Decision makers in the financial world are keenly aware that maintaining customer engagement means serving customers how and when they want. It’s not just about bringing them into the fold anymore—it’s about getting them to come back, through channels and methods that are becoming increasingly diverse.
“Clients are moving more to text or e-mail collaboration,” said one executive in a study conducted for AT&T. “My phones are not ringing off the wall anymore because it is so much easier to send a text or email.”
Keeping those customers, and keeping them satisfied and loyal, often means keeping them safe. Poll results showed that 86 percent of those running financial operations invested in cybersecurity in 2015, compared with 79 percent among respondents in fields such as health care and education. The more at ease customers feel, the more likely they are to keep using the same products and services, especially those tied to their bank accounts and investments.
“We take security very seriously,” says Ryan Graciano, co-founder and chief technology officer at Credit Karma, an online provider of credit reports and personalized financial advice. “Since we were founded, we’ve committed to securing member data by treating it as if it were our own. This means using encryption, firewalls and other security precautions to protect the transmission of data, ensuring access to financial accounts are read-only, making sure our data center is monitored around the clock by security personnel, and enlisting independent third-party experts in application security to assess, validate, and confirm our security.”
However, customer engagement goes beyond security. Every client wants to be safe. But even as more and more are communicating with companies via smartphones, tablets, and online conference-call services, switching exclusively to digital interactions may not be the best strategy for an established firm seeking to retain customers who still prefer analog to digital.
Bill Phelps, an executive vice president and head of U.S. commercial business for Booz Allen Hamilton, the global consulting firm, says the first step for any business is to understand not only its current customers but also the customers it will want as demographics fluctuate.
“It’s a question that’s brought up when an organization knows they need to open themselves up to new customers but has a legacy customer base they’re afraid of losing,” Phelps says. “You can look at it mathematically—the value of new customers and the value of old customers—and you can look at it strategically.”
One firm’s strategy may be to embrace the new exclusively, at the cost of the old, while other companies would benefit most from a dual approach, Phelps says. “Say we have older customers who prefer to work with a live human in a call center, and we have younger, more tech-savvy customers who would rather deal with a mobile app on their phone or website—you can have the best of both worlds,” he says. “You can appeal both to new customers and to the old.”
Customers want to feel comfortable, or, at least, they don’t want to feel uncomfortable. Never before have firms had to respond—or had the technological firepower to respond—so quickly. The companies that respond best and offer exceptional customer experiences are the ones that will dominate their peer group, according to an August 2016 report from McKinsey called “The CEO guide to customer experience.”
Rather than monitoring only a few points of contact in a customer’s interaction, leading firms will be vigilant about making sure that entire journey feels rewarding and valuable—down to small details that a client will remember, appreciate, and wish to experience again. They also must do that for a variety of customer profiles and needs, increasing personalization by leveraging technology and data.
“But it takes patience and guts to train an organization to see the world through the customer’s eyes and to redesign functions to create value in a customer-centric way,” according to the McKinsey report. “The management task begins with considering the customer—not the organization—at the center of the exercise.”
About three-quarters of customers expect immediate service similar to those provided by Amazon and Google as “technology has handed customers unprecedented power to dictate the rules in purchasing goods and services,” the report says.
Firms that can’t respond quickly and on an individual level will struggle. One thing that will help companies is understanding the difference between customers’ transactional needs and their emotional needs, says Phelps, as well as understanding how to meet both of them. Amazon and Netflix grew quickly because they created ecosystems in which customers felt comfortable and understood that every successive visit would be easier than the last.
“Because of that history they maintain your buying behavior, the recommendation engines that you’re using, ” Phelps says. “Being a repeat customer has tangible value to you. It becomes easier to do business with them and more rewarding to do business with them. Amazon has been brilliant in reinforcing this through Amazon Prime and things like that.”
A more traditional company, such as Harley Davidson, has created and maintained loyalty through emotional connections and maintaining a brand that speaks to its core customers. Many people buy motorcycles and leather jackets because it just feels good. It’s the same reason car companies tug at heartstrings in commercials instead of only listing miles per gallon and resale value.
“If it doesn't improve the lives of our members, we don't do it,” says Graciano of Credit Karma, which is now valued at $3.5 billion and has more than 60 million U.S. users. “Many people find themselves stuck because personal finance is so complex and opaque. At Credit Karma we recognized an opportunity for transparency and fairness. We are constantly looking for new ways to help our members make the most of their money.”
Perceiving customer engagement as opportunity recognition--identifying new ways to make customers interested, happy, secure, and comfortable—is the surest way for businesses to grow in an ever more competitive marketplace.