Cracking the CX enigma: trends, transformations and the trust dividend in a post-Covid world – Digital CX Panel

Digital CX Panel FST Future of Financial Services

Over the last year of crises and personal hardship, Australia’s financial services industry has, in large part, stood up and served its communities with care, empathy, and an understanding of the physical barriers and emotional challenges they face – and continue to face.

By doing so, banks and insurers have gone a long way to recouping the trust dividend (both from customers and employees) wiped out in the fallout of the Hayne Royal Commission. However, FSIs cannot rest on their laurels – they face existential threats from all corners, from nimble innovators in the fintech, insurtech, and neobank world to the bigtech giants, with seemingly infinite data, tech resources, and clout to deliver customer experiences unrivalled in their sophistication and hyper-personalisation potential.

Here, we’ve taken a snapshot of the recent Digital CX Evolution Panel featured at FST’s Future of Financial Services Sydney, 2020 conference. Panellists explored the digitisation pivot and efforts to rebuild trust in the midst of the Covid and bushfire crises, trends in customer behaviour, and the future potential (and potential drawbacks) of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in CX innovation.

Featured panellists:

– Fiona Hayes-St Clair, Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer, QBE
– Alan Machet, Chief Executive Officer, Consumer Bank, Citi Australia
– Mim Haysom, Chief Marketing Officer/Executive General Manager Brand & Marketing, Suncorp Group
– Nikhita Iyar, Business Strategist, Moxtra

Moderator: Mark Sheppard

Mark Sheppard (Moderator): Let’s talk about the last six months. There’s been a huge shift in the levels of cooperation and dialogue between financial services, the government and regulatory bodies, which has really aimed at keeping everybody afloat. What impact has this had in restoring trust in financial services?

Alan Matchet (Citi): Financial services generally, and banks in particular, have obviously had a pretty rough time over the past years. And if you think back 12 months ago, the reputations and trust people had in them clearly weren’t in a great space. It’s really been a transformation over this last six or eight months, as banks have needed to step up and show that they can be a critical shock absorber.

The coordination and cooperation between government regulators and the banks been very effective; there’s been very, very clear alignment.


And, from my perspective, as we’ve been engaging, there’s been very little contention. Everyone has understood the need to get this right: this is temporary; this is a situation in a crisis where we all need to lean in to make sure we can help customers through what is a temporary situation.

Frankly, it was a great opportunity for banks to be able to step up and demonstrate that they could do that. And, as we look through it now, it’s working really well. Looking at Citi, we had to have over 25,000 customers be able to very quickly access payment deferrals, additional hardship information and support. As an industry, hundreds of thousands of customers have needed that; and we’ve been able to do it effectively and very sensitively. That’s been transformational for us, in turn, to be able to demonstrate to our staff and to the broader public out there that this is a sector that’s been able to earn back trust. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it.


Mark Sheppard (Mod): And we’ve heard that as an enduring theme over and over, that idea of taking staff on that journey.

Alan Matchet (Citi): That’s been massive and really important for us. Staff have always been our number one asset; we always say it. But getting the opportunity to prove it is actually really powerful.

We had our staff satisfaction survey come back only in the last few days, and we saw probably the biggest uplift we’ve ever seen just on those metrics where people were able to say it’s not just the rhetoric, it’s also the actions being taken. And it’s been quite transformational for us. Of course, we need to make sure we do that for our customers as well.

Fiona Hayes-St Clair (QBE): Like the banks, insurers are quite used to coming together around a community, for instance, when there’s a natural disaster and we all pile into the town or the community and we do whatever it takes to make that happen. Perhaps we don’t talk about that enough. And this [situation] has given us an opportunity to talk about that. The basis of competition is not how we help the community and help the economy – that’s something that we all have a shared role in. If we can do that on a more enduring basis, it will help build trust.

Mim Haysom (Suncorp): The points the other panellists have made are absolutely spot on. Trust was at an all-time low post-Royal Commission, and industry research analysis shows that there’s been a really quick recovery on that trust piece with customers. It’s been really pleasing to see as an industry that everyone has come together and put the customers first. And, similar to Citi, for us, we had financial support packages for our bank and insurance customers into market really, really quickly, as did the whole industry. What’s going to be interesting to see is how this plays out over time and whether customers continue to feel that level of trust and how as organisations do we respond to that over time.

