How building societies are serving members’ needs through the Covid-19 crisis

Cover-for-website-and-social.pngOriginally published in BSA Society Matters magazine.

By Peter Neufeld, EMEIA Financial Services Digital Customer Experience Leader, EY

Building societies are being significantly impacted by self-isolation and social distancing practices, which is having a knock-on impact on members’ behaviour. To stay connected to their customers, building societies need to ramp up their digital engagement, which will benefit them both now and in the future. We have identified six trends that will impact customer experience in the UK as we work our way through this time of crisis, and outlined our recommendations for how firms can navigate through this crisis.

  1. New purpose in service

In many ways, this pandemic is galvanising a generation. Covid-19 has clarified our collective sense of purpose and our mission to protect one another. When the crisis is over, firms will be remembered for what they did to help customers and employees. There is a powerful opportunity right now to connect with members and review the products and services provided to make sure they fit the bill in this time of uncertainty.

EY recommendation: Building societies are already very purpose-led in focus and through their commitment to members. As you race to digitise your services and operations in lockdown, make sure you look beyond user-centred design or customer journey mapping, to consider how your value proposition meets the broader human needs of members and their families. Go further into purpose-centred design, where you design services that benefit the communities you serve and society as a whole.

  1. Straining digital capacity

Our lives have temporarily moved more online. Seeing family, communicating with colleagues, banking, shopping and working, have all suddenly become virtual. The experience has been mixed depending on the differing levels of digital access, skills and needs of consumers, and also each provider’s capacity.

Cognitive psychology tells us it takes between 12 weeks to a year to form new habits, and as we head into the fourth month of lockdown, we can now expect a sustained shift to more digital services and increasingly virtual ways of working. This places pressure on building societies to accelerate the launch of a new generation of smart digital services to resolve more complex member needs whilst virtualising operations to become more resilient to protect against future risks.

EY recommendation: Your homepage is currently the main gateway for your members, so design it with this in mind. Use your website and social media accounts to keep members informed and engaged. Use customer research and analytics to continuously improve what you are offering; there is a unique opportunity now to help members become digital-first. Personalise the customer experience, make content simple and engaging, provide features for first-time users that you have tested with members, and refine the overall digital experience. The best digital experiences are the ones that have been co-created with members and matured over time.links.png

  1. Health evidencing and etiquette

As lockdown becomes gradually less restricted, and people look at how to safely return to work, it is likely that there will be a demand for ways of evidencing people’s health status.

A key question will be around how much personal data people are willing to share in return for access to services and products, and customer response will vary likely across segments, depending on a number of factors.

EY recommendation: Consider now how you could make use of health status data and contact tracing services to manage office and branch staff returning physically to work and customers in branch. The key questions will be: who validates the data, and where, how and what is the process for handling different outcomes? Remember, how firms treat their employees and customers in this period can be front pages news if they get it wrong.

  1. Homification of work

The boundary between home and work in many ways has dissolved since lockdown, leading to significant changes in behaviour.

There are many recognised benefits from increased working from home, not to mention lower carbon emissions and office space costs, which will undoubtedly be factored into decisions post-lockdown. However, many of the products and services offered by building societies rely on a branch network for sales and servicing, so there will be a balancing act to find. 

EY recommendation: Ensure the physical wellbeing of colleagues working from home, which is especially important where equipment, house layout and domestic arrangements are less than ideal. Coach managers and leaders on how to deal with remote working environments. Look at the local member clustering data around your branch network and use those insights to virtualise outbound sales and servicing for those who rely on the in-branch facilities. Many branch colleagues may also be in more vulnerable categories themselves. Allow them to support members safely from the branch using commodity virtual communication tools.

  1. Enterprise agility tested

Our ability to change quickly is being tested. Organisations are having to address strategic, tactical and operational challenges in short timeframes and often simultaneously to respond to this crisis. We have heard from various building societies’ leaders that they have done more in the last few months than in the entirety of last year, and last year was busy! Firms want to ensure momentum isn’t lost while taking control of the pace. We don’t want to turn each sprint into a marathon, but run a marathon of individual, purpose-led sprints.

In terms of agility in the face of this unprecedented market flux, the retail, healthcare and banking sectors are ahead of the curve, although every industry will experience the shift to greater agility at some point. Being agile isn't a niche software and user experience practice anymore. Everyone needs to be agile now.

EY recommendation: Focus on creating safe organisational agility. Connect the C-suite to frontline teams, and ensure compliance and control are embedded to empower autonomy within different groups of multiskilled colleagues.

  1. We’re all vulnerable

The economic impact of lockdown is creating new financial difficulty for members, and this is compounded by health, access and emotional vulnerabilities.

Many people will remain vulnerable for the duration of the crisis, and you, the building societies, can play a unique role in identifying those with (multiple) vulnerabilities to then provide them with appropriate support and treatment strategies.

EY recommendation

Work with analytics, front line staff and conduct risk teams to identify vulnerable customers. Create treatment strategies that are transparent, powered by empathy and driven by purpose.

Building societies should use their trusted high street status to their advantage. Focus on translating customer insights into practice, put Voice of Member programmes into overdrive, virtually co-create digital services with members whenever possible, create resilience in virtual operations and stay focused on the core values and purpose, which is to help members make better financial decisions for themselves, their families and their communities.