In the quest to improve the customer experience, no hassle is too small to avoid scrutiny these days.
At RBS Citizens Financial Group, a lot of customers getting new debit cards had been asking for their PINs to be resent, and its customer experience team noticed. In researching the issue, the group discovered that customers were confused because their debit cards typically came in the mail five days ahead of the personal identification numbers needed to use them. As a result, they were requesting new PINs before the original ones had even arrived.
Now RBS Citizens mails cards and PINs at the same time-just in a separate envelope, as always, to satisfy security requirements.
Though this elegant solution to a common frustration might seem minor, the results are anything but, according to Theresa McLaughlin, who heads RBS Citizens' customer experience team. The number of PIN reorders dropped 54 percent within the first seven days, she says.
While improving the customer experience is a priority at many banks, RBS Citizens, the umbrella company for Citizens Bank in the Northeast and Charter One in the Midwest, is tackling the challenge in a way that some observers say is particularly instructive.
The customer experience team, which started a year ago, is on a mission to identify pain points and eliminate them quickly. The group operates separately from every business unit of the Providence, R.I., company, but draws information from all of them.
McLaughlin says this is one key to the effectiveness of the team. The other is that its direction comes straight from top management.
Ellen Alemany, chairman and CEO of the $129 billion-asset company, came up with the idea for establishing the team. And McLaughlin herself is high in the executive ranks, as the chief marketing and communications officer for RBS Citizens, a U.S. subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group.
The team contains a problem resolution group that is called-tellingly-the Office of the Chairman. The name is intended to make people throughout the company take notice and respond quickly to any calls.
"We wanted to be empowered from the start to make change," McLaughlin says.
Responsiveness is critical. Eight of 10 complaints that the team acts on are resolved the same day. A delight fund is used to send a token of thanks-often flowers-to colleagues who provide feedback on issues the team tackles.
"It's that end-to-end connection that is so important," McLaughlin says.
Industry consultants say the customer experience remains a rare point of differentiation for banks, whose products and services are largely commoditized. Dedicating resources to making the experience better is a strategy they endorse.
The payoff is likely to include a higher level of customer trust, says Teresa Epperson, a managing director at the consulting firm AlixPartners. "And having a trusted relationship with one's bank in turn impacts the share of wallet that bank sees."
It has become a central theme in marketing across the industry: How one company can make your banking experience better and more pleasant than another might.
"One of the things we've noticed is that banks are putting a lot of money into telling how they're different," says Scott M. Broetzmann, president and CEO of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting. "You see that in almost all their marketing strategies. 'We care more.' Banks are trying to differentiate from one another primarily on the basis of customer experience."
But it can be a fuzzy differentiator, which is why Broetzmann says that measuring the results of a customer experience initiative, the way RBS Citizens did when resolving its debit card issue, is crucial. Showing impact on the bottom line-directly or indirectly-not only gets people on board, but also helps indicate where to focus attention for the best results.