'Start-up enthusiasm is infectious and we want to soak it all up'
Putting customers first in every decision they make is creating a sustainable business at Ulster Bank, writes Maeve McMahon
'What does the customer want?' It's the first question I ask my colleagues in Ulster Bank, regardless of what we're meeting about.
It might seem obvious but in my experience, businesses can become so focused on internal processes or projects that they don't always think of the customer. Part of Ulster Bank's strategy to address this is our ambition to be the number one bank for customer service, trust and advocacy by 2020. This vision, for all our customers, both business and personal is driving real change in our structure, our product development, our customer interaction and how we measure success.
In March of this year, I joined Ulster Bank to take up the newly created role of Director of Customer Experience and Products, reporting directly to the Chief Executive. I've come back from London where I worked across a number of consumer brands including GE Capital, American Express and Mastercard. Being back in Ireland, working for an Irish bank, one of the first things I did was to put myself in the customer's shoes. I set about opening accounts with Ulster Bank and going through the switching process to see what the experience was like. Whilst overall I think we are getting many things right, I believe we still have a way to go to reach the kind of customer experience I've seen in other companies such as American Express, and indeed across other industries.
As an industry, we've undergone major change. Emerging from this is a renewed focus on the need to ensure the customer is treated in an ethical, fair and transparent manner.
Getting ahead of the customer's needs
Clearly, financial services have gone through a period of significant change. So have our customers and we want to ensure that we are keeping step with the pace change. We've just announced a new partnership with Dogpatch labs, which for me embodies our fresh approach. Dogpatch Labs is the place where start-ups, investors and corporates come to rub shoulders and spark ideas. Our investment will support Dogpatch's future expansion and the Ulster Bank Innovation Solutions Team will be based there soaking up start-up attitude and entrepreneurial enthusiasm. Based in the historic chq building, owned by entrepreneur Neville Isdell, we are excited to benefit from the wealth of experience his involvement brings and we hope to collaborate on other projects in the coming months.
We are building a bank that is relevant to the future. Ulster Bank has a lot to learn from the start-up culture radiating from Dogpatch, it's infectious and we've already started to see excitement and enthusiasm spread across the bank.
Proof is in the product
Our products have to be 'fit for purpose' from the bank's and regulator's perspective but most importantly, do they meet the needs of the customer? Are they flexible to individual needs whether it's a retail current account or a business loan for a start-up or refinancing expansion overseas?
This is where we can make a real difference to our customers, by showing that we understand what they need from us and then delivering it. In 2014, we grew our new business lending by 46pc and our mortgage lending by 41pc on the previous year. This year alone we have introduced a wide range of customer-focused measures including a new food and drink proposition, new loans for the agri sector to name but a few. We are the only bank in Ireland to have introduced Apple Touch ID technology on our app and the first bank to have an Apple Watch app.
Our current account offer is one of the best on the market, whilst we have a nominal account maintenance fee, unlike most competitors we don't charge transaction fees. We want to ensure that owning your own home means 'a mortgage you can live with', so we have made significant improvements to our mortgage offerings both in the service we offer and the products that are available to existing as well as new customers. We've also made some services available across the post office network, expanding our points of presence by over 1,100, some of our larger branches are open on Saturday mornings, and now our mobile mortgage managers help customers outside work hours and in a place convenient to them - these actions make a difference to our customers every day.
Measure, measure, measure
We know we're making progress because we measure every step of the journey. We've recently published our second report on our commitment to sustainability, Earning our Customers' Trust, which looks at engagement, internal programmes and our dedication to sustainability. This ongoing measurement of feedback ensures that everyone in Ulster Bank keeps focused on the things that matter to our customers.
Feedback can and should drive impactful change. Some examples include our introduction of call backs to check our customer service, 24/7 customer service in our award-winning call centre and via Twitter, the recognition of the best in class service offered by this call centre in its expansion to provide high levels of customer service to customers across RBS and NatWest as well as Ulster Bank.
Positive feedback also helps to encourage employee engagement and allows us to show each other within the bank that our actions do make a difference.
Listen to the frontline staff
Tapping in to the expertise and insights of our people across the business is essential to success. To make sure we do that, we've changed how we communicate and share information across the business. Yes, we need to share information from the 'top down', such as company initiatives on wellness, financial results and other changes but we also need to make it easy and everyday normal for information to flow upwards, from our branch and call centre colleagues, from our business development managers and our online customer team. They are the people who experience the customer relationship, who hear both the good and the bad feedback on a daily basis. To enable this, we've improved our two-way communications channels and introduced changes such as comment boards and direct feedback via a HR communications channel.
As a business, we have to make sure we're thinking long-term. There are no quick fixes when it comes to keeping our commitment to customers. This has to be part of our identity, of how the bank thinks, how we do business 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our people should leave the office every day knowing that they have served our customers well. We want to listen and understand our customers and help them to fulfil their ambitions and to feel supported at every step along the way.
Maeve McMahon, is Director of Customer Experience & Products at Ulster Bank
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