Subscribing to Intuitive CX

In an era of diminishing trust, brand authenticity holds the key to customer engagement

Go back five or ten years and the idea that a consumer could influence a bank’s behaviour would sound like a fairy tale. Now, the challenge for not just financial services but all industries, is closing the loop between customer feedback and business model innovation, says Will Ross, Head of Digital Channels and Experience, Hong Kong.

Manish Kohli

Will Ross,
Head of Digital
Channels and
Hong Kong.

The greatest leap forward in financial services user experience is understanding the shift in consumer behavior and decision-making.

“This allows us to personalize experiences, to help our customers—as decision makers—to evaluate things. It also allows us to localize; to turn what is otherwise a general proposition into a specific conversation that’s going to resonate with an individual customer.

The example I like to give is this: say three people decide to go for a beer in Shenzhen. They would likely reach that decision on WeChat, pick a venue on WeChat, book a table on WeChat. If they made all those decisions via WeChat, when it came time to pay at the end of the evening, that decision would be dictated by the nature of the medium that led to that experience.

That’s really what an ecosystem comes down to: various steps along any consumer value chain that become integrated through a single digital medium.”

Will Ross,
Head of Digital
Channels and
Hong Kong.

We’re not trying to be the number one touchpoint in a consumer’s life when it comes to digital journeys.

“For us this comes back to partnerships. We need to ensure that, when there’s a point in time that a journey requires a financial service, we are there to provide a solution and it’s seamless.

For instance, we have embedded our Paywith- Points and Shop-with-Points APIs at checkout with merchants as varied as Hong Kong TV Mall, Watsons, Fortress, and Agoda. Our customers are able to realize the benefit of their Citi points without leaving our partners’ apps.

This is not about being a better bank—it’s about being a better retailer.”

The best digital experiences occur when the technology disappears altogether, and you’re left with the feeling of a human interaction.

“We live in an age where consumers are 3D printing. They’re not printing items; they’re printing themselves with each decision they make, from what to buy and where to buy it, to the accounts they follow and posts they make on social media. All this is about articulation of self and identity.

The best technology—the one that has the most rapid adoption—is the one that engenders a human feeling in users.”

To provide this feeling, we need to evaluate our products in two ways.

“First, in terms of the experience itself, which is about recognizing we’re not only being measured against other banks, but also against other platforms. Think of it like this: Facebook never closes, but your bank does.

Take the launch video for the Apple Card as an example. There’s nothing in that video that we at Citi cannot do today, but the way Apple frame the card in terms of its simplicity, its integration, its usability and its relevance to you as a consumer positions it as being better than what a bank can do.

Secondly, we need to benchmark—in practical terms—against all consumer apps to understand the touchpoints where expectations are being set. In Hong Kong that means looking at interactions with Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Telecom, Alipay and Tencent WePay.”

We’re only at the start of this journey, but there are natural places for us to begin. App stores are a great example.

“If you go back even a year and look at our release notes in the app store, they were very technical. If you looked at the feedback from customers, maybe there was perfunctory acknowledgement of the updates we’d made, but more often there was no response.

We’ve changed from having arid release notes towards a rolling conversation, and the recognition that how we explain our app and respond to comments upon it are a visible and valuable conversation to be had with customers that’s viewed multilaterally. While it’s easy to say we changed our release notes, we’re still a bank.”

Online data has been the most fundamentally mispriced asset for the longest period of time.

“People were giving away infinite amounts of personal information to Buzzfeed-style quizzes in return for random bits of insight about themselves. We know that’s what happened with Cambridge Analytica and its online personality test that millions completed.

As we move further into an era of open banking, we need to strike a balance between creating the flexibility customers need to draw upon the information they hold with us, at the same time as exercising fiduciary responsibility over preserving that information. As the trusted party in that relationship, we have an absolute requirement to ensure that our customers place confidence in us. That stability, that continuity of relationship, especially when it comes to the wealth management side is fundamental.”

In a world where the tech hype cycle accentuates the human love of buzzwords, you need to be able to get the verbiage of technology right.

“I love robots. I love AI. But what scares me is what happens if we don’t create the next generation of business models that treat those things as tools, rather than threats. At Citi, we have three core values: is this in the client’s interest? does it create economic value? is it systematically responsible?” The answer to these questions are fundamental to how we evaluate the application of emerging technologies.

“The subscription model works best when a customer can see the value in going beyond the basic funnel of services.”

Bankers don’t always understand subscription – but they do understand leases.

“There is a language evolution that becomes apparent when we talk about subscriptions, which holds true across the broader world of innovation too.

When we’re talking about the subscription economy, this is really just a form of lease where the pricing of the asset or service that you’re using is a combination of depreciation of its physical asset plus cost of services, plus margin.

The other side of this is to consider how you sell that to a consumer given that many of the traditional barriers to entry have disappeared. In an era of virtual banking and challenger banks, you’ve got to assume that some core portion of your services are going to be freely available elsewhere.

The subscription model works best when a customer can see the value in going beyond the basic funnel of services. The people who do this best, in terms of any form of subscription, are gaming firms through in-app purchases of everything from power-ups to personalizing a user’s avatar. How do you do that in financial services? That’s the interesting thing.”