Forrester Finance Forum 2008 – First of Three

Great Customer Experience: Easy to Say, Hard to Do.

Just returned from the Forrester Research Finance Forum held in New York June 23rd and 24th. Forrester is a research company that does an excellent job at spotting trends, doing deep dive research, and providing companies with helpful insights. I have been a client of Forrester since 1999 and this is my 15th Forrester event. Time does indeed fly.

Photo Credit: Steve A Furman

The theme was How to Deliver Great Customer Experiences. A pretty broad topic, but the Forresterites did a yeoman’s job of spinning an anthem into a coherent, actionable program. Their format combines Forrester speakers, keynote talks given by high level execs from big companies, and smaller breakout tracks geared to a specific skill or practice.

I’m totally sold on the notion of providing a great customer experience as a building block of growth, and quite frankly am astounded that there are senior execs at major brands who still don’t get it. But such is corporate life. There are many factors at play for why people end up with the big jobs, but that’s fodder for a completely different blog.

Day one began with Research Director Benjamin Ensor giving a talk called Building Differentiated Customer Experiences. He invoked the Forrester Experience Based Differentiation tenant by saying that differentiation is more important than ever because:

  • The Internet fuels transparency (one click comparison shopping)
  • Consumers can’t see how financial firms are different (jargon, products are now commodities)
  • Trying to be the price leader is dead (introductory rates turn into unaffordable rates)
  • Product differentiation is difficult to sustain (easily copied)
One of the few things left to do is differentiate through superior customer experience. Agreed. But what happens when/if everyone, or your biggest competitors, all deliver great customer experiences? Perhaps that could be a topic for a future forum. I guess we have a ways to go before we need that therapy session. In the meantime Forrester urges companies to:
  • Systematically build loyalty through design and delivery of differentiated customer experiences
  • Obsess about customer needs (not just product features)
  • Reinforce brands with every interaction (not just marketing communications)
  • Treat customer experience as a competence (not a function)
At the core was a strong call to develop a culture, process, skills and structure to deliver on these ideal experiences. Benjamin held up Jyske Bank in Denmark as an financial institution that’s getting it right. The execs at Jyske Bank created lifestyle branches. They installed foosball tables and coffee bars that got their customers to stop worrying and start thinking about their financial lives. A simple, but powerful concept. They packaged their normally stale products as dynamic lifestyle products. Consumers were drawn to them, opened them, could see what appealed and then interact through scanners and videos. The results are impressive, doubling their acquisition rates since putting these new experiences into play.

Photo Credit: Forrester Research (Jyske Bank)

Other examples were also used. Fidelity’s human, innovative, empowering approach (mash-ups and podcasts) and Credit Suisse’s immersion program (requiring financial advisors to fill out their own product applications). But the Jyske Bank case study was the most creative and apparently the most effective in delivering business results.

As I was listening to Benjamin speak I had an aha moment. A brief glimpse into a way to actually orchestrate a great customer experience. Involvement of course. But there is a requirement to have shared involvement. It does no good to involve customers in your products unless you are committed to getting involved in the consumer experience. If you can do both, then you’re on to how to create a great customer experience.

Mr. Ensor said something I believe provides insight into a question that’s been nagging me for years. “Why do all the cool technologies show up in places other than financial services?” The answer is because Silicon Valley is attracted to more exciting areas vs. the low interest categories. Probably only partly true, but as someone who works in the FI space, I can tell you that the technology is rock solid and scalable, but not sexy.

Time for a quote from Confucius.

If you tell me, I will forget; If you show me, I will remember; if you involve me, I will understand.

He closed with this set of recommendations.

  • Don’t leave your customer experiences to chance
  • Nurture a customer-centric culture that focuses employees on needs of the customer
  • Reorganize to break down product and channel silos
  • Build processes and technologies that help deliver consistency
  • Align metrics and incentives with your overall strategy

More to come on the Forrester Finance Forum.

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