Customer experience has come a long way for the Kenyan customer. In as much as the country’s service levels are not as yet at the desirable standards, it is important to celebrate what is going well. The financial services sector more than any other sector in the country has taken customer experience seriously, and the efforts being made are laudable. So much so that it has been said that the sector to benchmark with for customer service standards has shifted from the previous pace setter that was the hospitality industry, to financial services industry. So what has changed? Why are customers shifting their thoughts about their suppliers of financial services? What have they done over the recent past to delight customers and to shift their mindset?
Communication has transformed over time. Financial institutions have morphed from the traditionally very serious, very conservative, very boxed in organizations, to those that communicate to customers of different generations in colourful language, designed to delight and engage them. Communication type and content has shifted, and there has been a proliferation of locally aligned messaging that resonates with the different audiences. This has served to endear the specific brands to the existing and potential customers by virtue of the organization coming down to their level. There has been quite an effort as well from these financial institutions to speak to a much younger demographic, bearing in mind that the customer base is consistently shifting lower and lower in age. Conversations held with baby boomers and with centennials either face to face or through other communication channels are radically different and these finance players have taken cognizance of that. Key to the communication agenda as well is that finance players are not shying away from making their promises known to customers. Various institutions have customer promises displayed in their physical waiting areas, on their websites and online portals. Indeed, they have sought to proactively let customers know what they should expect from them.
Feedback channels have also been optimized and customers have more leeway to provide feedback to financial players. Feedback options are available on mobile platforms. By the same token, in physical locations, after services have been rendered, vide third party feedback collection vendors who seek customer feedback on behalf of the organizations and via various reach out activities to listen to the voice of the customers. This has enabled product and service optimization and to have these organizations tweak things to respond to customer needs. That it is much easier to speak to a financial services organization now than it was before is a matter that calls for celebration.
Customer Service Week
Customer Service Week that is celebrated annually has seen financial institutions in the country set standards that have proved challenging for other sectors to emulate. Financial players have dominated the Institute of Customer Experience award winning list both from private and public sector by demonstrating that customers are important. They have also implemented customer focused activities aligned to the different global and local themes. Customers have expressed delight during these celebrations, appreciating different initiatives ranging from value added services in banking, insurance, sacco and microfinance front office halls. This has given customers more than they came in for; reduction and waiving of regular fees for services; partnership with customers in community outreach programmes; reduction of process times for financial services; and provision of delightful entertainment for customers at the different customer touch points. These memorable moments have gone beyond just the usual frivolities of providing customers with perishable goodies at the reception, to more tangible initiatives that have more sustainable outcomes. Customers look forward to seeing what new things will be unveiled by their financial providers every year and this is something worth celebrating.
The financial services sector has been hailed for the provision of different products designed to meet varying customer needs. With the onset of fintech and with the creativity and innovation witnessed towards providing customers with options that suit their situations, customers have been exposed to very discerning and well thought out products. Partnerships have sprung up with different service providers to enhance customer experiences and to band together products and services to fulfill customers’ needs. The menu of options available for customers ranging across the scale from the high net worth, premier customers, to customers considered at ‘the bottom of the pyramid’ have evolved over time and keep getting refined to adapt to the customers’ changing needs. The specifics of the services rendered and the product descriptions may vary but what is consistent is that the research teams in the financial institutions have been doing their groundwork towards new product development. With more options available, the greatest beneficiaries are the customers.
Financial players have greatly broadened the spectrum of information access and customers are now able to have access to their financial information on different platforms. In trying to meet the more discerning customer needs, financial organizations have strived to deliver value and prioritized the place of technology in meeting customer requirements. The different methodologies currently in place including mobile apps to streamline the customer journey have been globally groundbreaking. Every financial service player is aiming to ensure that customers have access anytime, anywhere and on any device they may so please, to enable them have the ease and convenience they desire. Financial service players before launching any new product or service, are keen to complete user testing to ascertain that accessibility is seamless on all sorts of devices – computers, smart phones, tablets, smart watches and all other digitally enabled gadgets.
The need for physical contact is diminishing, with many financial institutions placing punitive fees on walk in services, to push even the slow adaptors towards their digital platforms. There have been many benchmarking visits from global players to learn about the innovations delivered by local players. These breakthroughs are worth celebrating and Kenyan customers are enjoying enhanced experiences from the financial sector. With all these progressive innovations comes the need for communication with customers. This has seen financial institutions set up contact centres and help desks to respond to the customers’ needs. Financiers are continuously improving the turnaround times at these call centres and devising more real time options to respond to customers. Almost all financial organizations that are keen to respond to customers, have robust contact centres with multi-channel options for communication and engagement. There has been significant reduction in the response times to customer enquiries and complaints, to the extent that artificial intelligence via robotic process automation has been employed by various organizations to ensure near real time experiences. Social media has also been engaged extensively and this has enabled a single agent to multiple customer engagements from the previous calling system that would tie up one agent to one caller. This has significantly reduced customer waiting times and customers are happy.
Finance sector players have also realized – in the same space as the famous quote by the Syms CEO Sy Syms that: “An educated customer is our best customer”. Therefore there is need to spare no effort in regard to customer education. There has been quite some investment in ensuring customers are more financially literate. In that respect, financial institutions have set aside budgets for customer education and outreach programmes. Both public and private sector players hold customer forums, round tables, seminars and other education forums with the key objective of knowledge transfer to enable customers make more informed decisions. These educative sessions are not only geared towards product education, but to the outcome of having more financially savvy customers and potential customers.
Finance institutions have also gone the extra mile towards having educative sessions and materials for the different customer groups in their different stages of life up to and including children and the youth. Customers are as such more empowered and apply more wisdom when seeking financial solutions. Public sector players have also embarked on informing and educating customers up to and including the grassroots, with the deployment of mobile finance clinics, market place education sessions, barazas to inform customers and sessions with different social groups and gatherings. Partnerships have also been created with various entrepreneurs to take this information to the people to enable financial inclusion become a reality. It is worth celebrating that more and more attractive financial solutions are in the market place that have gone ahead to discern what customers are struggling with and provide useful information towards alleviating this. The customer is no longer an alien – outside the financial organizations’ boundaries – but a partner and friend.
As organizations celebrate their chronological milestones and have celebratory events to commemorate how far they have come, the odds they have surmounted and the milestones they have achieved, it would be important to also measure how far they have come on the customer experience scale. An assessment of the organization’s performance against the desired levels of customer communication, customer education and customer convenience would truly serve to measure the customer experience excellence levels, and to in response put up a customer worthy celebration.