Vanquis Bank’s Atiq Sajawal on creating a frictionless customer experience in financial services

Purple Square have been speaking to customer experience leaders from top global brands about Reimagining Customer Experience (CX). In this interview Tim Biddiscombe speaks to Atiq Sajawal, Head of Digital Channels at Vanquis Bank on creating a frictionless customer experience in financial services.

Tim: Should CX conversations and efforts focus more on surprise and delight or on resolving and avoiding customer journey problems?

Atiq: I think they go hand and hand. When it comes to CX, I believe that making things as easy as possible for customers is the ultimate way to achieve ‘surprise’ and ‘delight’. Customers should be able to easily interact and access the information they need through their channel of choice.

Removing customer friction may not always seem like surprise and delight but it can be. Not everyone is on the ‘happy path’ of a customer journey in Financial Services, but we can optimise the journey as much as possible to make it a positive experience. For example if someone applies for a credit card and is rejected because they don’t meet the criteria, it can be a blow to their morale, but it no longer has to be a jarring experience of being declined and feeling abandoned. Rather than simply vanishing, we can help make a difficult process less painful by providing customers with alternative resources that can offer the support they need, giving them a route back to us and try again.

In some cases we need more information from people to make an informed decision on whether a credit card is right for them. For example, how much they spend on rent, food or expenses each month. Questions like these are necessary on our end, but they can be annoying for the customer as they don’t always have this information to hand. We try to make this process easier for customers by asking them what information they do have available, such as a current account. We can then connect to solutions like open banking and eliminate the need for them to identify, calculate or type in these details.

This may not be as delightful as being able to say ‘yes’ straight away but it’s still better than just saying no and leaving it at that.  

Tim: Are you revisiting customer journeys considering the cost-of-living crisis?

Atiq: In the current climate, we find that people are using credit cards much more, even for smaller transactions. We want people to make informed decisions and to help keep an eye on the ebb and flow of spending, so we’re looking at applying machine learning on top of our data to surface some of these trends to help make sure they are using their card responsibly and not using the full limit each month.

We use a decisioning model to ensure we’re lending responsibly, and we are seeing an increasing number of people go through journeys where we require some more supporting information.

So, the challenge for us is how we make those journeys as friction free as possible. Does our copy set the correct expectations about response time for example. Are there interventions we can put in place where there’s risk elements observed. We’re looking at our data and understanding what we can surface via machine learning to support this.

And customer testing is vital in times like this. We did some user testing with a financially-savvy customer. On paper she was a model customer who never missed a payment and didn’t require additional support. However, we discovered this was not down to the automatic payment reminders we had in place for her. Due to her personal circumstances our automated reminders didn’t work for her, so she had to leave hand-written notes to remind her of what bills were due when. She lived in a rural location, so could not rely on internet or mobile connections to receive our reminders.

Machine learning and customer testing help to surface these kinds of examples and allow us to adjust and improve the experience for each of our customers. This scenario led us to consider how to allow users to customise their payment reminders to ensure they work for them and their particular situation.

Tim: How can marketers start to embed more customer experience analytics into their decision making and planning?

Atiq: In every organisation, capacity to do things is limited so you have to be really on-point in terms of the things you’re putting effort into. The data helps us to look at the size of the prize both from the customer experience perspective and from a commercial perspective. We make a number of assumptions and look to the data to validate them.

Customers will always surprise you. You can make all sorts of assumptions about how people are going to interact with something and there’ll always be a cohort of customers who do exactly the opposite of what you expected. We’d be guessing without the data.

Tim: What role is social media playing in customer experience right now and how does it need to evolve?

Atiq: Customers should be able to interact with us through their channel of choice. If that’s FaceBook, Instagram or any other channel, then we should be making ourselves available on those channels. Fairly recently we started fielding customer queries through FaceBook Messenger because we were seeing there was a demand there. For us, our progression is driven by the data and the demand. We’ve moved gradually from using it as a PR arm to more of a customer contact point because in banking, the people that are more likely to be visiting our social profiles are those that are already our customers.

Tim: Do you see Vanquis in the metaverse soon?

Atiq: Unless something changes drastically in the next few years, I don’t see us there. Never say never but it’s not on the cards for now.

Tim: Technology continues to evolve but has personalisation stagnated? What stops brands from taking on new capabilities to deliver a more personalised customer experience?

Atiq: I think personalisation has definitely stagnated and in the short term I think it’s going to get worse. The first thing I see that limits personalisation is cookie consent law, especially for repeat visitors to a website and the industry move away from cookies completely. I don’t think there’s been enough investment in how we replace that.

Application based journeys today are very fixed. I’d like to see them be more dynamic and streamlined to make them more effective.

As brands get more and more information about a customer, the more personalised their experience should be. If my bank can say, ‘we’ve noticed you’ve spent money on a holiday so here’s a relevant offer’, rather than a generic one, that’s better personalisation. Conversely, we shouldn’t have supermarkets promoting meat products to who they should know is a vegan customer. Personalisation’s been talked about for many years, and I’ve still never seen it done well. 

This interview was also featured in a related article on on 3rd January 2023. Read it here.

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