Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is understanding customer expectations like reading alphabet soup?

Just completed an annual round of customer satisfaction research. What does it tell me? Pretty much what every piece of research about the superannuation industry is saying right now - people have lost faith as investment returns have taken a battering and superannuation administration and communications platforms fail to live up to 21st Century expectations.

You see, the bods who built the administration platforms 30 years ago are still influential in driving customer satisfaction downwards. They were platforms built when the world was a quieter place and customers weren't so vocal, or networked. They were built when you defined customers as numbers and transaction histories rather than people. Their legacy still lives on.

Overall satisfaction with communications in our survey has hardly moved for over three years, yet the supposed underlying drivers of satisfaction in this area have improved immensely. I might say with some pride that the underlying improvements are because we actually act on our customer research - re-prioritising and fine-tuning the points of customer pleasure and pain.

The question is: if the underlying drivers have improved by over 50% in some instances over two years, why has overall satisfaction not commensurately improved? In fact, there is almost no customer touchpoint, except printed newsletters, that have not improved their scores over the period. Is finding the solution like reading alphabet soup, or is there an obvious explanation?

Although not obvious, I think the answer lies in the relevance and customisation of communications. Superannuation fund customers want stuff that makes sense to them. So reporting the investment returns for each investment option every month is 'nice to see', but largely 'irrelevant to me'. When you have a big chunk of the population that has no notion of how to calculate a percentage, publishing what we do fails to communicate. Customers want to receive communications that do the calculations for them. 'If I am invested in investment options X, Y and Z, translate those monthly returns into the actual dollars I have made after tax, fees and other costs have been taken out'. They don't just want to see their account balance, they want a report on how much they made. After all, that's what investment's all about isn't it?

The other factor is timing. The old quarterly newsletter cycle is bunk. It's useless. When you need to say something, it's usually not in sync with the regular cycle and when you have a newsletter to publish, there's generally nothing to say other than issue more trite reminders about how it's good for you to invest or save more.

No period highlighted this more than the GFC, which tossed investment markets and investor confidence around mercilessly - and is still shaking out in the form of market volatility. When people are losing money, or think they are losing more than they should, they're hypersensitive to the relevance and timeliness of information and they're thirsty for it. They want to log into the website and see, if necessary, a daily summary of their total position in dollar terms, with all their accounts displayed on a single screen and how much they made - or lost.

And this is where the industry's technology platforms are failing investors. Almost with exception, they deliver this information, but not in a consolidated and interpretive form that makes sense to customers, who are often anxious and apprehensive, but far from knowledgeable.

Customers expect and need personalised information. The want dashboards they can configure online to present information in the way they prefer or understand it, the convenience of access via their preferred mobile device, and printed statements that are unencumbered by reams of disclaimers and notes that create suspicion about 'the small type' rather than clarity.

Yes. I know exactly why improvements in touch point scores does not result in an improvement in overall communications score. We're given credit for the quality of our existing touch points, but many customer expectations are forging ahead - demanding more 'on demand' and information formatted how they want it on the media they choose.

We've got a long way to go...

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