April 12, 2013

Banks have been increasingly focused on customer experience in recent years, but they’ve been taking an approach that is too broad, says Dean Nicolacakis, a partner at PwC’s banking and capital markets practice. While many banks are trying to configure a customer experience that is consistent for every customer across every channel, the key to a really great customer experience is providing a different personalized experience that fits different customer segments, Nicolacakis contends. Different customers just want different things - and are willing to pay for different things - from their bank.

“People [in banking] have a blanketed approach to customer experience. Of course, you need a foundation based on good maintenance, not making mistakes in customers’ accounts, etc. But once you provide that minimal level you need to provide some nuance to the experience. You need to ask what differences there are in what customers want?” Nicolacakis explains.

The key to understanding what different customers want from their bank is big data, according to Nicolacakis. By collecting and analyzing all of the data that banks have available about their customers, they can then group those customers into different segments based on their expectations and banking needs. Nicolacakis helped author a report by PwC released in November of last year called Experience Radar 2013, which uses a research method by PwC to break down retail banking customers into different segments. But while many banks segment their customers purely according to demographics, the Experience Radar report groups them according to what they expect and value in terms of banking products and services. The report then explained different key areas that each segment is focused on to clue banks in to what they can offer each segment, and what each segment is willing to pay for.

A perfect example of banks needing to take a more segment-oriented approach to customer experience is in checking account pricing, Nicolacakis says. “Banks assume that everyone wants free checking or a monthly checking account. But there are a lot of people who want a la carte pricing, similar to airlines,” Nicolacakis explains. In researching the Experience Radar study, Nicolacakis found that about 25% of customers are interested in the a la carte model of paying for fees for additional services associated with an account, such as P2P payments. “These customers want a sense of control over what they’re spending at their bank. They don’t want to spend money if they don’t know why they’re spending it,” Nicolacakis says. The customers who favor the a la carte model are also heavy users of digital banking channels, and are highly interested in branch-less digital deposit accounts, he adds.

Another area where banks have taken a vanilla approach of offering everything to every customer at the same price is in mobile banking services, according to Nicolacakis. Another 25% of customers are very biased towards convenience, he explains, and would be willing to pay for extra mobile services that make their lives easier. “Most banks have given mobile banking away for free, but there’s a good portion of the population who’d be willing to pay for it,” he says. Nicolacakis gives the example of mobile bill payment as a service that adds convenience to customers’ lives but banks don’t charge for. And mobile bill payment can be expensive for the bank because it often has to write a a check for the payment.

Another area where big data can help banks handle different customer segments is in cutting costs by understanding channel usage, Nicolacakis add. There are a lot of customers who haven’t adopted the online and mobile channels, and still use the branch and call center to take care of their day-to-day banking needs. For instance, banks still have a sizable portion of customers who dial the call center to see if a check has been deposited or paid, Nicolacakis says. These customers are expensive to service, but because of regulations regarding fees, banks can’t make that much money from them. Many banks are already starting to record all of their customer interactions in the call center for compliance purposes, and by analyzing those call recordings they can identify the customers who are calling about their balances. The bank can then move those customers to online and mobile banking, and it becomes much cheaper to serve them, Nicolacakis explains.