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Why do retailers focus on customers and banks do not?

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I just chaired a major retailers conference in Malmo, Sweden. Not a payments conference or retail payments conference or merchants payments conference. A retailers conference.

It surprised me how much of the discussion was about loyalty, customer engagement and customer retention, as those discussions rarely come up at payments conferences. In fact, when I listed the things that bank CEOs worry about the other day, someone commented why is there no mention of customer. My reply was that banks don’t have customers; they have prisoners. Sure, it was a tongue in cheek comment, but there is some truth in there in that even my banking friends on LinkedIn posted the emojis 😂🤣

But customer focus, customer centricity and customer journeys are at the top of mind of many execs these days, as it is key to have customers. If you’re a business with no customers, you’re not in business.

I’ll probably post more about the presentations over the coming weeks, and the thing that came back to me were things I spent ages analysing in the 1990s. Back then, I was working with NCR and the key industries we focused upon were retailers, banks, telecommunications firms and airlines. All markets where customer should be at the heart of the business, and it was interesting during the conference that we had all of these industries involved. One thing that came of out of this mix is that there is only one market where the provider meets the customer face-to-face. Airlines.

This brought me back to design thinking, and started with moments of truth. Jan Carlzon, former CEO of SAS Airlines, came up with this concept and I thought it was fantastic.

If you refer to a time or event as the moment of truth, you mean that it is an important time when you must make a decision quickly, and whatever you decide will have important consequences in the future. The moment of truth had arrived.

Source: Collins Dictionary

I used this concept to try to map out all of the moments of truth in dealing with customers – whether citizens or corporations – and see where all the possible interactions might take place, and why.

At the same time as working with moments of truth, we were seriously into books like The Loyalty Effect by Friederich Reichheld (who I was lucky enough to meet recently) , 1:1 Marketing by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers and The Experience Economy by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore.

I was surprised at the conference that none of the retail loyalty people had heard of these books or background to how their industry developed. The foundations of the loyalty systems of today began back then.

But then I highlighted how many markets – including all of theirs – are very poor at the customer journey because the management has focused upon 100% self-service and, when that break down, they have no staff to deal with customer issues.

Sorry, we’re very busy right now serving other customers … you are 18th in the queue. Please refer to our online service and apps to solve your issues, if you can.

You then queue for thirty minutes because their online services and apps cannot solve the issue – the app does not answer “how do I get my money back” for an incorrect charge – and then, when you finally get through, the line hangs up.

Back to another thirty minute wait.

The critical thing here is that digital processes often break and, when they do, you have a chance to engage with the customer 1:1 and exceed their expectations. This is what would make a huge difference to loyalty and experience. The clear perspective should be that when a customer calls, then obviously digital has broken. It’s a moment of truth. Too often, companies are delegating this to a minimalist offshore call centre who they pay to keep customers in thirty minute queues to cut costs.

I have a feeling that people could learn a lot from management theories of years ago. Follow the moments of truth, customer interactions, customer journeys and build the customer experience and the company structures from there. Go back to basics. Go back to Copernicus Commerce.

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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