Trusting Banks Again: Improving Reputation by Improving Customer Experience

Financial crisis or not, the banks and the bankers have had a long standing PR problem on the whole that has only worsened in the days of the credit crunch. Bonus schemes and expenses scandals stand alongside the ethical minefields of using cheap offshore labour and tax avoidance/evasion. However, some multi-national corporations such as Google, Apple and Starbucks suffer only a portion of the reputational disaster that befalls the banking industry. Leaving aside the moral and ethical aspect for one second, it bears questioning why some giants of industry are spared this special kind of vitriol that the public reserves just for banking, could it be related to customer experience?

Competition

One reason stems from the perception that all banks are the same and there’s only one place and only one way where you can do your banking – in a bank. When there’s public outcry over Starbucks, the company is named and shamed, brand names Lloyd’s, RBS and others are usually referred to collectively as “the banks”. You can drink your coffee at home or in an independent coffee shop, buy an android phone or PC and you can use Bing or even go to the library to search for something. With banking there’s seen to be no alternative and it makes the customer feel trapped. There’s an inherent need in this sense for a bank to strike a difference between itself and the competition that’s more than just a clever strapline.

Transparency within customer experience

The differences that individual banks do strike between themselves seem to be more elusive and technical than the more understandable worlds of coffee and computers. That’s not to say that the latter two are simple, Google’s algorithms, for example, are notoriously secretive and complex. However at the point of use, the transaction is simple, effective and surprising. Apple, Google and Starbucks all pre-package the mystery and it’s handed to the user, or customer, with little need for questions. The only question after opening up an iPad is “how does it work?” whereas in banking the customer is always suspicious of what they don’t understand and so feels imprisoned. When a user masters Apple’s intuitive interface they feel empowered by the mystery not threatened by it.

Usability

Other industries turn their unknown factors into a positive by making them feel like they have mastered them. It makes the likeable brands appear customer/user-first and a bank look more like profit-first. This all comes down to what happens with the customer at the point of using the service and the little surprises that delight them along the way. Apple, Google and Starbucks all surprise with things we didn’t even know they could do, little things in the user experience that we might or might not need but it’s nice to know that it’s there. When our bank surprises us it’s with that unwelcome fine of several pounds for being pennies overdrawn.

So it’s the small surprises that come from thinking about what might make a customer’s day that little bit easier. Not that one or two minor changes will revolutionise a bank’s reputation overnight but a different way of thinking means these new surprises become a necessary consequence. One way we’ve applied that thinking is by creating a means by which a bank can alleviate the pain of waiting for a chequebook to be printed when a customer needs it straight away. There’s clearly a great deal more to be done but if the brand loyalty of Google, Apple and Starbucks is anything to go by thinking about customer first and profitability second turns out to be more profitable in the long run.