A 20-year veteran of Walt Disney World®, Dennis Snow is a consultant, trainer and author who helps organizations improve their customer experience. He was a featured speaker at two of this year’s FIS™ conferences, InfoShare 2014 and FIS Client Conference 2014. In this interview, Snow discusses how seeing through the lens of the customer can transform mediocre customer service into exceptional customer service, differentiate the financial institution and build lasting value.
What business justifications exist for doing the hard work it takes to ensure an exceptional customer experience?
Snow: Financial products have become highly commoditized, and customers have more choices than ever. In a commoditized world, the only way to win business is by standing out from the crowd and making customers feel valued.
Also, customers’ perceptions of service excellence are much more broadly defined in today’s world. They evaluate their banking experiences in the context of excellent experiences they’ve had with any brand – Ritz-Carlton®, Nordstrom®, Walt Disney World, Amazon™ and others – not just brands within the financial services industry.
Finally, the punishment for bad customer service has expanded exponentially with the advent of social media. Negative word of mouth previously translated to nine other people being told about a bad customer service experience. Now, everybody has a platform for complaints when they feel their trust has been violated.
What key factors need to be in place in order to provide excellent customer service?
Snow: Gallup has researched this for many years and found that four customer expectations remain remarkably consistent across industries. At the lowest level, customers expect accuracy (i.e., employee knowledge). Next are availability (i.e., responsiveness) and then partnership (i.e., care). At the highest level, customers expect advice (i.e., learning something new).
But knowledge is the foundation of excellent customer service. Nothing else counts if employees aren’t knowledgeable or at least able to access information. Employees can be nice, but if they don’t know what they are talking about, being nice doesn’t count.
You also need to define the distractors that can negatively affect the customer experience and the commitments that everyone must make to prevent distractors from occurring. For example, a bank can spend $5 million to build a deluxe branch office, but if trash collects around the building entrance, an “everything speaks” distractor has crept into the experience. The commitment in this case would be for someone to walk the property regularly and pick up the trash.
How do you train for excellence?
Snow: What effective training does is to help people see the world through the lens of the customer. Employees are generally looking at things from an operational point of view – what tasks they need to accomplish – instead of what the customer is doing during each step of a process.
We use a Service Mapping tool to plot every step of the customer experience from the customer’s perspective. At each step, you need to ask what mediocre service looks like and then what excellent service looks like. You need to think about what could go wrong and become a distractor. I’ve discovered that sharing examples and stories of what excellence looks like with employees through various communications reinforces the mindset of seeing the world through the lens of the customer.
How do you measure success?
Snow: I believe in keeping things simple. Although the institution should routinely conduct customer satisfaction surveys and track its Net Promoter® Score, it’s critical for managers to be in the field with their teams – doing side-by-sides in the call centers, listening into conversations, and observing and helping out in the branches. When I was a manager at Disney, I was expected to spend 70 percent of my time on activities such as coaching and providing feedback.
I also believe that holding people accountable for their behaviors enculturates a service mindset. As a leader, you must take responsibility for holding people accountable as well as recognizing people for going above and beyond.
A heavily measured process isn’t required to separate your superstars from employees whose resignations you would gladly accept. Sometimes the number of measurements on managers’ dashboards can be overwhelming and it’s best to step back and ask: What are we trying to accomplish? What key indicators tell us that we are doing our best at attracting and retaining customers?
As you know, sometimes bankers need to diffuse customer anxiety during complex financial transactions. What tips do you have for making customers feel at ease when they are outside their comfort zones?
Snow: A big source of anxiety stems from banking jargon. For the typical layperson, the use of jargon increases anxiety. People often fear saying something stupid. As a result, people clam up and hope the conversation ends quickly, which defeats any attempt to have a dialogue. Backing off the jargon can ease anxiety.
For higher-level processes, customers need to know what to expect in advance of a meeting – what’s going to happen, what documents to bring, how long the process will take and what questions will be asked. A law firm with which I work recognized they were providing mediocre experiences during their initial client meetings. They created a template with specific instructions about how to reach the office, where to park, what to bring and what would be discussed. This not only improved the efficiency of their initial meetings but also put clients at ease.
My third recommendation is to personalize the process. By that I mean looking at each component step of an interaction and considering whether the customer may be feeling processed or feeling welcomed. For example, one of the banks with which I’ve worked hired high school students on Friday afternoons to pass out fresh cookies to customers waiting in its drive-through lines. Through this simple solution, the bank acknowledged its customers’ potential frustrations. As a result, customers felt welcomed, not processed through a line.
How can financial institutions go about providing service excellence for different types of customer journeys given the various channels they are using today?
Snow: I think there are three tiers in banking. From a strategic perspective, it’s critical to look at each tier and define what a great customer experience is through the lens of the customer.
The electronic transactional tier is where I can do things on my smartphone such as checking my balance and paying bills. At that level, good service translates to having easy access, navigating easily and feeling secure about transactions.
Tier two represents routine banking activities conducted in person. Easy access and security continue to be foundational to a good service experience, but making customers feel valued is more easily executed in person. Over time, more transactions are becoming digital and more tier-two activities will migrate to tier one.
Tier three represents those interactions that make or break the relationship – applying for a mortgage, for example. I believe tier-three interactions will continue to take place one-on-one because of the perceived risk (and potential rewards for the bank). At tier three, we need to ensure that customers feel as if they are valued and welcomed and we care about attracting and retaining their business.