Organisations are more aware than ever of the need to be customer-centric, creating products and services which deliver excellent customer outcomes. The physical constraints of lockdowns have meant that even those of us that don’t regard ourselves as technically savvy have embraced new digital platforms and now enjoy the ease and convenience of engaging online. On the flip side, with the world opening up again, we seem to be valuing personal interactions more than ever before.
For pension providers to be genuinely customer-centric, everything they do must be about making the interaction with customers and end-users as simple and straightforward as possible. This blog highlights the balance needed in delivering a digital-first customer experience for pension savers, with the all-important human element.
“Technology should be an enabler, simple to use and designed around human needs. Human centric design has to be at the heart of any meaningful business transformation that will create the customer experiences people are seeking.”
Giles Colborne (Founding Partner and CEO at CX Partners)
This highlights the balance needed in delivering a digital-first customer experience for pension savers, with the all-important human element. After all, this is about informing and empowering people to plan for their financial future with the information and support they need, delivered in the right way.
Balancing digital convenience with human connection
Designing customer-centric products and services starts with understanding customer needs and extracting data and meaningful insights that can be translated into action, across the organisation.
At Sopra Steria and SSCL we’ve worked alongside CX Partners, our specialist consultants who focus on helping organisations optimise their customer experience. Working collaboratively with them we have undertaken research to uncover the attitudes, behaviours and needs of pension savers. What is clear from the research is that what matters most to today’s pension scheme members, is that they want to receive support through any channel that serves their purpose, in the most effective way. Many like using self-service options and feel that it is their quickest route to a solution over any other channel. However, a significant majority also prefer a mix of self-service and human interaction, with the option to communicate with a person who can support them with empathy, compassion and a personal service. Many like the concept of engaging digitally but have had poor experiences with other service provisions where the experience ends up being a frustrating and unproductive one, as services often struggle to cater for anything other than basic support.
Our research found that customers expect to have the option of engaging through a number of channels, both traditional (phone and email) and digital (website, app, live chat), at different stages of their journey. This reinforces the need for a seamless omni-channel strategy that serves the digital-first consumer, while ensuring there remains the opportunity for human engagement and personal interaction when needed.
Addressing the gap between expectation and reality
The key member experience features and improvements which have actually come into play across the defined benefit pension industry over the past decade or so, are relatively limited. They include:
What-if models: Enabling members to perform basic calculations of how their pension may look if they retire at different ages.
Educational videos:Basic generic overviews explaining key scheme mechanics like investment or how their scheme works.
Dedicated contact centres:Allowing members to speak directly to support staff if needed. Although interaction may still be via email, phone, post or live chat.
Member self-service: Enabling members to see their personal benefits, amend their personal details and in some instances carry out limited transactions.
What’s noticeable is that these features haven’t actually evolved very much over the past five years – a period when the customer experience landscape has changed enormously. The result has been an increasing gap between the ‘customer experience norm’ and the ‘pension scheme member experience norm’.
Pension scheme administrators have typically focused on their back-office efficiency and standardising processes, rather than delivering exemplary customer experience. Our aim is to help close the gap between expectation and reality, by following and embedding a few key practices and principles that support an improved customer experience, that evolves over time.
Simply stating that “positive customer experiences are an important focus” is not enough. Embedding a customer-first culture is critical and requires collaboration throughout the organisation as well as with partners and suppliers. In terms of pensions services, for those in direct contact with customers, there is an increasing need for developing skills and an empathetic culture to ensure customer-facing teams have the support they need to deliver a service which engages with the members in a meaningful, empathetic way. This is especially important in the ‘moments that matter’, for complex and emotive situations and for customers in vulnerable situations. Focusing on providing an improved customer experience for all members, across all channels helps to address and improve customer query resolution, by delivering outcomes that customers want in a way that suits their needs.
The pace of technological change in the financial services sector is accelerating and has changed the way customers can and expect to interact with their services. Selecting the right pensions technology ecosystem has the potential to positively engage with people, to inspire them to plan more effectively for later life, while enabling pension providers to improve their operational efficiency.
Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) bring huge potential, offering an opportunity to enhance efficiency, reduce complexity and improve the user experience including real service personalisation and encouraging engagement with the service. With self-service facilities becoming an important element of pension services, the aim is to put customers in touch with their data and in control of managing it. Data quality and accuracy is of course essential, as well as using straightforward language with easy-to-understand statements and personalised dashboards.
Voice of the customer
Providing tools for customers to share feedback and openly articulate their levels of satisfaction is essential in enabling better customer experiences. It’s about creating the right environment to capture customer needs and translate these to identify where and how the service is working and where it needs to be improved, both from the current trends but also with the ability to predict and model what’s needed for the future. Using advanced analytics helps inform decisions for providers, highlighting gaps and opportunities to improve the service to meet the changing demands of their members.
The need now is to look at the end-to-end experience – from unengaged to engaged and beyond – from a member perspective, not just a process perspective. The most important driver in improving customer satisfaction is the ability to make changes and improvements ‘with and for’ the members, not ‘to and at’ them. It’s a collaborative process, and by no means linear.
At Sopra Steria and SSCL, our aim is to provide highly engaging services for pension members that align with their expectations for easy access to data, personalisation, and understandable financial information. All of this with the ability to be serviced through the right medium and channel of their choice. By putting the member at the centre of how the services are designed and delivered, we optimise digital technologies to build an eco-system that provides services that empower members. Finally, we embed financial wellbeing into our solutions to ensure that members are well informed, and their services are personalised to cater for their specific needs. While technology is shaping the future of pensions, it’s ultimately still people who will continue to be responsible for delivering and optimising an authentic customer-centric experience.
To find out more about how a customer-centric approach can deliver a service that meets the changing needs of members, and supports them throughout their journey to retirement, please contact one of our experts.