Interview: The smart, savvy, cynical customer – do businesses stand a chance?

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Anthony Thomson, Customer Loyalty, Social Media, Interview

Last week I was lucky enough to take a few minutes with the inspirational Chairman of Metro Bank, Anthony Thomson. We discussed a range of topics including how Metro Bank have put the customer at the core of their business and why Anthony sees social media as being a critical success factor. Read on to learn more.

Hi Anthony, let's kick off with a little bit about yourself and who you are.

I am the Chairman and Co-Founder of Metro Bank, which is the first new high-street bank in the UK for over 100 years. What makes us different is our absolute commitment to the customer experience in everything that we do. So whilst other banks think that the thing that is most important to customer is rate or price, we believe that the most important thing to customers is their experience and value. Value means different things to different people but it's fundamentally about service, convenience, transparency, consistency and treating your existing customers as well as you treat your new customers.

How did you come up with your customer driven strategy?

Going back over 10 years I saw in America a banking model used by a bank called Commerce Bank. They were loved by their customers and by their shareholders while in the UK you couldn't find a bank that was loved by either group. I got to know the founder of the bank, Vernon Hill, over a number of years and then in 2007 I suggested to him that we should start a bank in the UK based upon that model. We looked at the market throughout that year and then in December 2007 made the decision to start a new bank based on his model of offering a great customer experience.

As you have grown in the market have you had to adopt your model?

The model has crossed the Atlantic 100%. We launched with exactly the American model two years ago and it is interesting to say that here two years later there are only the tiniest things we have had to evolve as a result of the London market. I think that there is a universal demand for a great customer experience, whether it is in the US or the UK, and the model is about fulfilling that experience.

How would you define a great customer experience?

We talk about creating fans not customers, which might seem like an odd thing to say in a banking environment. However, we do have people who write to us and give us feedback who genuinely are fans of the service experience we give them. It's about going that extra mile, it's doing a thousand things that little bit better for the sake of the customer. 93% of our customers say that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the service that we give them. 84% of them say that they would recommend us to a friend. This is compared to one high-street bank whose satisfaction numbers are almost exactly the reverse to ours in terms of dissatisfaction. There are high-street banks where over half of their customers are dissatisfied with the service. So we have a phenomenal level of customer satisfaction and advocacy.

How do you think the customer has changed in the last couple of years?

I think that customers are becoming more demanding, they are demanding a 24/7 experience in that they want to do what they want when, where and how it suits them, which for example means that shops are opening longer hours. Customers are demanding not just the retail experience but the same great experience online or by telephony. We've seen a number of businesses move their contact centres overseas to reduce costs, and customer pressure has forced them to relocate back to the UK. Our view is that if they are becoming that demanding in every single part of their life, why would they not be equally demanding in banking. That is why we have created a bank that thinks and acts like a retailer.

I think that social media is absolutely a game changer in terms of customer empowerment. Where one person might complain as a lone voice direct to a business, that one person can now be heard by thousands or millions of people. One just needs to look at that great video about that musician who had his guitar broken by United to see how one man changed an airline. So absolutely consumers are developing through social media a very powerful voice. I think also there is an increasing level of competition and choice. Whereas in the past there might have only been a small number of places a consumer could go for a product or a service, with the internet they can now go anywhere in the world for those products or services. So I think there is greater competition being forced upon businesses.

I think the continued growth and empowerment of the consumer is inexorable. The voice and the power of the customer will just get stronger and stronger, and those businesses who forget that the consumer is king will do so at their peril.

Would you say that Metro Bank has gotten social media right yet or do you think there is room for improvement?

We are at a very early stage in our use of social media. We recognise it as a very powerful tool, we use it and are actively engaged on it but we've still got a long way to go. There are a lot of improvements that we will make as we get to know and understand it and build better online relationships with customers.

Purely online businesses tend to have a bit of a head start and are a bit more sophisticated in their use of social media. We're a multi-channel business, we have our stores and we have telephony, and I think integrating social media into a multi-channel business is a bit more of a challenge. But I think it's a learning experience for everyone, for users and for customers alike.

What do you think of mobile as a platform?

Mobile is an important part of where we are going over the next couple of years, but equally I would say that one shouldn't get too hung up on the channel of delivery. What one must get hung up on giving the customer the best possible experience regardless of channel. I see a lot of companies in the technology space who are almost developing solutions and then going out looking for problems. The solution is not mobile banking, for example, that is just a tool to meet the needs of customers. It's an important one, and one that we have developed, but it has to be a tool to deliver a great customer experience and not an end in its own right.

What did you like most about last year's Loyalty World and what are you most excited about for this year's show?

What I liked was the real commitment from both audience and speakers to the topic of customer experience. It's great that people are taking this so seriously now. This year I'm looking forward to more of the same! I'm looking forward to more engaged and interesting conversations about how you put the customer at the centre of your business.

To learn more about how businesses can put the customer at the core of their strategy read this interview with bestselling author David Meerman Scott.

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