Nikhita Iyar (Moxtra): Of course, everybody so far has made some of the best points. But, from a tech perspective, customer-centricity is key. Especially in terms of this idea of digital – here we are right now joining a panel, virtually. Ten months ago, this is not how things would have been done; this is a rather unexpected situation worldwide. And it just continues to push organisations towards redefining what that means and, moreover, what the word ‘trust’ means for our customer in this new era, because everyone has to shift. There’s no longer a choice.

Ten months ago, even a year ago, digital was just an option; it was something to think about. But this [situation] has forced people to say, ‘Well, we don’t have another option’.

We need to come up with a personalised hybrid model that delivers that trust and that personalised private experience that customers are looking for.


And right now is a time of rebuilding as well as communicating that trust that an organisation has with its customers.


Mark Sheppard (Mod): What do you see as those other big ongoing shifts in consumer behaviour that are affecting financial services? And what are your thoughts on how organisations might be able to respond to those big shifts?

Nikhita Iyar (Moxtra): When we look at the customer today, the customer is all of us, in a way. We’re a customer of something. So, we have to remember that there is a person behind each and every relationship that an organisation is looking to maintain and build. That person does not wake up in the morning necessarily understanding the 50 systems that we use on the back-end, or how the data is managed, or the bot that they’re speaking to. They want something that it’s easy and that is convenient but also that they can trust and that’s personalised.

The shift in the industry that we’ve seen in the last five years is a shift towards mobility. And I don’t mean replacing a desktop – I think we’ll all continue to use our laptops for a large portion of our working lives. But mobility has giving rise to a new trend of behaviour, which is a shift towards a new delivery model for service. People now expect to be anywhere, anytime, click a button, and receive service on-demand. We use apps every day on our phones, but we don’t use the apps to merely communicate; we use them to communicate around receiving a particular kind of service. Like myself, I love food delivery; these apps have been wonderful for me during Covid. The expectation in financial services is actually the same. Customers move from their environment and their personal lives and they want to be able to conduct high-touch business in a similar manner, but in a way that supports the level of complexity, the relationships, and the security that’s required for those types of conversations.

Right now, the shift is towards reimagining digital – not merely as an extension or a replacement of the human being, but an assistant to that human being.


And then understanding how can you build a customer experience that’s truly about the customer first. And I always find the term CRM funny, because CRM in many ways doesn’t have to do with the customer. The customer is not the one actually engaging. And so that’s the shift – towards really putting that customer first.


Mark Sheppard (Mod): Alan, mobility, customer-first, these are some enduring themes. What do you see as those big shifts?

Alan Matchet (Citi): Mobility is critical. Having a digitally led model, that’s been the mantra for many years – I don’t think that’s a surprise. Over the last six to eight months we’ve just better understood the criticality of it. You need to invest in what your app’s doing, as opposed to having something on the desktop or laptop, whatever that might be.

It was the end of March or early April, and suddenly we had quick lockdowns in the Philippines and India where we have a lot of our service centres that support the bulk of our Asia businesses and certainly Australia.

Suddenly, digital wasn’t a critical adjunct to what we do. It was what we could do.


And it was the way of being able to get out to customers and tell them, ‘Here’s how we’re going to be able to support you’. We moved away from having cash in branches probably three or four years ago; we closed our last physical branch earlier this year. We still have face-to-face for our wealth management customers, but our view has been, while physical is fading, human remains core. So, you have the digital, you have mobile – people want to check their balance, they want to do the transaction; they might even want to get a quick, simple loan-type activity. But when they may have a challenge – for instance, they’ve lost their job because of Covid; they hope to be able to get it back; what are their options? – they need to be able to connect with someone who’s going to quickly understand them and not put them through the wringer to prove they are who they say they are, but offer a meaningful and deep conversation that’s going to help them. That’s where you build the customer relationship for life. And, of course, the criticality of doing that at a sensitive time when someone might be quite vulnerable is huge. So, it’s been a real switch in transformation from, ‘Yes, this is important’ to the real criticality of how you deliver a mobile and digital experience quickly and seamlessly. But, frankly, having that human touch back-up available and easy to access, it’s for me emphasised the importance of having that right next to digital as well.

