Hate Your Bank? Find Out How One Big Bank Is Turning Around Customer Experience & Winning Loyalty

Kelly Harper, Director Customer Experience Learning at BMO Financial Group

Kelly Harper, Director Customer Experience Learning at BMO Financial Group

Let’s face it: the phrases “big bank” and “great customer experience” rarely go together.

I used to work in the banking industry, and one thing I learned was that big banks are big bureaucracies. Making change is kind of like turning the Titanic. It doesn’t happen quickly.  So I really admire Kelly Harper, who launched a customer experience initiative at BMO Financial Group in 2008, and has been making steady progress with it ever since.

Along the way she’s learned a lot about how to implement and manage major change initiatives, how to sell staff on the value of improving customer experience and customer service,  and how to change processes so that staff can actually deliver it. 

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This episode is packed full of information, so if you can possibly find the time, you should listen to the whole thing. But if you can’t, here are a few of the highlights.

“Understand who you are and how you are different before you start talking about the customer experience,” advises Kelly.

Bank services are pretty much commodities. There is very little competition on interest rates, and most end up matching each other on things like service charges and account features. Consumers have become jaded by decades of advertising about how much their banks care that is rarely matched by experiences that feel very caring. Kelly knew she was in for a challenge.

Research, & Find Your Unique Value Proposition

The Bank of Montreal is nearly 200 years old and has 45,000 staff. It serves just about every type of customer, from kids with their first bank accounts to international mega-corporations. In its home country of Canada, it has had the same four big competitors for most of those 200 years. Clearly trying to be all things to all people will not be a way to stand out. They eventually concluded that where there was a gap in the market was in offering genuine help to their customers. The new brand principles were to simplify financial management, help customers understand their finances, and guide them.

FREE Expert Advice For Creating Powerful Customer Experiences!

Find Out What Really Matters To Customers

Often the things that insiders thought were important to customers were, in fact, not the things that would drive greater customer loyalty.

Yes, mortgage forms are complex and it would sure be nice if they could be simpler. But it turns out that you’ve won or lost the customer experience war long before you get to the point of the forms.

What customers were really looking for was evidence that the lender actually understood their goals and lifestyle, and was helping them understand what they were getting themselves into with home ownership. As the great recession showed, giving a bigger loan is not always the way to a customer’s heart.

Map Customer Journeys

Remember that the journey starts before prospects even contact you. Walk through what the steps are from the time a person realizes they may have a need for your type of service or product, right through to contacting you, purchasing and using the product or service.

Journey mapping will help you identify places where your processes need to be improved.

You can’t change everything at once. So start by improving those things that will have the most impact on customer satisfaction for your ideal customers. 

Help Employees Help Your Customers

Some employees will be skeptics. You really need to have support from the top to make transformation in a large organization, and governance that will get even the skeptics to give it a chance. But it is also a good idea to start in a few areas where either the leaders are keen to participate or you feel there are some relatively easy opportunities to make a difference.

Most employees, though, actually want to make life better for your customers. As Kelly found, “we just needed to enable it for them.” Doing that comes back to processes, training and reward systems.

Don’t Give Up

It’s not just the customers who are on a journey. Implementing change this massive is a journey. It will take time to implement, more time to see results, and will never be “done”, because customer expectations don’t stand still. But those who take the customer experience journey seriously will be the winners in our increasingly competitive world.

(Originally published Jan 8, 2015)

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