Run through the finish line.

I recently spoke at an event where the topic was restoring Customer trust.

I was excited to tell our story and also to learn from the other speakers. What I actually learned was that we were in a better place than most.

The first speaker was from a well known and very large financial institution. She was a good speaker and they seemed to be doing lots of nice things. I wish I had the funding to launch CSR type programmes on the scale that they have but to be honest if I did, I wouldn’t do it their way. That's not to say what they are doing is bad and I'm sure it all fits together for them but to me, it felt a bit random; it seemed like a collection of nice things they do which no one would say they shouldn’t do and that their staff probably enjoy. I think though when you go to rebuild trust you need to scratch a little deeper than the surface. You might have to rebuild the whole house instead of just adding a bit of paint. There were two aspects of what they are doing that really spoke volumes to me.

I knew about the programmes the speaker referenced already from accompanying national advertising campaigns. I don’t think I am unique in that when I see a bank with a tarnished reputation run an ad about something nice they are doing in the community but that thing is not really core to their products then it makes me trust them even less. My grandfather once told me that when you do the right thing for the wrong reason it can quickly become the wrong thing. It also reminded me of Steven Covey’s great quote about always keeping the main thing the main thing. In my view, what they are doing lacks authenticity and until they actually change their core products and practices then no one will trust them. No one will trust them until they earn that trust through what they are there to do every day. There was a point raised about why some companies bounce back from scandals faster than others. I think it has nothing to do with PR and everything to do with how Customers are treated.

The second thing was what the speaker said about dealing with complaints. It is something I heard a lot during the days that I worked in the global mega banks. She said that when a Customer complains you can delight them by how you respond. I’m not sure what consultant first came up with that idea but it is so outdated these days as by the time you respond they have already shared the bad experience. And companies that focus only on eliminating complaints often cripple the ability of the front line staff to serve the Customer by putting so many controls around the People delivering the service that those People then have no ability to really provide simple old fashioned personal service. You obviously want fewer complaints but in reality, complaints are a lagging indicator of something much worse, normally the result of a process gone wrong but while you need to fix the process you also need to let the front line own that initial moment of truth with the Customer.  An empowered member of your team is much more critical than a perfectly designed process as the perfect process does not exist when real Customers get involved. We know this at HomeServe because it is exactly what we did a number of years ago. And it was a disaster.

The real heart of building trust and having great service is a bit harder. Building trust starts when a process goes right but your People recognise it is not a good outcome and change that outcome. Banks focus so much on fair outcomes that they think only about preventing complaints and not enough about happy Customers. You have to put more focus on empowering your People to really own that outcome and put less focus around controlling them.

I have recently thought of this as asking our People to always 'run through the finish line'. I think modern day financial service companies have a very thorough plan to get exactly to the finish line but not through it. By this I mean they manage their staff to move transactions from A to B, with B being the finish line, in a tightly controlled process. They are happy that 99% of the time they get to B and then the other 1% are a complaint that they resolve quickly and potentially delight that Customer if all goes perfectly. They put so much effort in that 1% and maintaining the 99%. If they just set it up for the staff to aim for a point just past the finish line, point C if you like, then they’d get 100% across the line. Not 99%, 100%.

The challenge with allowing the staff to run through the finish line is first, you have to truly trust them, and second, you have to have a bit of faith that the extra costs you incur will mean reduced and less costly complaints plus higher retention and usage rates as you lift the experience of the other 99%. Almost everyone gets to B, some get to C, and almost no one complains.

How do we get everyone to run through the finish line? For us, it was about making it real. I’ve talked about CustomerFirst before and it really is pretty simple. If computer says no then our People are empowered to spend some time and money to say yes. They control the funding and they control who to help. Our People have spent just over £300k since it started a little over two years ago and nearly 80% of the staff have used it. £300k is a tiny amount in the scheme of things and we are certain it has paid for itself many times over. We don’t make our underwriters foot that bill as it is outside the terms and conditions. We fund this ourselves because it signals to our staff that we want them to run through the line. When an insurer tells their staff to start paying for things outside the coverage of their polices then their People know they are serious about running through that line.

Ultimately, it's about having faith in your People and giving them real tools to take care of the Customer. You do that and the rest takes care of itself.