From account switching to the inexorable rise of aggregators, financial services companies are entering a period of unprecedented competition. As a result, the focus in 2015 is on retention and cross-selling – and that means fundamentally changing the way financial services companies interact with customers and sell products.
The concept of customer loyalty is changing fast. In the first year following the introduction of bank switching regulations in October 2013, 1.2m Britons switched bank accounts and the trend continues. Furthermore the UK leads the way in terms of aggregator usage globally in insurance, with 30% buying through comparison sites.
According to Accenture, in 2014 the primary reasons for customers switching to new insurers were lower prices and personalised service. Yet in this more competitive market, these two drivers should be a reason for building customer loyalty and retention. Indeed, the incumbent providers are in an incredibly powerful position with access to a depth of existing customer information that should underpin a new, relevant experience. And yet, this is still an area in which most financial services companies are lagging behind.
One of the main challenges is that when so many products are one-off purchases, from savings products to insurance, companies have limited opportunities to create and build a relationship. How can a brand improve engagement when a customer only interacts once? The starting point for the creation of this strong, on-going engagement – and this big change in 2015 - has to be the creation of an addressable audience by encouraging customers to create an online account which will act as the central point of their online relationship with the financial service provider. Once this audience has been created, the financial services provider then has a chance to build a continuing relationship and offer added value services that build loyalty.
This is where optimisation will play an essential role. Testing content and journeys around encouraging account sign up; the USPs of account relationship – including a dedicated online service; and exploiting account functionality, such as access to renewal documents - will be essential to determine the most successful approach. Once a brand has created an addressable audience, the next phase will be to change the journey for logged in users – using content and functionality to reinforce the benefits of the existing relationship, making the customer realise the value of staying loyal to the brand.
Building on this approach, the final phase will be to use customer information to improve cross-selling and personalisation. This could include targeted product messaging, to the use of customer profiles to drive more personalised communication with the financial provider, and the creation of more intelligent rewards programs for customers based on previous activity. Effective engagement with this known and accessible customer audience base has the potential to transform the retention and cross-selling model.
It also provides financial services companies with a chance to step away from the traditional ‘product features’ sell and evolve towards a more personal approach that reflects the value of products to an individual. In this model, customer voice will become increasingly important. In 2014, Accenture found that 48% of customers would consider comments on social media in making insurance-buying decisions. Ratings can significantly influence user behaviour and companies will increasingly look to ascertain the most effective way of sharing customer generated ratings and reviews to optimise their value. This will close the loop by ensuring that the financial service providers who build the strongest relationships with their customers not only generate the strongest retention rates, but also have the most positive relationships to leverage in the form of ratings and recommendations which will in turn drive further acquisition.
The crucial element of this new model will be testing. While personalisation and account management is going to be a key differentiator in 2015 and beyond, the way in which companies handle customer data and serve those personalised experiences will still represent risk. Building strong customer relationships will yield dividends by utilising both the investment the customer has made in a brand and the personalised experience that brand is able to offer, driving both retention and cross-selling.
By Nick Fleetwood, Head of Financial Services, EMEA, at Maxymiser.
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