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There’s no way around it: our customers’ expectations are being continually shaped by their experiences with today’s most innovative and customer-centric brands: Amazon, Coca-Cola, Apple, Southwest Airlines, Hulu, T-Mobile, Reebok, Comedy Central, Mercedes Benz, and so on. Customer experience (CX) leaders like these are upping the ante for all brands, even those associated with a more traditional, less “sexy” approach to winning and engaging customers. Like, let’s face it, most financial services brands.

But even if you’re not selling SUVs, Instagram-trending handbags, or hardware for the connected home, your brand is still subject to customers’ liquid expectations.

Liquid expectations? Accenture’s design and innovation agency, Fjord, coined the term to describe “when customer experiences seep over from one industry to an entirely different industry.” When, for example, a customer compares their visit to the dentist to their visit to the Apple store. Or, when they compare their trip through McDonald’s drive-thru to their trip through your bank’s drive-up customer service lane.

Let’s take a look through this lens and explore the whys and hows behind improving customer experiences in the financial services industry.

Everything Competes with Everything

“With liquid expectations,” posits Fjord executives in their Service Design: Innovation 2.0 presentation from the 2015 Global Service Design Conference in NYC, “everything competes with everything and people’s expectations transcend expected boundaries.” This competitive universe includes direct competitors, experiential competitors, and perceptual competitors, which helps to explain why your financial services company customers are comparing your brand with Zappos, Pizza Hut, and Airbnb (even just in their subconscious!).

The book One-to-One Personalization in the Age of Machine Learning gives the example of Netflix’s experience “forever altering consumer expectations about content consumption, bringing the concept of ‘binge-watching’ mainstream,” while using personalization to serve up relevant recommendations and drive engagement. It can’t help but make you wonder, “Is my company’s content delivery ‘good enough’?”

While financial services companies are not offering video streaming services—and your content is probably not considered “entertainment” by your audience—the takeaway is that your customers are engaging with brands that expertly personalize their experiences. They enjoy those experiences and they expect similar experiences with your brand (whether you’re their insurance carrier, retirement fund company, or community bank).

Taking A Cue from Netflix

When considering the Netflix experience—or really, the experience offered by any brand that “gets CX right”—it’s clear that customers are at the center of every interaction. Most everything customers need is already anticipated and put at their fingertips for an intuitive, disruption-free brand experience. As such, the following have become standard issue across industries:

  • On-demand access to information and resources
  • Relevant offers, recommendations, or similarly individualized content
  • Self-service functionality plus 24/7 access to customer service
  • Mobile access via responsive website and/or app
  • Omnichannel consistency

In their Global Service Design presentation, Fjord explores the next step for CX innovation. Having traversed the web, internet, and mobile frontiers, we’re now tackling the “living services,” which flex and evolve to meet each person’s needs and preferences. It’s here at this critical point where the “expected” customer experience is tailored around the individual—that financial services companies are challenged to deliver.

But they—and perhaps, you—are rising to that challenge!

Applying This Concept to Financial Services: Letting Your Customers Guide You

How does all of this apply to financial services firms specifically? An Accenture blog series focusing on how insurers can succeed in today’s digital business environment kicks off with an examination of the “new insurance customer” and—you guessed it—the liquidity of their behavior and expectations driven by experiences from other industries. Progressive insurers, Accenture says, are responding by hyper-personalizing their distribution channels to make them more customer-centric.

Their research shows that 61% of carriers intend to expand their portfolios to include non-insurance offerings via partnerships with a variety of service providers. And customers are on board with this strategy—because, naturally, they’ve helped to shape it:

  • 82% of insurance customers are willing to provide their insurers with behavioral information if it can help them optimize their coverage.
  • 78% are willing to allow their insurers to use this information if it results in personalized offers.
  • 72% of the customers who were thinking of changing their insurers within the next 12 months said these services were important factors in their choice of an alternative insurance provider.

Getting Started

This is compelling evidence that consumer-centric, highly personalized service strategies will help financial services companies meet consumers where they’re at. But a word to the wise: go into it with a strategy.

Don’t roll out new technology or functionality for the sake of new technology and functionality, or just because you think you should or can.

If the experience you provide is incongruent with customers’ expectations—even if you’ve introduced “cool” new tools and content—you run the risk of disappointing customers, frustrating them, and eventually, losing them to financial services brands who deliver experiences they want. Let customer behavioral data and analysis drive your strategy, and use that data to deliver experiences that are relevant, timely, and actionable.

Final Thoughts

Your goal is not to recreate the Starbucks experience, but to make yours better through ongoing digital transformation that reflects your customers’ preferences, supports their behaviors, and makes them happy. Introduce new tools or experiences because they make customer interactions with your brand easier, better, or more enjoyable. Why not become a brand that shapes their ever-evolving liquid expectations?