A considerable challenge facing any large business today is how to achieve sustainable success. While delivering high quality products and services is a great way to start, in today's corporate environment it's come to be expected. Consumers want something beyond the expected, and they are loyal to brands that can deliver it.
It's refreshing to note that there are some prominent companies rising to the challenge, by recognising the value of customer experience, and taking the kind of initiative that South African consumers can appreciate.
In a recent discussion with Devorah Barnes, executive assistant to the chief operating officer (COO) of Absa Financial Services (AFS), we talked about the issues facing AFS, their plans for the future, and the decision to select Interact RDT as their partner in designing and implementing a differentiated customer experience.
AFS is the bancassurance division of the Absa Group, which is owned by Barclays. At a high level, the AFS umbrella comprises four core product houses namely short-term insurance, assurance, investment and employee benefits. While management of the customer has historically been fragmented across AFS, they have now identified the customer as a major pillar and priority in their business strategy.
In order to differentiate Absa Financial Services from competitors within the financial services sector, a consolidated and compelling customer experience must be adopted across all whole of AFS. As Devorah explained, "We're embarking on this programme to define the ideal customer vision, and to document what the customer experience should be."
Interact RDT was recommended to AFS on the strength of previous projects for the Absa group. "The customer programme is a great opportunity for us to apply our expertise in customer experience design and consulting, underpinned by extensive research and customer validation," says CEO of Interact RDT, Dave Benjamin.
When asked the reason for the customer programme, Devorah explained that their current approach of product service business was out-dated and that AFS is working toward a customer experience offering that cannot be copied by competitors. In a highly commoditised industry like finance, it's about reaching a solution that answers customers' need for experience, above and beyond exceptional service delivery.
AFS is almost at the end of the first phase of the programme, and while there is a lot of exciting work still to be done, the programme has already yielded some powerful insights. A highlight for them was the customer journey mapping exercise. Through a series of workshops, employees from across AFS were able to understand the shared ecosystems that businesses operate in with customers, and the power a company has to improve experience by analysing the customer's ecosystem. The findings were then validated by customers, to ensure their accuracy.
While Devorah admitted that customer experience can be a nebulous topic, she added that the Interact RDT experience has been far more tactile and measurable than she expected, "It's hands on, something you can touch and see." Speaking about Interact RDT founders, Devorah could see that "Dave and Gary have immense passion and knowledge, and speak from a point of authority when it comes to customer experience."
"It's always exciting to work with a company that understands their value to their customers, and the importance of addressing the customer experience. As we move into phase two, we are confident that AFS is acquiring the key building blocks to a lasting and worthwhile differentiator," she added.
The industry norm up until now has been singular research projects on a micro level, but AFS has embarked on a far more holistic approach. It's rare to find a business in the financial services sector that is so forward thinking and customer focused, and it serves as a reminder that the customer should be a priority in any industry.
Absa Financial Services is an example of the right kind of business; one that recognises customer experience as a key profit driver and a foundation for customer loyalty, not to mention a sustainable competitive advantage. Interact RDT is glad to have them on board as a client and are looking forward to seeing the positive results as the programme is implemented.