This post is by Darren Woolley, Founder of TrinityP3. With his background as analytical scientist and creative problem solver, Darren brings unique insights and learnings to the marketing process. He is considered a global thought leader on agency remuneration, search and selection and relationship optimisation.
The spectacle of the CEOs of Australia’s four major banks making their way to Canberra to appear before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics is a sideshow by the Government to show the electorate that they are making a stand on the financial services category.
At a time when the four major bank CEOs were apologising for their behaviour in the past year, the marketing department of one of their competitors demonstrated brilliantly where financial services marketers often get customer experience management wrong.
I have been a Citi Credit Card customer for more than ten years, right back to the time I was still living in Melbourne. It was not unusual to get regular promotional emails of one type or another, but during the time of the Bank hearings in Canberra, this email landed in my inbox.
Customer email invitation
The email is from Janine Copelin, Managing Director and Head of Retail Bank.
Now there is a glaring issue with this email from Janine that stood out for me. The registered address I have given Citi is in New South Wales, yet the event they are inviting me to attend is in Victoria.
Considering the annual fees and the industry standard excessive interest we pay, I mistakenly thought that perhaps they were planning to pay for me to fly to Melbourne on November 17th, 2016 to attend their Seminar “Making your cash work harder”, as their guest.
After all, I regularly receive invites to speak at various events, including payment for travel and accommodation. Perhaps they were offering the same here, as they knew I lived in Sydney so an invitation to an event in another state could reasonably come with airfare and accommodation.
To check I decided to contact Janine – after all she had so kindly sent me the email – to see if she was proposing to pay for my flight and accommodation in Melbourne to attend.
Making contact with my bank
Checking the email there were two obvious ways to make contact. The first was to reply by email. But I could not simply hit reply as the sender email address came with a warning that this was a No Reply email.
How clever of the Head of Retail Bank. How often do you wish you could send emails to people and make sure they could not email you back?
So I called the 1300 number provided and announced who I was. The first thing I had to do was prove my identity by answering the usual questions including date of birth, first pet’s name and the maiden name of the mother of the first person you had a crush on.
I understand this process if I am calling the bank, but it is amusing, in an annoying way, that when the bank calls me on my personal mobile phone number they want me to prove my identity.
They called me, so why is the onus on me to remember the exact value of my last transactions and my first pet’s name and the street I lived in as a child?
Having proven my identity I asked to confirm my address. Sure enough it was in Sydney and so I asked about the email I received from the Managing Director, Head of Retail Bank.
The person I spoke with did not know why I was sent the email for a seminar in Victoria when it was clear from my details that I lived almost a thousand kilometres away. He had to transfer my enquiry to customer service (not sure his role but clearly the issue was being escalated).
After listening to three complete renditions of Greensleeves, or some other suitably banal music track, Customer Service answered and immediately asked me to prove my identity. I pointed out that I had done this already but was told abruptly that this was required for them to be able to speak with me.
I just wonder if Janine Copelin decided to call me on this matter, how would I go about proving her identity to be sure it was not someone else pretending to be her.
Excuses, excuses, excuses
Again I explained the email I received as a priority customer inviting me to the event in Victoria when I live in New South Wales. I was informed that perhaps I would be in Melbourne that day and on the off chance I may want and be able to attend.
That is an interesting strategy. Let’s email all of our customers no matter where they live and invite them to a seminar in Melbourne just in case they happen to be there on the day and want to attend. If spam is receiving emails with offers that are largely irrelevant to your interests or needs then this strategy is definitely encouraging spam.
I suggested that perhaps as a Priority Customer that Citi was offering to fly me to Melbourne for the seminar. No, that was not a possibility. If I wanted to attend I could and if I did not want to attend then I could simply ignore the invitation. That seems reasonable, but the fact is that there is no reason the email should have been sent to me in the first place.
I asked if I could speak with Janine Copelin and let her know that I would not be attending and why. After all she invited me. No, I could not. It was not policy to transfer calls to Executives.
Then could I have her email address so I could email her? Again no, it was not policy to give out personal email addresses. But this is not her personal email address, it is her business email and she had sent me an email so why could I not email her back?
That was the end of the call.
How financial services companies get it wrong
There is a relationship between customers and their financial service providers. The relationship should go like this, I provide you my personal and confidential information and you use it to assess and provide the services I need.
It works until we get to marketing and sales where suddenly my personal information is often misused. Lets say Citi wanted 100 people to attend their seminar and so they emailed a customer database of 100,000 (these are valuable customers and not a random list of people) and the response got them the 100 attendees they needed.
Is that a success?
Yes, if all you care about is filling the seminar. No, if you consider that you potentially annoyed 99,900 customers who found the email totally irrelevant to them. No, if you consider this is a 0.1% response rate. That means 99.9% of your customers actively chose to ignore and delete your communication.
Would you be happy if 99.9% of your customers ignored you if you met them socially? Or if when you handed over your business card in a meeting 99.9% of the people you met threw it in the rubbish?
Now remember, I am supposedly a Priority Customer with Citi. I wonder what they would do if I was just some Joe on one of those databases you can buy and spam as part of your acquisition strategy?
Perhaps the reason the industry is getting such low response rates is because they are doing it all wrong and in the process potentially driving their existing customers away.
If you think this is because we increasingly live in a Math Men era, then you are Mad Men. Because the fact is that great first party customer data can tell you a lot about what your customers want and what they don’t want from you.
Something as simple as checking my current address and not using the address that is years out of date could have provided a filter that would have meant one less email in my inbox from a company that I reasonably believe should know better.
When the CEOs of the banks finish apologising for the issues with their operations, perhaps they can move on to apologising for their issues with marketing and particularly customer relationship management.
The follow up with the bank
Having been told I could not have Janine Copelin’s Citi work email address, I found her on LinkedIn and sent her an InMail explaining what happened.
Assistance with your customer email database
Today I received an email from you inviting me to an event in Melbourne. The subject line is “Darren, here’s something special as a Citi customer”. As my account details with you show that I live in Sydney, I am just wondering how your customer segmentation works that you would think I would want to attend a seminar in Melbourne? We do a lot of work with companies to advise them on customer relationship management and data and digital strategies. I am just wondering if you need assistance in this area? Please let me know as a Citi Prestige Customer I would have thought communications from my credit provider would be more selective and appropriate.
On Oct 4, Janine Copelin said the following:
Hi Darren, Thanks so much for letting me know. I’ll look into this as a matter of importance and apologise for the error. Kind Regards, Janine
Two weeks later on October 18 I received a call from Citi Call Centre informing me that they had investigated and it appears that when I updated my address details the bank had left my old address in Victoria there along with my new address in New South Wales.
How does that even make sense?
But it begs the question that at a time when the most valuable asset a business can have is their existing customers, why do so many financial services companies treat them as a commodity and make acquisition a priority over maximising the value of their existing customers?
The fact is we are increasingly assisting organisations to make the transition from promotions and advertising to data informed customer experience and engagement, especially in the services category such as finance, telecommunications, utilities and travel.
It is not simply changing strategy, but the most important part is also ensuring the structure and resources support the strategy and that technology is the enabler of the process.
But that is for another time.
Are you struggling with the complexity that digital and data offer to business? Let TrinityP3 make sense of the new digital ecosystem for you