Walt Disney was more than a visionary when he decided that his futuristic and animation-oriented theme parks would, in every attraction and on every street corner on the grounds, appeal to the child in all of us. He was nothing short of a marketing genius. Disney's visionoa carefree, all-is-wonderful, anything-is-possible experience for allonot only ensured that droves of consumers from around the globe would flock to his theme parks, but also that the customer experience would be consistent from the time a visitor entered the park until his departure, regardless of whether the location was Disney Land in California, Disney World in Florida or, as his legacy demonstrates, Euro Disney in France.

U.S. bankers can learn a lot from Walt Disney. So says Andersen Consulting's Allen Wolpert, partner-in-charge of technology in financial services: "(It's about) consistency of experience, consistency of productoyou know what you're getting, you have your expectations, and it meets or exceeds your expectations." And why not: All customers would like to believe--and banks would be wise to reinforce--that bettering their financial position is as important to the bank as it is to them. "The key is understanding consumer behavior. Getting consumers' attention and becoming the first (institution) they think of when they realize they have a need (is critical) because they have so many options," says Wolpert. "Do they call their bank, their investment management company like Fidelity, or their insurance company? Or do they look on Microsoft's Web site?" Wolpert says that consumers will call the company with which they've had the best, most consistent experience--a differentiating factor that can lead to increased customer profitability for banks. But creating a consistent customer experience is, in part, tied to knowing what consumers want and giving it to them. Since consumer behavior can't be predicted, banks need to be more aggressive in test marketing products and services before bringing them to market, Wolpert says. The goal: Identify which products consumers will buy and, more, repeat buy and through which channels. "Some products never get out of (being test-marketed) in a few cities; some products move to more broadly regional, national and global roll out."

One challenge financial institutions face is finding homogenous markets to be tested. Wolpert contends that banks, for example, should select specific customer profiles to test market product innovations--accepting failures early in the product cycle and going back to the drawing board when dictated by results of the test marketing. "There's a lot of experimentation in credit products currently, and there needs to be more experimentation in electronic delivery."

Experimentation leads to a bank's ability to increase long-term profitability by identifying buyer values in specific market segments and delivering focused product strategies built around specific customer segments. Through such experimentation, banks can target credit products, for example, in non-traditional consumer markets like small business.

The trick to maximizing the customer experience, however, lies in a bank's ability to continually reevaluate customer expectations and values. "(Banks) need to be nimble; they need to constantly reassess the landscape," says Wolpert. Given this, he says that banks must be willing to rethink their strategies based upon outside events-- characteristics that are not typical to banks.--sraeel tfn.com

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