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A New Customer Experience Leader: Q&A With USAA's Jeff Easley

At a time when banks often are public enemy No. 1, how did USAA Federal Savings Bank manage to top Forrester Research's 2012 Customer Experience Index? Simply by putting the customer first, says Jeff Easley, USAA executive director of deposits product management.

Jeff Easley
Jeff Easley, USAA
The financial industry has experienced a swell of consumer discontent over the past year with the rise of movements such as Occupy Wall Street and Bank Transfer Day. But amid the negative attention being given to banks in recent months, San Antonio-based USAA Federal Savings Bank ($48.8 billion in assets) has been recognized for its efforts to satisfy its customers. The bank, which serves military personnel and their families, scored higher than any other institution in the most recent Customer Experience Index from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, an annual study that this year surveyed more than 7,500 consumers about 160 brands across 13 industries. This is the first time in the survey’s five-year history that a bank topped the list, which includes retail giants such as Amazon, Costco and Kohl’s. Bank Systems & Technology senior associate editor Olivia LaBarre spoke recently with Jeff Easley, executive director of deposits product management at USAA, about how the organization has become a leader in customer experience and what it plans to do to keep its customers happy.

Bank Systems & Technology: How has USAA been keeping its banking customers satisfied during a time when public perception of banks has been notably negative?

Easley: Our mission is to facilitate the financial security of our members. That's our core value, that's our DNA. So a sustained focus on that has allowed us to continue to find ways to improve our customer service and deliver that value.

Our members are really first in terms of the decisions that we make. ... At a time when other institutions are adding fees, we're still offering a free checking account and reimbursing ATM fees that other banks charge. We offer free mobile banking and free web bill pay. We see that as our mission, and we make that core to what we do.

Bank Systems & Technology: Which specific innovations or initiatives have positively impacted the customer experience at USAA over the past couple of years?

Easley: Innovations such as Deposit@Home and Deposit@Mobile, the services that allow our customers to capture images of checks with their smartphones or their scanners at home, have been great innovations for us and bring great value to our members. In the past year, we launched a service at the UPS Store called Easy Deposit. This allows our members to deposit checks through the more than 2,000 UPS Store locations.

We've also been launching new financial centers, which are in major markets and allow our members to do more than just banking with us. They have the full range of products and services that we offer. We also launched Money Manager, our [personal financial management tool]. That was in 2010, and we've since seen great adoption of that capability, with high member satisfaction.

Bank Systems & Technology: What role does technology play in the customer experience at USAA?

Easley: The focus on our members is what drives our innovation. Technology is absolutely key to delivering on that promise of convenience to our members. We strive to provide a seamless, integrated solution and exceptional service in any channel, whether members are calling us for help or are using mobile or Internet channels. We use technology to be that one, consistent USAA while providing the channel of choice for our members.

We were also among the first to leverage technology for the deposit solutions I mentioned earlier. Some of that insight for developing those products was driven by how mobile many of our members are. Since [the military families that we service] move around the world and the United States as they do, mobile technology is certainly important in terms of how we provide services to them.

In our financial centers we have video telephony, which is another way to connect our members to our member services representatives in a face-to-face environment. That's also a key channel for us as well. Overall, technology permeates all of the services that we offer and has enabled us to provide that channel of choice to our members.

Bank Systems & Technology: How does USAA plan to maintain or even improve its customer experience?

Easley: We plan on continuing to invest heavily in making our channels better. We'll just continue to focus on what our members need and how these technologies and channels add value to them, make their lives easier and help move them up the financial security scale.

Mobile and tablets appear to be full of potential in terms of adding more value for our members. We'll certainly keep an eye on the industry and where things are going, and it's our priority to make sure we're there when technologies are available.

We understand the unique needs of our military families, and we want to be able to provide something great to our members and meet their lifestyles and their needs. In terms of our hard wiring, that's what we do and what we focus on. It's exciting to leverage technology and what's available in the marketplace and bring those things together to accomplish our mission.

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