“Every interaction that a customer has with a brand is an opportunity to build trust or erode trust.” – Sue Woodard

The past year has required many people to face their fears, both personally and professionally. For adventurers like Sue Woodard, this might not have been too much of a shift from what they were already doing.

Sue Woodard is the Chief Customer Officer at Total Expert, where her work centers around helping customers achieve greater productivity and long-term success.  But she’s also something of a thrill-seeker. She’s been skydiving, she’s walked across hot coals, she’s driven a motorcycle through the desert, and she’s even been swimming with great white sharks. 

Recently, Sue spoke with James Robert Lay, founder of the Digital Growth Institute and host of the podcast Banking on Digital Growth. She talked a bit about her life experience and how relevant it is when it comes to confronting and optimizing the customer experience. 

As Sue shared, “I've always had a bit of a life philosophy, and 99% of the time it served me very well, that I would always rather try something ... and maybe wish I hadn't then not try something and later on wish I had.” And of her adventures? She wouldn’t trade a second of it. They’ve even influenced her approach to the digital consumer journey.

"Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You." - Eleanor Roosevelt

There’s a lot to be learned from leaning into fear. The COVID-19 pandemic led many people in the financial industry — and the world — to feel fear: for their health, their job security, and their families. 

For Sue, leaning into the unknown made all the difference. 

And what she learned was about the deep, unbelievable importance of the customer experience.

Customer experience may be a buzzword, but the events of 2020 forced Sue and her team at Total Expert to revisit and reimagine what “customer experience” can do. 

Those financial institutions that didn’t reinvent, reimagine, or revisit the way that they communicated with customers were far more likely to struggle. As Sue shared, “If you didn't — pretty early on last year — really take a hard pause and in your sales and marketing efforts and make sure that the customer experience was reimagined to suit the new environment that we're still somewhat operating in, it was a huge opportunity… to potentially make some mistakes.”

Last year, some financial brands adapted quickly; they knew that many people would be dealing with financial crises or education, or would need help with PPP loans, or had questions about paying their mortgage. And they adapted to provide the education, guidance, and support that their customers needed.

And other banks and credit unions decided to play it safe.

They didn’t optimize the customer journey or the customer experience out of fear of things like regulation constraints.

As a result, they had a hard time. 

So, how can banks transform their thoughts and actions away from the fear of regulatory hurdles and apply the necessary changes to optimize customer journeys and customer experiences?

Sue suggested looking at the entire customer journey — to look at what customers are saying and get a look at the full picture. She shared the wisdom shared by the CEO of her company: "’Every interaction that a customer has with a brand is an opportunity to build trust or erode trust. Every interaction that they have is an opportunity to build trust or erode trust.’ And I would further say sometimes it's not the interaction that you're having; it's the absence of an interaction.”

Taking a Proactive Stance

The absence of interaction certainly results in an absence of trust, but the opposite is also true. At almost every monumental event in a person’s life, they go through some kind of financial change: starting college, graduating, starting a career, buying a house, getting married, having children, and on through life — every stage requires some kind of financial shift. So, how can banks and credit unions meet the needs of their customers at every point in their lives? 

By taking a proactive stance.

Sue offered that there are three ways to be proactive, find the gaps in a customer’s experience, and better meet their needs. 

  • Asking questions. Sue shared, “Sometimes purely asking some of the questions rather than making assumptions on the data that you see” can make all the difference. Predictive analytics and artificial intelligence can help, but by asking questions, banks can better learn what would be most helpful for their business, where customers need support, and how they can make the most impact. 
  • Educating customers. There’s a massive opportunity amidst the economic upheaval of the past year and a half to educate customers. As Sue reminded, “It's a very common fallacy that when you're in a marketing seat, sometimes you forget after X number of years. You feel like, ‘Well, everybody knows this.’ There are all kinds of people who don't know all kinds of things.” And banks and credit unions can take a proactive approach by educating them. 
  • Engaging with the public. The digital transformation that happened throughout the pandemic means that banks and credit unions now have many channels through which they can connect with their audience. By utilizing this technology, financial brands can be more responsive and more thoughtful in their communication with customers for a more personal experience. 

