"Customer experience is the difference between what customers think will happen and what actually happens.” -Jay Baer

When customers are hoping for a good experience, a bad experience - or even just a “blah” experience - really lets them down. In an increasingly digitized and faceless marketplace, people want to spend their money with authentic brands that feel aligned with their personal needs and individual views.

Jay Baer, founder of Convince & Convert, joined James Robert Lay on the Banking on Digital Growth Podcast. Jay is an expert in the field of customer experience, he keeps a keen eye on the emerging phenomenon of purpose-driven buying.

An Existential Crisis in Financial Branding

In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, many financial customers have spent plenty of time thinking about how they spend their time and money. Every moment feels precious. Every dollar feels scarce.

A recent Accenture study revealed some fascinating pandemic-related views.

  • 50% of all U.S. consumers agree with the statement, “The pandemic made me totally revise my personal purpose and what is important for me in life.”
  • Within this group, 44% would change banks if their current bank stopped taking sufficient visible actions for positive social impacts.

Jay finds these statistics extraordinary, especially when you consider that changing banks is widely acknowledged as a huge hassle. Even when faced with this obstacle, a significant share of the market would still change banks due to a mismatch in societal values.

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This idea rattles traditional bankers. Banks have traditionally avoided taking a stand about anything. They don’t want to appear too political or personal, preferring to keep the customer-bank relationship as professional as possible.

In today’s landscape, continuing this habit comes at an enormous cost. Small, quirky upstart banks are wooing customers by taking a stand on various societal issues.

The Paradox of Niche Marketing

For a financial brand, it’s no longer good enough to broadcast your message as widely as possible and hope to capture an audience that’s as large as possible. In fact, if you take this approach, the marketplace will probably ignore you. That’s just more noise.

Instead, you have to drill down to a small but loyal audience that’s interested in making meaningful connections.

As Jay says, “In order to grow a bigger audience, you now have to target a narrower audience.”

Or, to put it another way: Going broad is flawed.

Take a look at Centier Bank in Indiana or Tropical Financial in Florida. Both of these financial brands are making deep connections with their audiences based on community concerns and societal values. 

For example, Tropical Financial runs a podcast called Get Beyond Money that’s a way to “break down, talk about, and teach you how to have a healthy relationship with everything that comes along with finances.” The show’s host establishes a judgment-free zone, welcoming people to share their deepest financial fears.

What limitations prevent your brand from doing something like this?

Are you worried about looking too casual?

Feeling silly?

Taking a stand?

Breaking a regulatory rule?

It’s time to rethink these limitations and explore whether they’re preventing your organization from forging strong customer connections.

First, Remove the Friction

Jay says if there’s one thing to prioritize in terms of the customer experience, it’s simply making your bank easier to deal with. Take the friction out of the experience.

Financial companies often give lip service to the idea that customer service is their #1 priority when the actual customer experience is neutral to terrible. All banking executives should experience the pain of trying to accomplish basic things with their company during off hours, undercover, and without any special treatment.

Related Content: From Impressed to Obsessed: Why You Need to Invest in Customer Experience

Try opening a new account online within 10 minutes. Try getting a loan. Try refinancing something or removing someone from your account. These experiences are likely to be painful, slow, and full of friction. That’s your true customer experience!

Just 10 years ago, many customers would have rolled their eyes and accepted this mediocre level of customer service. Today, with new options popping up across the digital landscape, customers are willing to explore an alternative that makes their life easier and more fun.

How Expectations Drive the Experience

Jay points out that there is no such thing as an inherently good or bad customer experience. Each experience involves an individual’s point of view. What might be perfectly acceptable to one person is outrageous to another.

The customer experience is the difference between what customers think will happen and what actually happens. Consider this example.

You thought Amazon was going to deliver your shirt on Monday but it arrived a few days early on Friday. You’re delighted! Now you can wear your new shirt this weekend!

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Your friend thought Amazon was going to deliver their shirt on Monday and it arrived a few days early on Friday. They’re ticked off. They were out of town until Monday, so the package sat on their porch all weekend.

Each person’s experience depends on their expectations.

A financial brand has an opportunity to set expectations and then exceed them. When the customer sees that you’ll constantly meet or exceed their expectations, they can relax into the relationship and feel confident about selecting you as their preferred brand.

Customer Service at Lighting Speed

Speed has become an integral part of the customer experience. We live in a fast-paced world, so any lag in response or service time is viewed in a negative light.

Extensive research has shown that customers often choose companies simply because they were the first to call them back.

As Jay puts it, “Speed is interpreted as caring.”

Speed often goes hand in hand with automation, but companies miss the opportunity to make it feel personal.

As James Robert points out, there’s no reason your automatic email replies have to come from noreply@financialbrand.com. That’s so cold and impersonal. They could come from an individual’s name or even hello@financialbrand.com.

How Do You Feel?

Financial brands aren’t always good about “feelings.”

While they want their customers to feel happy and satisfied, they’re not necessarily eager to get into conversations about their feelings.

But like it or not, your customers have feelings about your brand. Jay advises financial executives to spend more time talking to account holders and non-customers to have frank conversations about their journeys. 

Follow up with a first-time customer after they try interacting with your bank. Ask how they felt about the experience. Follow up with them again a few weeks later. How have they been feeling about your company’s customer service? When you pick up any note of dissatisfaction, take it seriously. 

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Jay shares the story of a Texas moving company called Square Cow Movers. They’re a solid and successful company that makes customer service a priority, so they were perplexed about their high level of customer complaints.

The company’s owner, Wade, decided to talk to customers himself. He also transcribed customer service phone calls and read through the company’s online ratings and reviews. 

Guess what?

Most of the complaints weren’t about moving. They were about a million tiny peripheral issues, like “I didn’t know I needed to pack the dishes a certain way” or “I didn’t know you’d need me to trim a tree branch for your moving truck.”

In response, Wade instructed his staff to develop a pre-move welcome email that goes out to every customer. The email sets the expectations for moving day, encouraging customers to be proactive about problems that could arise. This simple solution reduced their complaints dramatically. Wade just listened to his customers.

Jay asked Wade whether the emails annoy his moving customers. His response was brief and memorable: “I’ve never had a customer say, ‘Please stop informing me.’”

In the financial world, secret shopping studies have found that many newer fintech brands are staying in constant communication with their customers.

Chime, for example, sends 15 to 25 emails within the first 45 days, depending on the customer’s needs. 

That’s a lot of emails, but the approach is backed by research. About 85% of new customers say the emails reassure them because they tell them what to do next.

Financial Execs Must Face Their Fears

If there’s something that’s holding your brand back from accomplishing the things Jay describes above, he has a bit of advice for you. “Grab a piece of paper and write down what you’re scared of as specifically as possible.”

A feeling of fear or dread usually takes on an amorphous form until you try to put it down on paper. Give your fears shape and form. Examine them and reevaluate them, and you might just see that they’re not so scary after all.