“For us, digitisation is about giving customers choice within a rapidly digitising world, but also about improving our face-to-face capabilities.”
Insightive.tv: Can you begin by giving an overview of your contracting process?
Damian: We take a purposely mixed approach. We have face-to-face capabilities within our branches, we have call-centres and we have an online function. Our customers can contact us via those three major channels across almost everything we do — from savings in our building society to mortgages. The Group itself is made up of the Building Society and the Strategic Solutions business that provides outsourcing to other players in the marketplace. Within the Strategic Solutions business, we also have digital capabilities for savings products.
Insightive.tv: How have you developed the technology behind those digital solutions?
Damian: We have a very strong IT function within the business that has built the core functions of all our capabilities. We have some external suppliers that help us with delivery, but, mainly, our IT department has been the support mechanism for both our Strategic Solutions and Building Society digital capabilities. We use partners selectively, where appropriate. We take a much more holistic approach that requires a broader set of channels, and we use these different channels for different parts of the process.
Insightive.tv: When it comes to digitising the customer journey — what are the key outcomes you are hoping to achieve?
Damian: This is an interesting topic for us because at our core, as a building society, we have always been exceptional at face-to-face customer support. For us, digitisation is about giving customers choice within a rapidly digitising world, but also about improving our face-to-face capabilities.
There are times when people want very quick information. Their expectation is to have access to that information whenever they want, with little human interaction. But there are also times when a customer will welcome the guidance of an advisor. These are the moments of truth where you really need to deliver for customers.
But, obviously, digital demand cannot be ignored. Average, day-to-day life has become digital. Two or three years ago, people would go to the Post Office to get a car-tax sticker — now, that is all done digitally. Businesses need to respond to this societal change. To my mind, success is a graduated merger of both digital and face-to-face customer support.
Insightive.tv: Do internal factors, such as operational efficiency, play into your thinking?
Damian: It is an important factor, but maybe not in the obvious ways. From an internal perspective, one by-product of digitisation is that it creates the capacity to improve our non-digital customer service. Because digital options allow customers to take full control over the flow of their journey, it allows us to create real value in the areas where customers choose face-to-face support. This is not only because customers are asking for help when they actually need it, but because the efficiencies of digital transformation free-up our advisors to spend more time with customers on problems with which they need assistance. Choice and efficiency improve the experience on all levels — that is the real goal. Efficiency really matters when the result is an improved customer experience. We are building a system that takes into account the larger picture, rather than focusing solely on costs.
Insightive.tv: Do you see end-to-end digitisation as a goal? Or do you think there will always be a need for face-to-face contact?
Damian: I want digital innovation to go as far as it can. Some services can already be accessed in a fully digital way. But I think that having the capacity for people to speak with someone at any point in their journey is valuable. We are still expanding our branch network — keeping face-to-face service alive and well. We see the branch as a significant part of our community presence and overall operation. It is simply a service that needs to be augmented with digital choices.
Insightive.tv: What are the main challenges you see in terms of digitising your interactions with customers?
Damian: I think the main challenge is twofold. We have to ensure that the customer journey remains natural — following a path that customers would otherwise choose — while also making sure that digitisation supports our colleagues in the frontline of service delivery. We want digitisation to take out the mundane tasks within a process while allowing our staff and customers to collaborate on aspects of the journey that add real value.
We always have to keep the customers’ needs in mind. It is very easy, for example, to think about customers accessing our digital services while sitting at home, in front of a computer. But, more and more, people are interacting with digital technology through their phone. Our challenge is to create a means of dealing with a query that might be coming from someone over their smartphone while sitting on a train for fifteen minutes on the way to work.
We need to make sure, for example, that if the service cuts off during a task, that it is easy to restart that task, But we also need to ensure the security of the process, and that the customer feels confident in that security. Security is a twin challenge in and of itself — particularly for customers using digital services for the first time. When building a new product, we not only take into account the practical security of the system but make sure to think about how a customer interacts with a product — does that interaction make them confident in the security of their information without burdening them with too many steps? Ultimately, customers need to feel that the digital journey fits into their lives.
Insightive.tv: Over the next three years — how do you see the journeys of your customers changing?
Damian: Our main goal is a simple one — make it easy for customers to utilise our services. I want customers to be able to resolve their problems online, but I also want to give them the ability to book an appointment online and come sit down with one of our advisors. Customers should be able to start their journey online but have the capability to opt out of the self-service model at any point.
Digitising the appointment booking capability is one of the things that I think we will focus on 2017. This will allow customers to join up their options in the most flexible way possible. Polishing these transition points, and easing the digital capability to make face-to-face appointments, are the main changes we are currently looking to make.
We are on a very interesting journey as a business. We have to look at how we continue to provide the service that our consumers want. Digitisation will always play a significant part in that. But striking the balance between different channels is the key. I always try and think about how the brand lives, breathes and feels to consumers when they interact with us. Getting the right balance, and improving all of our services will always continue to be our focus, as it has been since the creation of this Building Society.
Damian Thompson is Customer Director at Newcastle Building Society. He was appointed to the Board this year and brings almost a decade of experience in leading roles within Building Societies — previously working as Director of Distribution and Head of Retail at Principality Building Society. With expertise in strategic leadership, product development and distribution, Damian is currently tasked with keeping the Group’s products in line with the changing needs of customer expectations. We spoke with Damian to gain insight into how digital technology is impacting the way in which Newcastle Building Society interacts with the public.
Newcastle Building Society is the largest building society in the North East — holding £3.4 billion in assets. Over its 150 year history, it has remained mutually owned and community focused — running financial education courses for children, a locally focused grant program, and making almost £2 million in donations to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation in recent years — money that helps fund Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
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