Last year, as financial institutions continued to lag behind in the war for the customer, we told banks they could do better. And they did. Indeed, for the first time ever, the Financial Services sector tops the rankings: insurers, banks and payment services brands all made huge gains in our list, thanks in part to their response to the COVID-19 crisis. How did a sector, generally perceived as being traditional and conservative, make such great progress? Perhaps more importantly, can they keep it up?
It is not just one or two Financial Services brands that made massive improvements in their customer experience over the past year. A stunning 80 percent of the Financial Services brands involved in our annual research has returned higher CEE scores this year, with most posted significant improvements in their scores under the Integrity and the Expectation Pillars. Customer loyalty has climbed across the board.
In part, this rising of the tide is an outcome of the current social disruption. In times of crisis, customers look for financial stability and brands they can trust. It is not surprising, therefore, that Dutch consumers have gravitated towards brands that protect them, their families and their belongings. Yet, across the sector, we also saw a number of brands take specific steps that allowed them to leap far ahead of their peers.
Dutch banks were quick to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The first order of business was to ensure employees were safe and that customers could access their services and interact with bank employees in a safe manner. But, very quickly, banks started communicating to the public that they intended their role in this crisis to be different to the one in 2008; this time, they would be there to support their customers through the crisis with a range of offers, such as payment holidays and emergency loans.
Their efforts have been recognised. Indeed, the Dutch Financial Times noted the banking sector had become "a crucial element in keeping the economy going". The publication offered deep praise for those banks who were using the opportunity to "show themselves at their best".
In this environment, those banks that demonstrate the highest levels of integrity win. So it is perhaps not surprising that ASN Bank – a brand that scored 11 percent above market average on the Integrity Pillar – emerged as the Netherlands' top brand overall. With a clear focus on sustainability, effective customer communication and a talent for embedding sustainability into their products and customer channels, ASN Bank has led the banking sector rankings for years.
Whether or not banks will retain this 'COVID-19 bump' in the new reality remains to be seen. Post-research conversations with consumers seem to suggest growing frustration around banks' ability to deliver on their promises (by, for example, being too strict on the payment holidays and emergency loans). To keep customers satisfied, banks will need to take a hard look at their organisation to decide how they are truly able to deliver on their promises to support their customers throughout this crisis.
For years, insurers have been making steady and consistent progress up the Customer Experience Excellence rankings. And their investments have clearly paid off. Indeed, insurers posted improved results across each of The Six Pillars at the foundation of our research.
As with banks, insurers have received some 'halo effect' from their role in helping customers deal with the pandemic. Insurance, at its very core, is about protection. In times of uncertainty, customers look to their insurers for just that – protection. At the same time, however, insurers in the Netherlands have also made great efforts to improve their individual results.
Many insurers have improved their performance under the Resolution Pillar by leveraging digital tools and channels to deliver customer convenience. We have also seen improvements under the Personalisation Pillar – in part through enhanced use of technology. But we are also seeing insurers leverage their employees to add the human touch back into the relationship.
Univé, for example, had their employees call elderly clients during the crisis – not to sell insurance but simply to check on their well-being and to offer help.
New innovations have also influenced the integrity of the sector. Lemonade, a new entrant in the Dutch market, offers a service-model approach to insurance that is similar to FinTech banks. They also appeal to customers' desire to 'do good': all premiums not paid out in claims are paid to charities selected by the customer. Deck, another new entry, positions itself as a 'FinTouch' brand that is both people and technology-savvy. Based on the principle that customers are able to take care of small claims themselves, Deck provides an attractive low cost 'all-in' insurance for larger claims.
Innovation has also helped insurers move towards prevention, recognising that prevented events lead to lower claims and less disruption in the lives of customers. Insurers like a.s.r., for example, started an initiative in which they use health data to offer policy cashbacks. Univé installs chimney sensors that tell customers when maintenance is needed, thereby helping prevent chimney fires.
Payment services like PayPal, iDEAL and Apple Pay are largely new to our list and reflect the important role these services play in a socially distant economy. They have allowed many businesses to enter into digital services. And their willingness to offer additional services (such as refunding shipping costs) provided customers with additional peace of mind, especially during the crisis. With overall CEE scores broadly in line with the Financial Services sector, customers gave payment services brands high loyalty scores.
While we certainly applaud the Financial Services sector for these great results, we also believe that some of these improvements are a result of a widespread desire for greater financial security and stability. As the crisis continues, customers will be watching their Financial Services brands to see if they remain true to their word. If not, the door opens for smart new upstarts to build new value propositions
1. Reinvent your purpose: Expect continued focus on environmental, social and governance considerations. For example, de Volksbank's purpose of 'bankieren met de menselijke maat' ('Banking with a human touch') is translated into each of their brands differently – ASN Bank for sustainable investing, SNS for financial control, and BLG Wonen for affordability.
2. (Re)connect with customers: Get to know your customers in the 'new reality', embed yourself into their lives and create emotionally-connected customer and employee journeys. Univé's efforts to connect CX with EX, for example, has been one of the key elements leading them to the top of the insurance rankings.
3. Accelerate the transformation: From new chatbot interfaces at the front end through to increasingly sophisticated predictive risk management tools at the back end, speed up efforts to connect with customers and protect employees. Lemonade, for example, uses chatbots and technology to quickly process claims. As a result, more than 30 percent are approved and paid within a minute.