“May you live in interesting times” is often cited as a traditional Chinese curse. For Australia’s banks, building societies and insurers, the times have, of late, been nothing if not interesting. From damaging revelations at the 2017 royal commission, which saw some of Australia’s biggest players racing to rehabilitate their reputations, to intensifying competition from fintech start-ups, companies have had to roll with the punches.

Meanwhile, Australia’s recently introduced Consumer Data Right Act has ushered in the open banking era. New regulations have given consumers greater control and choice over their personal financial data and how it can be used.

Australia’s big four banks – CBA, NAB, ANZ and Westpac – will soon be required to give account holders access to data about their accounts and charge cards. It will also be able to be shared with authorised third parties, at a customer’s direction.

Consumer choice advocates have cited this as a welcome development which will make it easier for customers to compare products and services and to switch providers. Last year, founder of the consumer comparison site Finder Fred Schebesta mooted the possibility of banking customers signing up to an app which enabled providers to bid for their business.

“Financial institutions are going to offer lower rates to more profitable customers, so it’s going to be much harder to keep those customers,” he told the Mumbrella 2019 Finance Marketing Summit. “That’s where the battleground is going to be.”

But, as we’ve seen in other industries before, no one wins in a race to the bottom. A customer’s evaluation of financial services providers should not be and isn’t solely about cost. Experience matters.

Consistently providing personalised customer service and positive, meaningful interactions can help providers build (and rebuild) trust and loyalty and forge stronger bonds with the consumers and businesses which entrust them with their business.

It’s all about the experience

Faced with an embarrassment of options, consumers, in Australia and abroad, are increasingly using the subjective measure of “customer experience” to determine the brands, products and services that deserve their loyalty and repeat business.

The sum total of interactions between an organisation and its customer over the course of their relationship, customer experience isn’t only about what you do or don’t do. It’s about how a customer feels when they’re dealing with you, whether they’re navigating your web site, calling a helpline or meeting with a member of staff.

KPMG’s Customer Experience Excellence Report 2019 identified six key elements that comprise stand-out customer experience: personalisation, empathy, frictionless transaction processing, issue resolution, integrity and expectation management.

A 2019 survey conducted by Acquia, a leading digital experience platform provider, shows lack of personalisation is preventing Australian brands from delivering excellent customer experiences.

For their part, consumers increasingly see technology as the engine which will drive the improvements they want to see in this area. Eighty-seven per cent of those polled by Acquia stated that technology should be harnessed to make their experience with brands better.

Local brands and organisations which disregard these sentiments do so at their own commercial peril, given 70 per cent of Australians say they often abandon a brand or switch to a competitor when the online experience is poor.

Investing in experience technology

Australia’s financial services companies are as vulnerable to the customer experience phenomenon as their counterparts in other sectors – and under the same impetus to lift their game, especially when so many new entrants in the space are targeting these pain points when delivering digitally native solutions.

Customer journeys are often decades long and require strategic investment in technology which supports customers at every age and stage of their financial lives.

Touchpoints are numerous. They range from the interactions associated with applying for mortgages, personal loans and other forms of credit through to online banking platforms and apps and retirement and estate planning services.

Each of these represents an opportunity to deliver an interaction that’s not only consistent, quick and convenient, but personalised and meaningful, as well.

Incumbents can ill afford not to act, according to Richard Hatherall and Katrina Cuthell, financial services practice partners in Bain & Company’s Sydney office. They believe it’s time senior leaders in the financial services sector begin to hardwire the customer’s perspective into all of their important business decisions and push for the creation of a customer experience that’s simple, digital first and customised.

“Major banks in any region cannot afford to continue business as usual,” the pair noted in a 2019 article entitled A Path for Australia’s Banks to Delight Customers.

“Customers now have too many alternatives and too much familiarity with excellent experiences in other industries to tolerate mediocre performance. Australia’s senior banking executives need to re-establish trust through visible and sustained behaviours,” they said.

Marketing technology can facilitate seamless personalised experiences across multiple channels and assist financial services providers to build stronger connections with customers, whenever and wherever they choose to engage.

Given Australian consumers have spoken out about the customer experience gap loudly and clearly, it is likely to prove a rewarding investment for those providers which are passionate about building trust, loyalty and customer share in the 2020s and beyond.

Chris Gibbs, general manager, Asia Pacific and Japan, Acquia