voice, there are a few stubborn sticking points which most often pop up as poor customer experience culprits. Check this list and ask yourself how your customer experience stacks up.

  1. Contact centre

Often, call centre staff are on the frontline of a customer experience revamp, especially when you’re trying to encourage a friendlier, more approachable experience. But has this rolled out evenly to all corners and teams of your call centre? The general advice team might be totally on point, while the pensions team are dragging their feet. Or it might be that a friendly cheery tone of voice is inappropriate for the deceased estates team, so how does your brand language translate to their interactions? It’s worth finding out.

  1. Automated templates

With a large organisation that has been around a long time, it’s likely that a surprisingly large proportion of customer communications will be generated by legacy systems which send out automated templates to customers at certain trigger points. Sometimes it can be very difficult just to find, let along update, all these templates, especially if the customer journey has never been mapped comprehensively in the past. And even if you’ve managed to find them all, the lead time and IT investment to update them all can be significant, which can result in these being ‘de-scoped’ from a customer transformation project as if they don’t exist. This is a common mistake.

  1. Social media

A notorious minefield for financial services firms, social media is often a realm where the customer experience falls down. Obviously, very short-form content does not give you a lot of scope to express your brand personality or resolve customer issues in a meaningful way, but there are other mistakes that should be avoided. Auto-posting tweets at all times of the day and night can be tempting for the efficiency it delivers, but social media users prize authenticity and interaction, and tend to see through and punish auto-posters with low engagement. The other trap is bowing to compliance by adding short-form disclaimers throughout, diluting every message with an obligatory “Risk of loss”. I understand why firms do it, but it can really distract and detract from their message. Sometimes it’s better to keep financial promotions to channels which suit them better than crowbar them into social media.

  1. Microcopy

So often most of the effort in updating a website goes on the big-ticket, high profile items like home page design, headlines and body copy. It’s easy to forget about the small bits of reminder wording that pop up when a field hasn’t been completed, the small text fields that pop up to explain different features, or the field names for an online subscription form. Although none of these on their own have a huge impact on a customer experience, they can create inconsistency in the experience and make it seem inauthentic – like a mask that slips only every now and then.

  1. When things go wrong

It’s easy to be consistent and considered in your communications with customers when they are planned and expected, but when something unexpected has happened and a firm needs to react in a hurry you can often see the brand’s ‘mask’ slip once again. It’s essential to step into the shoes of the customer in these situations and make sure you’ve considered it carefully from their perspective. For example, a brand that cites honesty as one of its values needs to be prepared to accept responsibility when something goes wrong (even if the legal team want them to demur). Easier said than done when the chips are down!

Crossing the ‘t’s and dotting the ‘i’s

Obviously with complex, multi-channel customer experience being the norm these days, there are plenty of things that can go wrong. If you’ve read through this list and you can confidently say that your customer experience is consistently good across all of these points, then well done you. But you’re in the minority. Research shows that the customer experience is becoming more and more important to today’s consumer, and most financial firms have taken heed and worked hard to understand and improve their own customer experience. Wouldn’t it be a shame if all this hard work were undone by something silly like a faulty sticky label!!?!

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