More, Less, Start, Stop

When talking to their customers, financial brands can learn more simply by asking questions. But what kinds of questions should they be asking? The easy answer is “More, less, start, stop”:

  • “What is it I could be doing more of for you?” 
  • “What do you wish we would be doing a little bit less of?” 
  • “What am I not doing at all right now that you wish I would start doing?”
  • “What's happening right now that you wish we would just stop doing altogether?" 

These are questions that lead to answers full of useful information that banks and credit unions can actively use to create a better customer experience. 

In the financial industry, it’s easy to get caught up in the sale or the transaction.

And even when banks consider implementing changes, too often, items get added to already lengthy to-do lists, and rather than focus on building relationships, these banks get bogged down with tasks for marketing, sales, and leadership teams to tackle instead of making meaningful change. 

But building relationships and earning customer trust takes time and effort. It can’t get pushed to the bottom of a list. To counteract this, Sue suggests implementing a “Don’t Do” list instead. 

Generally, Sue, a person who has gone swimming with sharks and ridden a Harley Davidson across the desert, says yes to all sorts of opportunities. She works hard to be disciplined about what she says “No” to. And as she says, “Behind every no is a better yes.”

Building a “Don’t Do” list means having the resources to devote to the things — like customer experience and the customer journey— that really matter.

After all, Warren Buffet says that "The difference between the successful and the really successful are the really successful say no to almost everything."

In the banking industry, if leaders pause and are very intentional about what they do, about what they say yes and no to, and about how they spend their time, they can take a critical look at what they are doing and discover what needs to be done. Then, it’s much easier to create the space and resources to accomplish the kind of change that builds lasting trust and lifelong relationships with customers. 

The best part?

This kind of change doesn’t require fancy journey-mapping software or other laborious tools.

It’s easy to get hung up when executing change.

But mapping the customer experience can happen with Post-It notes and a Sharpie; it can happen on a whiteboard.

And the solutions don’t have to be high-tech either.

They can be as simple as reaching out to a customer.

Sue said, “In a lot of cases, people probably know some of the things that they'd like to be doing; that they shouldn't be doing. Maybe it is asking some questions; maybe it is educating. But I think it's carving out the time to be very intentional rather than just continuing down a path.”

She continued, “It does not have to be super complicated, but visually you start to see the gaps immediately. ... Let's prioritize those gaps. How do we start plugging them in?" 

Identifying these gaps is the best way to build continued trust with consumers through the customer experience. In fact, every financial brand should have a detailed outline of its ideal customer journey and customer experience.

Banks and credit unions may have an idea about what their customer journey and customer experience look like, but in reality, the truth may look quite different. 

This is where objectivity comes into play. Tools like digital secret shopping studies are enlightening for many brands because their idea of the customer experience is not the customer’s perception. 

Consumers Are the Heroes: Putting People at the Center

Quite frequently in the banking industry, banks are positioning themselves as the hero of the customer experience and the customer journey.

This mindset doesn’t just exist in the financial world; it extends into almost every industry. 

But as Sue stated, “Your customer is the hero of the story. And you can only have one hero in a story, and it's not about you; it is about your customer.” She continued on, “There is such a glaringly missed opportunity, in my opinion, to raise up customers and tell their stories. … That's what's compelling.”

Customers are attracted to stories.

They’re attracted to faces.

Part of the consumer experience should be seeing themselves reflected in the stories that their banks and credit unions share.

It reminds them that they are the hero

There's so much opportunity for banks and credit unions to inject a little humanity back into the consumer digital experience.

Sue’s main piece of advice for financial brands would be, “To keep an unrelenting focus on that customer experience.”

When the customer experience becomes the North Star for a brand, it’s reflected in everything they do:

  • How does this add to the experience for a customer? 
  • Is this really going to engage them? 
  • Is this really going to help them feel more engaged with us? 
  • Is this really going to make any meaningful impact on them? 
  • What does this do for them? 
  • Does this interaction build or erode trust?

These questions put people back at the heart of a brand’s decision-making process. There are so many things that are outside of the control of the common consumer. But when banks take the time to put themselves in the customer’s seat and have empathy for what they need, the metrics and the money always follow.

By putting people at the center of their thinking, banks can truly maximize their digital growth potential and make real, measurable change in the lives of their customers.