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Capital One VP Operations & CX: Digital experiences at the pace of expectation

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Customer experience must move as fast as customers’ expectations. VP Operations and Customer Experience, Richard Rolls, explains how Capital One UK achieves just that.

In 13 years and counting at the US bank holding company giant, Richard’s role has evolved from auditing, to customer acquisition, to leading the company’s customer experience into the digital age. In his bylined piece for Hot Topics, he stresses the need to keep core competencies close, as well as to prepare the wider business – not just digital teams – to move as fast as their customers’ expectations.

For me, it was call listening. I always understood the importance of the customer intellectually, but that listening process helped me empathize with the situations and emotions of our customers, and also understand just how hard our people work to help them.

About seven years ago I moved formally into operations, having started my Capital One journey in an internal audit role. Anyone who has made the move into ops will know the weight of the new obligation that accompanies it: customers. What they want, how they work, and more specifically how we service their needs. Only once you’re really involved do you understand the context and value of getting really close to the customer.

Now that I lead our customer service operations, I focus my team on how we respond to customers, how we serve them, and understanding how happy they are with our service.

As a member of the leadership team at Capital One, we all talk about how best to build products, services, and experiences that really meet our customers’ needs. Because what’s great for them is great for us. The challenge has never been greater, nor the pace of change more rapid, in delivering customer experience excellence. It’s only through a combination of thorough research, clever thinking around digital adoption, and tight user feedback loops can we deliver these standards.

 

Research driven experiences

When we’re designing new products, the first step is understanding whether there’s a market and whether people are interested in what we’re looking to offer. We research our ideas thoroughly so we know they’re going to work in the real world. We do quantitative and qualitative research with our customers to back up our business decisions, products, and new ideas. From the letters we write to the new apps that we build, we get existing and prospective customer perspective on everything, testing these new ideas and concepts to make sure they meet their needs, and that the technology is user-friendly.

As a company, we are increasingly making use of ‘corporate ethnography’, where we tap into customers in their own environment to observe how they live, understand what their lives are like, and discover what they care about. We have been conducting a broad project to understand how people think about money, credit, lending, and the products they use. This helps us deeply understand and empathize with our customers. The product ideas that come from this process are designed to meet real customer experience needs, and as such are more likely to succeed in the market. We then use both qualitative and quantitative research to refine and build the products, and assess their efficacy.

 

The digital shift, driven by a new generation of consumer

As with most financial services companies, much of our focus at Capital One is on ensuring the business becomes more inherently digital. There is an undeniable shift in the habits of banking customers across the industry, who increasingly want to service their accounts online as well as in brick and mortar high street outlets. A recent study from the Federal Reserve showed that this figure could be as high as 67% of millennials who now use mobile as their primary banking interface.

For Capital One, that means moving more of our products to self-service, because that’s where our customers are. For many transactional processes, our own research has shown that they don’t necessarily want or need to speak to another person directly. More everyday tasks such as checking balances, making payments, and setting up direct debits don’t need another human as a go-between to undertake what is essentially data entry on our customers’ behalf. Advances in mobile technology provide incredible newfound flexibility, enabling customer experience that would have simply not been possible ten years ago. Customers just want to carry out these daily tasks while they’re on the bus, while they’re in the queue at the post office and, as I read increasingly, even while they’re on the toilet.

Millennials are the driving force demanding mobility and flexibility, yet much of the existing literature and accepted truths around banking customer habits and preferences revolve around their parents. So we make sure we have the right people in our business to understand and respond to these new levels of expectation from a younger, more tech-savvy breed of customer.

You need digital natives themselves to understand new behaviors and code appropriate solutions. We’re keeping up with this shift by hiring very carefully for our digital teams, but also by ensuring that mantra of delivering the changes of channel our customers want – the immediacy, the real-time nature of what we need to provide – runs through the company, right up to executive level.

 

Pace of change

More informed consumers are not just more interested in the new channels, they’re adopting them at an incredible pace. In our industry, it’s been phenomenal. Research from Accenture showed that 34% of customers now interact with their bank at least once per month on mobile, up from just 8% in 2010. Mobile is by far our fastest growing sector, and as such, there is now more need than ever to deliver faster, better, more reliable digital experiences.