Fiona Hayes-St Clair (QBE): Echoing what others have said, we’ve put a lot of time and investment into financial services, getting those day-to-day transactional, routine activities digitised, and they’ve taken so much of the load during the last six months.

But that ‘surge capacity’ for certainty and help with a really complex problem, that’s the thing I don’t think we’ve quite cracked yet.


It’s that ability to get that ‘human enabled by digital’ for those really personal and difficult situations of the kind that we’ve experienced in the last couple of months and we hadn’t really anticipated in any of our algorithms.

Mim Haysom (Suncorp): We’re just seeing those themes of simplicity and flexibility coming through in terms of what customers want.

And we all talk about ‘Is it a human channel or a digital channel?’ But for the customer, it’s just the total experience.


Whether it’s online or offline, or whether it’s a combination of both, our job is to make it a really frictionless and seamless experience for them. And it’s been interesting seeing the shift in how customers do want to engage and where they’re getting their information from. And, historically, particularly in the insurance side of the business, customers have often wanted to have a conversation with a human around complex issues, of course. But in the last 12 months, we’ve seen our customer engagement through our IVAs (intelligent virtual assistants) increase 72 per cent. So, in this environment, particularly when people are under stress and there’s a sense of urgency for them to get information quickly and transparently, they have been really happy to use digital channels where they may not have wanted to in the past. But, as I said, the role for us as brands and organisations is to make sure we’ve got options for customers and that they can have a really seamless experience, whether it’s online offline or a combination of both.


Mark Sheppard (Mod): AI, ML hyper-personalisation, these have been earmarked as the gold standard for intuitive digital customer experiences. What are you seeing in your organisations and what are the steps you’re taking to get to that gold standard?

Fiona Hayes-St Clair (QBE): Look, I completely agree that is absolutely the goal. And a little bit of what we’ve talked about today has shown that you can’t just follow the bouncing ball with digital experiences; you need to be able to personalise them. And it’s probably a journey that will never end. It’s a pursuit.

And where we’ve really focused a lot of our effort on is in that moment of truth around a claim, because we know that that’s where the product comes to life and is a real moment of trust.


So we’ve put a lot of energy into trying to make that claims process as personalised, as seamless, and frictionless as possible, but also really understanding the context of ‘a tree’s fallen through the roof’ or ‘the dog’s run away’ – how you’re going to get that into an AI algorithm is quite challenging. But it’s a noble challenge to try to figure out that very human and physical world problem in an AI/ML environment.

Alan Matchet (Citi): We talk about AI as a set of algorithms and an approach to trying to solve a problem. For me, the opportunity for the big data lakes out there, the opportunity to look at new data sources becoming available, customers’ expectations that you know them that much better and that you’re able to use the information you have about them. But also that you should reasonably be able to assess as well as really curate the experience you’re offering them – and whether that’s a servicing experience today, an offer experience tomorrow, or an overarching interaction with the brand, there’s such a big opportunity for us to be so much smarter with the way we do that. And we’re just at the tip of the iceberg with that. Open Banking is going to be the next layer where we’ll be able to do that.

If the customer trusts the brand and trusts the interactions, and you’ve been able to build real credibility in that, and you’re out there trying to help a customer, I think the opportunities are almost endless. Whatever technique you’re using, having that lens of what else is out there can help us make this experience better. And now that we’ve gone and regained trust in financial services, the opportunity to use that in a smart way is just huge, and we’re seeing some early examples of it. If I talk for Citi, we’ve still got a long way to go.

We’re very aware of the opportunity [of data]; we’re treading into it to very carefully, because you can easily clip over from helpful into a little bit spooky very quickly, with customers asking, ‘How did you know that about me?’.


The good news is, we’ve built trust. We’ve got to be careful we don’t waste your time.

