You are currently browsing the daily archive for March 19, 2010.

Innovation Blog

Innovating Customer Service:  The Case of  USAA

By Shlomo Maital

     A friend directed me to a Business Week article about innovative customer service at a  bank. [1]  It shows how winning businesses can emerge not just from product innovation, but innovation in key business processes. 

     A  bank, USAA, again topped Business Week’s rankings for superior customer service.  It has ranked #1 or #2 for four straight years. No other firm comes close. Surely this provides a terrific best-practice benchmark for customer service.

    USAA provides financial services for U.S.  military families.  These families have special needs related to the fact that part of the family serves in distant parts of the world. 

   The article recounts:

   In almost everything it does, the financial-services outfit puts itself in the spit-shined shoes of its often highly mobile customers, many of whom face unique financial challenges. USAA was the first bank to allow iPhone deposits, it routinely texts balances to soldiers in the field, and it heavily discounts customers’ car insurance while they are deployed overseas. “They do all this really creative stuff that applies to guys and gals who are in Afghanistan,” says Karen Pauli, a research director at consulting firm TowerGroup. “There is nobody on this earth who understands their customer better than USAA.”

  Here are a few things USAA does to provide superior customer service:

*  When Staff Sergeant Corey Mason wants to deposit a check, he doesn’t use an ATM, a teller at a branch, or even a stamped envelope and deposit slip. Rather, the 37-year-old GPS systems specialist takes a picture of the check with his iPhone, uses an app to send it to his bank, and within minutes the money shows up in his account.

*  USAA was the first bank to allow iPhone deposits, it routinely texts balances to soldiers in the field, and it heavily discounts customers’ car insurance while they are deployed overseas. “They do all this really creative stuff that applies to guys and gals who are in Afghanistan,” says Karen Pauli, a research director at consulting firm TowerGroup. “There is nobody on this earth who understands their customer better than USAA.”

   Here are some things USAA does to keep its employees happy and  in touch with their customers:

*  Customer intimacy:  ” …training for USAA employees is steeped in the military experience. New reps attend sessions where they dine on MREs, or “meals ready to eat,” which troops consume in the field.  They try on Kevlar vests and flak helmets. And each rep is handed a bona fide deployment letter—with the names changed, of course—to get them thinking about the financial decisions customers face at such an emotional time. Colleen Williams, a Phoenix-based service rep who joined the company in 2008, says the training clued her in to family issues that help her when answering calls. “I speak to women who haven’t talked to their husbands in six weeks,” she says. “It never really registered to me, the real disconnect” deployed soldiers have from their families.

  *     Training isn’t the only thing USAA lavishes on employees. After all, it takes satisfied workers to get satisfied customers. In 2009, even call center agents at USAA saw bonuses nearing 19% of their pay, up from 13.5% the year before. A new $5-an-hour concierge service lets employees outsource errands on the cheap during the workday. And when the company closed two call centers in 2009, it offered every employee a company-paid relocation package to jobs at other locations, even helping staffers burdened with underwater mortgages unload their homes. Of the 1,200 affected workers, 50% accepted move offers, far more than the fewer than 20% USAA expected.

 *   Staffers get time to do their jobs, too. Employees aren’t rushed through calls with customers or evaluated on how fast they handle the inquiries. “Member satisfaction trumps every single metric,” says Forrester’s Temkin. Other call centers “may relax things like average handle time, but they still measure it, and still you get in trouble if you’re out of bounds.”

 *   Reps are also armed with software that lets them view a history of the online screens a particular customer has viewed on USAA’s Web site, letting them know what policies or business lines the customer was perusing—and may be ready to buy.

    Every business has  a number of generic functions it does.  Customer service is one.  Even if your business is very distant from banking — study USAA.  Many of their best practices can be adopted and adapted. 


[1] Jena McGregor, Business Week, Feb. 18, 2010:  “Customer Service Champs: USAA’s Battle Plan”

Advertisements

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
March 2010
M T W T F S S
« Feb   Apr »
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

Pages

Archives

Advertisements