To make real inroads with the incumbent and next generation of customer – and to therefore consider ourselves a forward thinking company – we have had to move as fast as our customers’ expectations. The shift in pace is necessary to both garner insight from the digital platforms where customers now live, and to deliver solutions based on these behavior patterns.

It’s all too easy to drop the ball, making your IT department super agile but not changing the rest of the business to complement it. It’s like putting a Formula One engine in an Austin Allegro; it’s going to shake itself apart. It’s essential for your business teams to be as agile as your IT department.

At Capital One, we have implemented a new ‘cascading structure’ of team huddles or stand ups. This process makes it possible to float an issue  from a front line agent to the CEO within a 12 hour time period. This cascading allows us to identify and remove business impediments and to make prioritization decisions that help us act like an agile tech shop.

One example: We identified a problem with old headsets that were no longer good enough to work with our voice infrastructure, which lead to poor customer experience. This was raised in a day to the right level, and a bulk order of new headsets was made. It would have taken a considerable amount of time to identify the issue using our old practices. Quite simply, if we were to make decisions in the same time frames that we used to make them even five years ago, then we could be as agile as we liked in building solutions, but we would not get them out any faster.

 

Keeping core competencies in-house

Across banking, we’re increasingly convinced that technology is our service. In the past, mainly for cost reasons, lots of service and development were outsourced. But today, those things have become core competencies in banking.

We are doing a huge amount of our own software engineering internally, which enables us to work in a different way. We’ve moved all of our tech delivery to Agile methodology. It has allowed for much quicker cycle times, considerably faster development, and quicker release of code. We aim to ship features to the public in two-week sprints. Clearly a lot of this depends on the complexity and the nature of individual projects, but our aim is to react as quickly as possible to feedback, developments in the market, and changes to what customers want.

In order to achieve the latter, we have to tap into the right feedback loop in order to really understand what customers want when we put something new out there. From there the next steps are to continually refine and iterate by identifying pain points, spotting what works and amplifying it, and identifying what doesn’t work and fixing it. The process is not different between traditional channels and digital channels. It is simply the pace of fixing and iterating, and the pace of overall change that is immeasurably faster in digital. To cope with that, keeping those core competencies close has been instrumental.

 

Minding the long tail

One cautionary note with the inexorable march towards digital: In banking, there is a long tail in both customers and practices. Consider paper checks, something that many of us have long since abandoned. I’m not sure my kids even know what a check is. However, there is still a considerable number of groups who live on them, perhaps most notably, seniors and charities. People operating on the cutting edge can have a tendency to think older practices are dead and buried, but in many cases they’re not. As part of delivering exceptional customer experience services, we have to take care not to exclude vulnerable sectors.

One of the steps we’ve taken is a program called ‘Click Silver’; a six-week voluntary mentoring series conducted by university students that provides senior consumers with one-to-one computer support to help get them online. The mentors get the employability boost and some useful experience, the senior consumers get essential tech skills. It’s important to address people who may not be comfortable with using the internet, or may not even know where to start. They can still call us, but we see increasingly that with the right level of confidence our customers don’t want or need to. We’re training up some consumers to be more au fait with this digital banking revolution.

By far the best way for us to achieve that is by making digital experiences beautifully simple. It helps people not only interact with us and offer feedback on our service, but it gives them access to better deals available online.

 

Looking to the future

As we incorporate this higher digital literacy in banking, one of the biggest developments I believe we will witness is in perfectly secure but easy to operate systems. Instead of passing security on an IVR, voice print recognition will become more sophisticated. No more entering a 16 digit card number and the first school their mother went to in order to gain access to their accounts. Instead, “Hello, can I access my account, please,” will be all that’s required. That technology is close.

In addition, there’s a huge amount more we can do with smartphones: how they’re carried, how we take them with us everywhere, the way we interact with them, and how we log in. One feature we are rolling out is Multicard –  the ability to switch between different Capital One cards in the mobile app. We listened to customer experience feedback and rapidly built the functionality to meet it. The ‘perfect’ solution held dependencies which would have prevented the product launch until next year, so we took the decision to make the intent simpler and get something really useful out to our customers quickly. We will iterate to the perfect solution over time, meanwhile that core need is addressed in the interim.

Across all areas of our service, our customers will see huge advances in how technology can make processes more secure. Fine tuning and streamlining those experiences based on feedback from our customers will continue to differentiate us as a leader in the market. As will our ability to listen, and listen well.