We should all try viewing our services through the eyes of the customer. This was bought forcibly home to me during a recent visit to my bank. In response to my query, I was directed towards a telephone on the wall and asked to “call our Head Office team who will be able to help you”.

The decision to deflect seemingly unproductive activity away from branches was probably just a small part of a centralisation process aimed at cost cutting and efficiency. The question should be asked, though, were customer preferences considered? Cost cutting has no value if it alienates customers and results in lost business.

In my case, if I had wanted to speak to someone on the phone, I would not have popped into the branch. I would hazard a guess that most people, faced with the same scenario, would agree – but I don’t know for sure. Perhaps some customers would have been happy not to receive face-to-face help?

My point is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the best customer service. Process design should not be restricted to the most economical solution for the organisation. It shouldn’t even be about the 80/20 rule. Business transformation should be about personalising the processes efficiently and effectively to meet individual customer requirements every time.

There are no short cuts to excellence

Offering a personal service and using new technology to deliver it is a positive vision of the future. But – and this is a big but – it has to be done with the customer very much at the core of the strategy. The motivation behind business transformation should not be solely to cut costs.

One of the challenges facing the insurance industry is lack of consumer confidence. A recent survey by Pacific Life Re found that 17% of consumers feel that insurers always try to avoid paying out. To successfully re-engage with customers there must be a shift away from a sales culture to a service culture. My fear is that changes to retail distribution will be driven more by a desire for easier-to-achieve cost cutting than from a need to improve the customer experience. I hope I am proved wrong.

Making changes in the right way is fundamental to success. Recognising that more and more consumers are using internet and mobile technology does not mean that delivering financial services through these channels alone will automatically be successful.

So what’s the answer?

In our experience, for true business transformation aimed at radically improving the experience of your customers, you need to do the following:

  • Listen to your customers. Change starts with a clear view of the different goals and aspirations of your customers. Sounds simple, but customers are all individuals and there will be multiple answers.
  • Align your Organisational structure. Customer requirements are cross functional by nature, so you need a supportive decision structure across all sales divisions.
  • Design your road map and design multiple customer journeys to deliver the defined multiple customer requirements.
  • Align your technology. Expediency is wrapping another layer of technology around the same set of poorly integrated multiple systems. Not only is this inefficient, but it makes understanding your customer nigh on impossible.
  • Embed a review-learn-and-change culture in your business. Technology and customer preferences are moving targets. If established providers are to be serious about serving customers in this digital age, they have to be serious about being able to change and adapt quickly, painlessly, and often.

Having the right technology is essential, but it is only one facet of delivering a customer-centric business transformation. With change becoming faster and more radical it is vital that the systems we adopt are designed to be a part of the process. We cannot predict the future – but we do need the ability to see things through the eyes of our customers and the flexibility to change as quickly as they do.