Brands such as John Lewis, British Airways and Waitrose have built their empires around exceptional customer service, yet in this year’s customer service rankings they’ve all been pipped to the post by an online only bank.
Winner First Direct has no branded high-street presence and actively encourages its customers, as a first port-of-call, to download an app through which they can manage their finances. So, how did a business that is seemingly shirking the responsibility to serve its customers in a traditional sense win out against those legacy brands?
Quite simply, the bank has been at the forefront of the digital banking revolution. They were one of the first in market to introduce mobile banking, way back in 2006, and they haven’t looked back – currently enjoying an Apple App Store rating of 4.8 out of 5. This coincides with an increased appetite from consumers to be more ‘hands on’ with their finances, further supported by the open-banking movement which has allowed banks to make their digital products even more compelling and accessible.
Also riding the crest of open-banking wave and championed by its customers are big fintech players like Monzo, who boast 28,000 account openings every week. Their offering is an almost entirely ‘self-managed’ bank account service that has achieved cult-like status since its conception in 2015.
Users need very little customer support due to its simple interface, but if required a simple chatbot lights the pathway to assistance. The product suite allows budgeting, goal-setting and visual spending summaries that give people unprecedented control over their financial worlds. Is it this new ‘customer empowerment’ movement that will see the demise of traditional customer service models in banking and beyond?
Another sector being transformed by investment in digital is in pensions. One of the big issues facing the sector is that people can’t afford to get old, and the traceability of pensions has also been a problem with the average employee moving jobs every five years and desperately trying to keep track of savings between roles and businesses. Sector stalwarts such as Friends Life and Aviva, which have huge customer services teams, are now losing out to apps such as PensionBee who offer the ability to combine, contribute and withdraw in one simple app.
The digital efficiencies in this space are unquestionable; with a pension transfer that would normally involve reams of paperwork and back and forth now as simple as a few in-app questions, why wouldn’t you take control?
The biggest question is, if consumers continue to take such an active role in their lives through digital applications, what will happen to those brands that fail to transform? High street brands like John Lewis have already begun to feel the force of change, with profits falling by 99 per cent in 2018. Their current bargaining chip is the in-store customer service they are able to offer, but as customers’ expectations begin to change and be shaped by challenger brands in other sectors, in-store experiences may soon not align with what consumers want – empowerment.
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