Alison Esse, Co-founder and Director at culture change consultancy The Storytellers
Financial Services was once an industry focused on the customer, where people would regularly visit their branch and where the bank manager knew them by name. It is now a world of on-demand internet banking, apps, and easy-switch accounts. Challenger banks offering more personal, accessible, innovative services are capturing the attention of consumers, ensuring that offering a truly personal service remains key to customer loyalty for financial services firms.
Indeed, our recent research, ‘Two Years’ Warning: The Customer Centricity Crisis’, found that 93 per cent of people working in this sector are trying to drive a better experience for their customers. Shockingly, nearly three quarters (71 per cent) of leaders believe their company won’t survive beyond the next two years unless they focus on customers. For four in five (84 per cent) commitment to customers is their top business priority, but more needs to be done to put this intention into practice.
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Of course, leaders know customer centricity is crucial, but don’t seem to realise the role of employees in making this happen. One in four (25 per cent) admit they don’t trust their teams to always do the right things by customers. But, how can they expect employees to work at their best if they’re held back from achieving their goals? We found a lack of leadership (39 per cent), unclear internal communications (47 per cent) and international footprints (52 per cent) all named by financial services employees as significant barriers to meeting customer needs.
The good news is that although financial services industry has an unfair reputation of being stuck in its ways, it is filled with passionate and intelligent employees keen to put the employee first – if they’re enabled to do so. Change needs to happen, and quickly. If employees feel ownership of change, and understand the journey that their company needs to take, success is far more likely to follow. So how can leaders go about making this a reality?
- Craft a clear and compelling business story
Putting the customer at the heart of the business journey unites employees and leaders alike behind one purpose and vision, and allows them to understand the role they can play. Define this narrative, write it down, and tell it widely across the business. This way, every team member has a consistent reference point for their actions.
- Encourage leaders to champion the journey
Establishing role models across the company can help reinforce customer-centric behaviours. Coach leaders to model the necessary behaviours, and encourage them to act as a point of contact for others’ queries in achieving these goals. What leaders think, say and do creates an underlying narrative in every organisation that affects how employees act and behave – and if employees think their leader only cares about profit margins, can you really expect their focus to be on the customer?
- Share emotionally moving stories from customers
‘Making it real’ for those team members who are removed from day-to-day client contact can be difficult. To get cross-functional teams on board and working towards a common goal, identify stories that illustrate the consequences of employees’ actions on the end user. Stories have a profound effect on the mindsets and behaviours of employees – helping them to envisage how their every action has an impact.
- Inspire and empower employees to act
Every employee will have their own idea of what it means to put the customer first, and it’s up to leaders to empower their people to channel their efforts in the most appropriate way. Create a shared language that everyone understands to describe the company’s purpose, and tell memorable stories from those who demonstrate these behaviours to inspire other employees to follow their example. Every employee needs to be able to see their role in the narrative, and feel comfortable in exhibiting the behaviours that will help build trust and customer loyalty.
- Plan for, create and celebrate belief-building success stories
During times of change, if employees don’t believe the change will have a real impact, or understand the reasoning behind it, they can feel left behind, alienated or even resist it. Show that genuine change is taking place and the positive effect it’s having on them and, most importantly, the customer. Throughout the process, identify and share stories of success and progress that link back to your narrative – and demonstrate how these apply to both the individual and the wider organisation.
- Look out and listen for obstacles
What’s stopping your employees being customer-centric? You might think you know, but the simplest way to check is to ask. Share the responses of the struggles employees face, and your strategy for improving these for the whole. If you don’t have the systems, structures or skills within the company to overcome challenges to change, it’s time to build them – out in the open.
For more on the customer centricity challenges facing financial services, and how to use stories to overcome these, please do read the report in full ‘Two Year’s Warning: The Customer Centricity Crisis’.