The financial services production line: improving the customer journey
This ideal customer experience can be achieved through a combination of the right strategy, the right resources, the right workforce skills and supporting tools and technology – not just in the contact centre but across the organisation. But so many firms still fail to get it right, writes Elizabeth Gooch, chief executive, EG Solutions (right).
Customers have higher expectations than ever when it comes to the quality of service they receive from the companies they engage with. Organisations such as Amazon and other big-name retailers have mastered the single customer contact strategy, which enables customers to get what they want from the company within one simple transaction, often one-click. Behind the front line, where transactions are processed that are critical to delivering the customer experience but are often unseen by customers, is often not as straightforward. The trick is knowing which tools and techniques can deliver the ‘single customer contact strategy’ and significantly improve customer experience without having to rip the existing systems infrastructure out and start again.
The customer journey in the traditional service sector is broken and disjointed but organisations are realising the benefits of having a clear understanding of the entire customer journey and optimising resources, rather than just focusing on the initial front office touch point, which primarily stems from within the contact centre – it is the back office areas which enable many of the tasks within the front office.
The base level of customer service is getting the fundamentals right:
- Do what the customer wants
- Do it right
- Do it when they want it
Financial services organisations can actually learn many lessons from the manufacturing industry’s production management methodologies in order to achieve this. Many financial organisations operate under the concept that they are a people business not in need of “production management techniques.” However, bringing manufacturing principles to financial services industry processes can bring organisations closer to this ‘single customer contact strategy’.
Manufacturing vs. financial services
Those who have no experience of the manufacturing industry may struggle to see how analysing a typical production line can help to optimise business processes. There is a misconception that manufacturing production lines are single lines producing single variants of a product. Yet, if we look at the Jaguar/Land Rover production line as an example – a world-class manufacturer – it makes 30,000 variables of vehicle on any single line. Far more than, for example, the 3,000 processes a financial organisation will have. So it is clearly possible, and advantageous, to apply these principles in environments of high variation.
There are a number of strategies we should take from manufacturing best practice, including capacity planning, short interval scheduling and line balancing. Once these are implemented we can really understand how many people, with what skills are needed at each point in the process at any given time. The workforce can also be organised along the process (production line), in accordance with demand.
Each individual step in the entire customer journey needs to be defined and measured, and there also needs to be proactive measurement of performance. Only through this can we get basic operational control to smooth the flow, ensure that backlogs don’t develop and make service more predictable. In addition, effectively monitoring and measuring the collaboration between teams creates a smoother flow of processes, enabling teams to manage their workloads more efficiently, in real time.
Ultimately, there needs to be a shift in culture and a passion to improve processes from within. Too often in the service sector, management is seen as the number one priority as it is these teams who deliver for customers. In actuality, the production line workforce (contact centre and back office) should be number one, as it is these who deliver for customers. The rest are merely support functions. Best practice, award winning manufacturers realised this over ten years ago. The cultural divide between these companies and their equivalents in financial services is now a gaping hole.
In financial services, further difficulties lie in many sources of uncontrolled work, including: fragmented and inter-departmental processes with breaks and bottlenecks along the way, work managed around organisation structure, a silo mentality, multiple locations/teams working within teams and lots of data – all with no real intelligence as to what’s going on. This myriad of difficulties means that the customer experience is fragmented, naturally causing frustration instead of satisfaction. This in turn, ultimately results in more calls into the call centre and often increased complaints from customers. Alongside this, there are huge inefficiencies for the business; in fact there is as much as 50 per cent wastage in terms of time and labour cost in every service sector business, no matter what the industry.
Improving the journey
The stages to improving the customer journey, taking all of the above in to consideration, can be broken down in to a three-phased approach for improvement:
The first stage, control, depends on gaining a base level of understanding of the business processes i.e. what is going on in the ‘production line’ or business processes at any one time. Only once this is achieved can the work of optimising the processes begin. The work, available resources and skills need to be matched and this will inevitably lead to improved utilisation of resources in both the front and back office.
Historically, organisations that are looking to improve the customer experience look at the contact centre and the front office in general; at ways these areas of the business could be improved. Although the customer journey begins in the front office invariably, that is not where it ends. Optimising and combining both the front and back office functions to create a ‘blended strategy’ benefits the customer and the business, getting the customer closer to that ‘single customer contact strategy’.
Optimising just the back office will achieve productivity improvements of between 20-40%. This in turn can reduce inbound calls into the contact centre by up to 35%, purely because there are fewer errors generated in the back office for the customer to call in to the contact centre and chase or complain about.
The improved journey
The customer journey in financial services is currently broken and disjointed, with many organisations still failing to understand the basic operational controls needed to smooth out processes, making service more predictable. Operational control based on production line management techniques should be seen as a compulsory foundation required to create a baseline on which to achieve sustainable improvements – it is tactical and can be implemented easily and very quickly with minimal outlay. It also delivers strong ROI as well as helping to deliver many strategic objectives.
Ultimately, a single customer contact strategy is achievable without investing millions in new technology – simply by understanding and optimising your internal production line.