Loyal customers despite limited contact

Internet savings bank RaboDirect maintains the day-to-day relationship with its savers exclusively through e-mail, online media, social media and telephone. But how do you ensure strong relationships with customers when there is absolutely no face-to-face contact? By having outstanding customer service, well-organised websites, optimum accessibility and clear communications. RaboDirect has been following this approach successfully since 2002.

RaboDirect stays close to customers in the virtual world

'The moments of contact must, of course, run as smoothly as possible. But error-free service isn’t enough,' explains Eric Moes, Head of Global Business Development at Rabobank International Direct Banking (IDB). 'The fewer moments of contact you have, the more important it is to express every second of every day that the customer comes first.' Three examples taken from practice.

Example 1: Make customer centricity measurable

RaboDirect BelteamIt can be the ultimate letdown: You've been on hold for a couple of minutes and then get a bored telephone voice on the line that does help you quickly, but insincerely wishes you a nice day and hangs up before you can even say 'bye'. Is it efficient? Absolutely. Is it customer-friendly? Far from it.

'We don't want employees to process calls – we want them to help customers,' says Moes. 'The voice on the phone is at that moment the face of our brand. That contact has to be relaxed, friendly and solution-orientated. That's why we reward our employees specifically for the quality of their service and not only for efficiency.' The NPS system constantly measures the service and the managers regularly evaluate the employees. This enables us to improve the service step by step.

The various awards and nominations RaboDirect has picked up in recent years attest to the fact that this approach works. New Zealand's Customer Contact Centre won the 'Best in Banking Award' at the CRM Contact Centre Awards in 2014. The winner of this award is determined by mystery shoppers who assessed the employees in New Zealand for eight weeks using telephone calls, e-mail analyses, questions and evaluations. RaboDirect New Zealand picked up the same award in 2012 and received a nomination in 2013.

The Contact Center Leaders Association (CCLA) chose Rabobank.be as the winner of 'the Accessibility Test' for the second consecutive year in 2014. The bank also picked up the title of 'Contact Center Accessibility Role Model'. The CCLA measures both companies’ ability to provide suitable answers and the professional quality and customer-friendliness of the employees.

Like all direct banks, RaboDirect Germany regularly assesses its customer satisfaction. A random sample survey of more than a thousand customers conducted in June 2015 showed that 94% of the customers are very satisfied with the service. Some 92% of the customers are positive about the level of service. The savings products and the security of the website also received good scores.

RaboDirect Ireland's customer care team has achieved an excellent result in the 2015 Irish Customer Contact & Shared Services Awards. The jury was impressed by the team’s customer focus and praised their use of technology in serving customers.

The Customer Experience Ireland agency asked 2,750 customers of more than 150 brands about their experiences. RaboDirect gained a high position on this user friendliness league table as a very popular brand. Only five other brands scored higher in the survey. What's more, RaboDirect gained the top ranking of all online-only companies. Its customers said they are very satisfied with the convenience for customers, the service with a human tone and the elimination of complicated financial jargon.

Example 2: Communicate simply and honestly

But things can occasionally go wrong at every company and RaboDirect is no exception. The interest rate settlement always takes place on 1 January. A couple of years ago a marketing manager in Belgium read early in the morning on one of the financial blogs that RaboDirect had incorrectly rounded off its interest rate for a certain type of savings account. He noticed the mistake and escalated the case. He then immediately posted a message on the same blog to reassure customers: 'We are aware of the mistake and are working to correct it. We will keep you informed.' Several people from the customer care centre were called into the office on their day off so they could keep customers continually informed of developments via the website and above all via social media.

Thanks to this immediate and transparent approach, the tone of voice on social media immediately changed from critical to positive. Moes: 'The customers were pleasantly surprised. They praised us as the only bank that genuinely communicates transparently about problems. And everyone of course noticed that our customer care centre was staffed on New Year's Day.' Media research showed that this approach ultimately evoked more positive than negative reactions. 'Customers accept errors as long as you’re honest and clear about them and resolve them quickly and correctly. And that’s precisely what RaboDirect stands for,' says Moes.

Example 3: Surprise and delight

RaboDirect Germany celebrated its third anniversary this year and invited around 50 customers to join in the celebration. Klaus Vehns, General Manager of RaboDirect Germany: 'We decided to celebrate our anniversary by inviting customers to a special party that would give them a behind-the-scenes look at their direct bank. Within the framework of the RaboDialogue project, a customer platform on which we collect feedback and ideas, the party was also designed to be a network meeting. People were given the opportunity to tell us why they are satisfied with RaboDirect, but also above all what they would like to see improved.'

While there isn't anything that remarkable about a bank organising a customer gathering, we were overwhelmed by the huge number of registrations for this particular event. We saw it as an amazing compliment that so many customers wanted to take part. In the end we even had to set a maximum number of registrations. It was really surprising because as an online bank we normally don't have any direct personal contact with our customers. It shows our ability to create an excellent customer experience.'

RaboDirect built a small market with different stalls for each department at its offices. This meant the customers could have a stroll through the market and get a glimpse of the activities that take place in the different segments of a bank: Business Operations and IT, Customer Service, Business Development and Marketing. The bank also organised a lecture on savings and interest rate developments over recent years. Hansjörg Leichsenring, who is well-known through his financial blog and lectures at banking events, was the guest speaker.

The employees received very useful feedback from the customers. The visitors were above all positive about how easy it is to open an account, the fast transactions and the excellent security on the Digipass. 'They like the fact that we treat old and new customers the same,' says Vehns. 'For example, we do not only give new customers a bonus. But it is also important to ask customers to tell us about any negative experiences they've had with our services and there are bound to be some. This enables us to make improvements regarding these trouble spots. There was, for example, once a customer who had withdrawn a large amount of money and then closed his account. He was disappointed that nobody called to ask him why. For him that would have been a sign that we value having enduring and loyal relationships with our customers.'

RaboDirect Germany regularly organises dialogue sessions with existing and prospective customers. These sessions provide an opportunity for them to share their suggestions for improving the service. RaboDirect also provides feedback during each session on what measures have been taken in response to the constructive suggestions from previous sessions and gives an update on the most recent developments within the bank. Participants receive a point-by-point report of the improvements that have since been made or are currently in planning.

Staying nearby the customer – even though there is little personal contact or only virtual contact. It can sometimes be a real challenge. RaboDirect expressly looks at non-banking online players (e-tailers) to see how they successfully create an excellent customer experience. RaboDirect has now discovered a formula that works: Good service + clear, transparent communications + effective contact = satisfied customers.

Information on Rabobank's different savings banks around the world is provided via the following links.