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(Editor’s note: this post was originally published by Banking Strategies)

Not too long ago in financial services professionals built relationships — and created a positive experience — by meeting the customer in person for coffee or lunch. The customer would then gain confidence in the professional’s knowledge and ability to anticipate and address their needs.

Today, the financial services landscape has changed, and it’s all about “digital.” Digital technologies have revolutionized how banks communicate with customers. Just as sending a letter to a client doesn’t work in today’s world, businesses can no longer rely only on email or the phone. Modern customers want real-time communications and personalized customer experiences.

In fact, a recent Frost and Sullivan report shows almost one-half of financial services customers use three or more communications channels in a year. Whether it’s instant message, mobile applications, websites or social media, customers now have multiple channels at their disposal. They now demand and expect the same level of personalized customer experience regardless of the medium.

However, there is a digital downside. The digital revolution makes communications significantly more complex for banks, credit unions and other financial services institutions. Even without the lunches of yesteryear, financial institutions still must provide personal, unified and memorable customer journeys to remain competitive. Research by Gartner reinforces this point, with 89 percent of companies reporting that they compete solely based on customer experience. This presents an even bigger challenge to financial services industries: Besides increasing their customer numbers, they must also retain current customers — that are more engaged and knowledgeable than ever before.

Meeting customer demand is necessary in any industry, but especially critical in the global banking sector, which has a reputation for “lack of commitment.” And since digital communications make it easier for customers to switch companies, it becomes clear that financial companies must find ways to use the digital world to their advantage.

So what can financial institutions do to embrace the digital age? And, is there really a modern-day equivalent to meeting in person for customer retention?

The answer lies with the customer journey. A guiding principle should be to plan this, and align your business operations with the average customer life cycle. You can do this by conducting an easy “customer journey exercise.” Start by identifying how a customer typically makes a purchase and examine the customer life cycle and interactions with the company. This will help you learn where your company fails to meet customer needs. Once finished, the customer journey exercise will become a best-practices document you can use as a company-wide resource.

With the advent of social media channels, all businesses must truly understand and know their customers. This requires research and deep knowledge of the customer base. Customer relationship management (CRM) technologies help companies navigate these new channels. Customer services teams can have access to all customer information in context to fully understand a complaint. Having all the facts associated with a situation or account remains critical to provide great customer service. For instance, a customer service representative will be more effective handling a complaint when he knows whether a purchase is from a loyal customer and whether they prefer to communicate via Twitter or Facebook.

However, embracing the digital age doesn’t mean discarding human interaction. I still advocate for people actually talking to their customers: It just needs to be relevant. Combining digital technologies with human touchpoints represents the best formula for providing context and creating a unique customer experience.

Meeting customer demands in today’s digital age requires dedication, research and planning from companies. Incorporating these new digital and social methods is essential to make financial services organizations more agile, quicker to respond and better able to provide a unique (and personalized) customer journey across all channels.

Remember, we’ve all been customers ourselves. Shouldn’t these be the goals of customer service?

(Editor’s note: this post was originally published by DestinationCRM.com)

How did we, as an industry, get to a place where so many CRM customers have buyer’s remorse after they invest in a new system? I hear about it on social media, in user forums, and in meetings with prospects: Customers feel like they’ve been duped.

It helps to take a look at how we got here. Basically, the big traditional CRM and enterprise software companies have quietly promoted a set of CRM assumptions that steer customers toward antiquated solutions that fall far short of meeting the real needs of customers.

The negative impact is palpable, and making the wrong CRM choice makes it difficult to differentiate your business, removes choice and flexibility, doesn’t help create seamless customer experiences, makes individuals’ jobs harder, and winds up costing a lot more than expected.

It’s time to debunk these myths, and empower a new breed of CRM that helps customers transform their businesses by building extraordinary customer relationships from the first engagement forward.

Myth #1: I need to choose the most popular CRM to keep up with my competition.

Doing the same thing everybody else does is actually a risk. Why? It’s a terrible way to differentiate your business—and isn’t that what you’re trying to do? Being better means being different. If you want to differentiate yourself, go with a CRM that will transform your customer relationships, re-energize your customer-facing employees, and help you provide a truly exceptional customer experience.

The companies that win in this era of empowered, intelligent customers win because they create better experiences and better relationships with their customers. But using the same old CRM is the best way to deliver the same old customer experience.

Don’t be afraid to demand more from your CRM than adequate, average, and the status quo.

Myth #2: The cloud is the future, so the deployment environment doesn’t matter—just give me a cloud.

Ten years ago, the vendors who invented cool new SaaS offerings had to create their own cloud infrastructures—because there weren’t any others. But that was a long time ago. It’s now time for CRM champions to get much more sophisticated and choose the deployment model that meets your business, security and regulatory needs. Today, there are modern clouds from Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Rackspace, IBM, etc. These modern cloud environments are more affordable, flexible, reliable, and secure than any vendor’s proprietary cloud. Most importantly, they give you something you need and deserve: choice. And, don’t forget about private and hybrid cloud options. Those should be on the table as well.

Make your CRM deployment adjust to your business needs, not the other way around.

Myth #3: I have to buy different “suites” for the different departments in my business.

Traditionally, companies have been organized by function and department. The concept of CRM “suites” for different departments followed, and as a result, many organizations are often stuck in their old habits, using their legacy CRM technology to support separate, siloed business functions.

Buying multiple suites or clouds and development platforms to support sales, marketing, and service people increases complexity, cost, and time-to-market for your users. It also means you have to try to integrate different solutions, and that can be difficult, even if they are from the same vendor.

Instead, let’s look at the purpose of CRM from the beginning. What do you need it for? Isn’t it to build better relationships with your customers? Shouldn’t that apply to everyone in your company who interacts with them?

By making CRM available to all your teams, it ensures that no one in your company can claim ignorance and everyone has the latest on the status of your customer base.

Myth #4: When it comes to CRM, the sticker price is only the beginning.

For far too long, enterprise software vendors have gotten away with complex pricing models that make it very difficult to know how much your CRM is really going to cost. Vendors publish pricing that looks straightforward on the surface but requires a team of lawyers to really understand all the limitations and up-charges you’re going to face if you actually try to make the system do what you need it to do. These include:

  • Upcharges for system usage, which are often very hard to calculate and budget.
  • Charges for API calls, which equate to connections to other data sources.
  • Storage-based fees can balloon when storing large files such as PDFs or presentation slide decks in the system.
  • Charges for mobile access and more all make it very difficult to understand what your CRM solution is really going to cost.

There really is a better way. Simple and straightforward pricing should be the rule of the day so businesses can make their CRM initiative a strategic differentiator at a cost that works for them. Organizations should be able to make as many API calls as they want, store as much data as they want, and never be surprised by unexpected fees.

Myth #5: My CRM vendor can never be a true partner.

This one really bugs me. As an industry, we haven’t done a good job of being true partners that our customers enjoy doing business with. Sure, we need to make our products easy to use, pricing straightforward and deployment flexible. But even more important than all that, a CRM vendor should strive for an open and accountable relationship that creates trust.

Your CRM should be committed to our role as a trusted partner in your success, providing a holistic view of how you can balance people, processes, and systems to build extraordinary customer relationships—and steering clear of the above CRM myths is the first step in achieving this goal.

First-generation CRM vendors have sold a lot of software. But they haven’t helped a lot of companies build great relationships with their customers.

It’s time to stop accepting the conventional wisdom about CRM, and start exploring the power of being different.