Mim Haysom (Suncorp): I couldn’t agree more. We’ve got access to data and customer data, and we’ve got to really respect that. The benefit of AI is that we can learn and predict outcomes. And, again, the job for us is to work out how we use that new capability to identify new and better ways to add value to customers.

Nikhita Iyar (Moxtra): It’s impressive to see the ways in which AI can be leveraged. And what’s most important, as we’ve heard from the other panellists here, is making sure that it doesn’t take away from the experience but adds to it.

There’s a lot of fear from clients as well as advisers and staff asking, ‘How much is it replacing my human connection? And how much of this is replacing my ability to deliver service?’


But something that’s clear, especially in these high touch interactions, is that human connection is required. I saw a statistic recently that said clients have a 306 per cent higher likelihood to retain a relationship with a certain brand if they have an emotional connection to it. Using AI and leveraging these kinds of digital means as a support system or maybe for some day-to-day queries is a smart way for an organisation to leverage it without losing that connection in the process.


Mark Sheppard (Mod): There’s a huge amount of talk around customer experience. That obviously comes at a cost. And as we go into a brave new world operating under a new set of constraints, and particularly budget constraints, what does it look like for financial services to really prioritise customer experience in this ‘new normal’?

Fiona Hayes-St Clair (QBE): I find it a bit difficult to feel like they’re trade-offs.

Customers don’t want to go through a long and painful, expensive experience, and we don’t want to have to service one.


So, there is really a meeting of needs in terms of making it simple and lowering cost for us and making it more efficient for the customer. And I truly believe that, not even thinking about what that does in terms of loyalty or engaging the customer for longer. The tipping point is, as we work to keep up with other industries and customers’ expanding needs, how do you invest fast enough to get there? That is the challenge. But the innovation in tech, and I think we’ve talked about cloud as well today, just enables us to do some customer innovation at lower cost. Ultimately, I don’t see a trade-off, but there’s perhaps a need to figure out how to prioritise it in order to do it smarter.

Nikhita Iyar (Moxtra): There’s no perfect answer. Firstly, from our experience, every organisation has different challenges and grouping every customer into the same category of expectations is difficult, because people are always going to want a different experience. It’s providing the means so that the customer can choose their path – that’s the real trend that I’m seeing today, with more and more customers wanting knowledge in their hands. They don’t necessarily want the old relationship of finding out what’s going on in their portfolio or checking their accounts maybe once a quarter with a hand statement delivered.

Customers want to have that on-demand access, and that on-demand access becomes premier and becomes high-value for them when they believe there’s someone behind that entire data experience they’re receiving, helping them support the queries they have, the deep dive sessions they want to move through and get that real-world advice.


In the past, that kind of experience was defined when a customer visited in-person – the fancier your office was, maybe the better the coffee was, in that context. That was the environment in which you delivered that service, and that’s what set your brand apart. Today, that’s no longer that experience. Customers have new ways of even approaching a brand, because there are so many options out there. So, differentiating your brand – but not necessarily segmenting a brand and saying ‘This is all we’re about’ – versus offering an experience that caters to the many options that a client may want is not an easy thing to do, but probably a better approach to handle today’s and tomorrow’s generations.

Alan Matchet (Citi): With respect, I completely reject the premise in the question of ‘Can we afford to invest in customer experience?’ It’s the way the entire organisation needs to operate when we build every single activity in which we interact with customers. And yes, maybe 10 or 20 years ago we used to build from the inside out – this is what the bank/insurer needs to be able to collect information to do the transaction. We can no longer be that way.

The trade-off might in fact come where customers want lots of options. Perhaps we should only give two of the three options we’d like to give; we’re no longer going to give a third option that’s manual, broken, and difficult, because what happens is that the regulator is going to smack us, our customers are going to be unhappy with us, and it’s going to break and cause problems. That way of thinking is gone. Now, everyone within the organisation is working on delivering that customer-centricity, and that customer experience is now front-of-mind. There’s no trade-off in that – it’s just the only way you can do business. Otherwise, it’s just going to cost you more in three months’ time. ◼

This is an extract from the Digital CX Evolution Panel featured at the FST Future of Financial Services Sydney 2020 conference.