Image courtesy of Unsplash | Yomex Owo

Dropping the C bomb in retail banking

Telling my bank to get on their bike

Like most folks in the digital industry I get a daily overwhelming dose of articles to read. I make enough time to stop the drowning sensation and never feel like I’m on top of it. Note to self, must try harder. There’s a constant stream of how retailers are oh-so-amazing at loyalty and how the fintechs are reinventing banking. I often think that I’m not quite experiencing the hype and maybe I’m the one doing something wrong. Just how loyal do you have to be? Am I going to the wrong places?

I’ve never followed just the money path. There’s probably been a ton of opportunities to do so, but the little problem called being a practitioner always got in the way. For me, creating a better customer experience has always trumped the political games, the drink with the right folks or being part of the inner circle of something. So with that I’ve lived to my means… a cupboard in docklands, then a terraced house in Kent. I saw how colleagues took on the big lifestyle that kept them tied to the security of the mothership. For me, a life with more flexibility simply meant in real terms living modestly.

Re-re-wind, when the banks says yes, select A

I had a current account and my first mortgage at the bank from my home town, where my parents had a current account. It’s what you did… well at 14 when doing a paper-round, milk round and kitchen porter job.

When I moved to Kent 15 years ago I got a shiny new mortgage, quite happily provided to me without getting out of bed. It was easy.

At the time of this switch from my original mortgage provider to the new one, I did think about how transactional it was… all those dishes washed, the weekly wages paid in, always (just about) in credit. But with my new deal offered from what was Abbey National, then at the time the National part was killed and then a flame logo added it made sense to change, whatever they did with their branding.

The full hand — their retail bank dream

As time progressed and I continued to try different agency and consulting jobs, working on all manner of interesting briefs with some great clients and teams, my product holding started to grow. It made sense to switch my current account, it even got cash-back on the mortgage with them… bonza reward.

They were so good to me, offering credit cards, saving accounts, investment accounts, a Children’s account. Ultimately a single login on one app did make it easier to check where everything was. Then one day in branch whilst paying a cheque in (who uses those?) I was asked to step into the managers office to do it. And there it was, I’d qualified to be a Select Customer… which in real terms meant I was doing pretty OK. It meant a little fee each month, but the benefits were larger than that. And now being in the more grown up club meant their people treated you with white-glove service. Clearly this was segmentation in full swing. It worked and worked really well. If I could have the classic NPS scale in front of me I was killing it for them — always a 9 or 10. But not just on a marketing survey — I took the time to tell others just how good it was. Those recommendations bought business, for free. I know with GiffGaff (top service folks) I can get a couple of quid by providing a referral code for others joining, but this loyalty was running deeper than that.

All change and no change

As described to me as jumping off a cliff, I left a top agency to go it alone. No reliable salary, pension, health cover, biscuits… it was now up to me to get it sorted. Going straight to what I know — the work — proved to be a great strategy. No time wasting expensive pitching or going to conferences; just me, my Mac and a Goldline pad. What was I thinking? As it goes, things worked out really well, all powered by getting on with it. I did wonder, with my salary being guillotined, whether I’d be reintroduced to the manager’s room at the bank again only to be told, “You are no longer part of this club.” But nothing… so things continued.

Where are the clever Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Personalisation and the rest of the buzzword technologies? Maybe used for some more targeted marketing… it certainly didn’t recognise one of the most massive changes I made to life. Not so clever then.

Focus + motivation = great to work from home

I read quite a few articles about how isolation could be terrible and the distractions of the house would leave me struggling. Personally not having to wear headphones from the constant interruptions meant my productivity shot straight up. Zoom and Slack became new friends so I could keep in contact with project team members and friends when it suited. So with this, maybe my setup in the spare room wasn’t the best thing. Having a bigger space, somewhere to get a good few rolls of paper pinned up and not just the computer setup was beckoning. A move. I can hear the groans from everyone who has done it. A pain in the highest order.

Not so expected experience

I called my relationship manager about the mortgage as I had finished up paying (yes, the 20 years had screamed by) and said that I wanted to use the facility again, just for the same amount.

I was reasonably informed about the changes brought about by MMR and how the old formula of x3.5 your income was no longer the answer to lending. In the entire period never a payment missed, regular overpayments from any bonuses meant, as described to me in branch, it should take about 2 minutes. But no, they couldn’t do this, I had to call a different number. And this is where things changed. From the usual snappy picking up the phone ‘we love you’ experience, I had over an hour on hold.

We all know an hour of the same music (and not great music) gets tiring. Really tiring. Finally I spoke to a handler who said as my mortgage balance was zero, they couldn’t do anything. So I visited a branch again and they arranged for someone to call me once they’d found out what I needed to do. They did and all was back to the usual top notch service. I called the mortgage department again… with another 45 mins on hold and the same music. I also noted how it took 50% of my mobile battery. With this I started to measure my own wait time and annoyance on battery depletion. It was fun, at first.

The big no

So it turns out that without three years of accounts filed at Companies House the default answer to ‘can I re-instate my mortgage?’ is ‘go away’. I did understand that it was tricky for contractors to get mortgages and previously asked my relationship manager about it — not a problem, they said, we’ll simply use your wife’s employment instead.

After more (lots more) music and holding, I got the offer — almost half of what I’d been originally lent and, for the record, 70% of a battery. I probably needed some anger management sessions after that call. The computer simply said no, you don’t have any affordability.

I thought the best thing was to stop with the constant texts and email. It would be sensible to go see my relationship manager, they would be able to look at the facts and help get things straightened out. But the processes and systems overruled them. The history (or should that be loyalty) was swept aside. I was basically dealing with two businesses, one, the bank, that wanted me, the other, the mortgage arm of the bank, that couldn’t care less. I could have gone berserk, but instead I went for full cancellation right there, the big Close bomb. I closed every single product. Even the manager showed up to say she would sort it. She couldn’t. The systems weren’t joined up and it was strangling them. All closed. Kerr-boom.

What this taught me

That data could and should be used as evidence — but for a human to make decisions when it comes to the big things. AI and the rest are perfect for processing the everyday, to keep things efficient.

The challenger banks are building better products and services, but will they be able to join everything up and score 9 or 10 in every area? I simply don’t know. I’d like to think so, folks like Chetwood who build ethical propositions.

The role of people as the experience in service design, not a new shiny technology, might just recognise the value that loyal customers actually bring. Things for us all to think about:

  • Whose job is it to create and action customer strategy?
  • How are your people recognising loyalty?
  • How are they empowered to do something with it?

Originally published at loveexperience.co.uk on July 30, 2018.