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How banks can be more customer-centric

Do something you never thought you could

Successful innovation focuses on making customers' lives easier, better and, ideally, more enjoyable. In banking, this focus is calibrated by de-complicating processes that customers have to go through simply to manage or move their money, make payments, checks balances and other everyday matters that are driven by necessity for customers and hence involve a degree of stress. Stress is no basis for an enduring relationship.

When customer needs dictate your development agenda, your innovation is far more likely to deliver growth and value. When ServiceNow recently came out as Number One in the Forbes list of 'The World's Most Innovative Companies (2018) Fred Luddy, the founder and former CEO of our company stated: "There is no better experience than giving someone a piece of technology that lets them do something they never thought they could do." This has constantly been the approach to innovation behind  ServiceNow's growth from nothing to a market capitalisation of over $30 billion in less than fifteen years. 

There is a ceaseless drive for innovation across the financial services sector at this point in time enabled by developments such as APIs, artificial intelligence, biometrics, payment provision, blockchain and heaps more.

New and evolving digital technologies are transforming the business landscape, facilitating a wave of new products and services.  Our current CEO, John Donahoe, builds on Fred Luddy's observations: "This is not technology in service of technology", says John, "We want to enhance the quality of the lives of people at work, whether you're an IT help-desk professional or an end user." 

Customer focus is always right

It all costs money, however and budgets do not simply expand because great technologies do. For decision makers in business and IT, hard choices have to be made about how to allocate investment monies. They're not only hard, they're laden with risk. History, and very recent history at that, tells many stories of technologies that promised the world and became overnight phenomena, only to disappear without trace. Anyone remember Second Life?

There is no guarantee that your investments in technology will yield a financial return. There is one way to ensure that they’re never completely wasted, however, and that’s by maintaining a relentless focus on your customer.

A recent article in FinTech Futures by By Bipin Sahni, head of innovation R&D in the Innovation Group at Wells Fargo canvassed some useful advice for how to be more customer-centric. Some of his advice is summarised here:

Ask first

Ask your customers about their challenges, pain points, and goals. Ask them what they want, like and dislike. There are lots of ways to ask, depending on your timescales and budgets – focus groups, online surveys, consumer panels and so on. Once you’ve asked the right questions, you can start thinking about how you can help them overcome their challenges, solve their problems and reach their goals.

Involve customers in the development process

Invite them to try your new products – or better yet, prototypes – and provide feedback. Watch how they interact with a product to get a sense of how they expect to be able to use it, what they like about a given product, and where an experience may fall short. Then you’re more likely to create something that meets or exceeds their expectations.

Meet them on their turf

It’s all well and good to bring customers into your boardroom, or your research agency’s focus group room, but the best place to observe your customers’ behaviour is in the real world, where they actually use your products and services.

Watch, dont sell

Too many organisations are afraid to let an instance of customer contact go by without taking the opportunity to sell or upsell. Think of customer communication during the development process as a marketing exercise, and not a sales opportunity. Ask questions, listen to the answers and observe. Not only will you glean valuable insight, but your customers will appreciate you taking the time to canvas their opinions, which in the long run is probably worth more than a quick one-off sale.

Research begins at home

The legendary ad man David Ogilvy once famously said “The customer is not an idiot. The customer is your wife”. Leaving aside the questionable gender stereotyping (it was the 1960s), his point is especially useful in this context, particularly for smaller organisations that can’t necessarily afford research programs. Your friends, family and colleagues are all customers and potential customers that you interact with every day. Use this resource to inform your strategy going forward (but not to the point where your friends start avoiding you).

Ask the team

There’s no shortage of studies demonstrating a direct correlation between customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. Which makes sense, as happy staff are always going to be prepared to go the extra mile to help the company achieve its objectives, and the main objective is always a happy customer. But there’s more to engaging staff than just making them feel valued. Team members are a great source of knowledge and are usually full of ideas, whether they’re about new product potential or better ways to run the business. Creating channels for internal feedback can help improve the business and drive new ideas, ultimately benefiting customers.

Allocating resource and evaluating the ROI of innovation is a complex issue for banks as a raft of new technologies present an ever increasing array of opportunity and risk. But keeping a strict focus on how these innovations will ultimately benefit the customer will always provide a watertight rationale for innovation investment decisions.



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René Haeberlin

René Haeberlin

Client Director


Member since

13 Sep 2018



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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Innovation in Financial Services

A discussion of trends in innovation management within financial institutions, and the key processes, technology and cultural shifts driving innovation.

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