Online Business: Four Benefits of Going “High Touch”

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What do you think of when you hear the words “online business?”

For many it brings to mind technology, efficiency and increasingly, automation.

Many online only businesses design a customer strategy around these concepts as well, emphasizing self-serve options, automated replies and the introduction of cutting edge technologies like AI-driven chat bots to keep overhead costs low.

As an online business operating in financial services, this type of low touch model was never a serious option. In fact, offering a high quality and high touch service has been a key differentiator for our business, from our first days when OFX was a startup in the garage of two surfers from Sydney, Australia.

Rather than view the necessity of high touch customer service as a cost to minimize, the founders reframed this challenge in the positive: how can we use our customer service to drive positive outcomes for both our company and our customers?

While our scale has changed over the years – from a garage-based startup to a publicly listed, global business – four clear benefits have emerged that may guide other online businesses wrestling with such a question.

Differentiation

As a cross-border payments company our average transaction size is $20,000. This means customers come to us for a range of highly emotional and sensitive transactions from purchasing a retirement home in Mexico to paying for their children’s education at the Sorbonne. In short, the moments that matter in their lives.

When OFX launched we focused on doing the things bigger financial institutions and established competitors could not or would not. As a small Australian startup we built customer relationships through basics like answering the phone within three rings and spending as much time as needed talking customers through the nuances of sending or receiving money abroad, no matter the transaction size.

As we grew into a global business we were faced with a choice. Find a way to “streamline” our service or double down on the service ethos that had gotten us this far. Foreign exchange markets never sleep, and likewise, with customers on every continent, neither did the people who trusted us to serve them. The decision was a natural one and we committed to the three ring rule globally. In practice, this meant offering our customers 24/7 in-house phone support with native English speaking representatives, leveraging our locations in Australia, North America and the UK to map a “follow-the-sun” model that meant our customers could get us any time and any day.

While the investment in getting this process right was steep, we immediately saw the benefits of differentiating the company through service.

Talent

Getting this strategy right meant investing in the right people. Our service team consists of dedicated managers and front-line employees who come to OFX with the goal of providing excellent service in a highly complex and challenging environment. It would be of no use to design a relationship-driven customer strategy if this department had constant turnover. To that end we designed our front line roles to be attractive to degree holders who had a keen interest in finance, global culture and truly love human interaction.

A large part of this attraction was designing the role to be vertical. Many of our entry level employees who start on the phones soon become corporate dealers, helping our small and medium sized business clients with complex transactions. Others find a home in our compliance or sales departments. Despite our extremely low turnover some do leave to pursue other opportunities including higher education and are well-equipped for a variety of global financial services positions.

While hiring degree holders who exemplify all these traits comes at an elevated price in terms of compensation, attracting such high quality talent and retaining it has become a boon to our business.

Training

One way we attract talent is through the comprehensive training we provide them. Our team members learn extensively about the foreign exchange markets, currency hedging strategies as well as detailed information about the global banking system. This provides them with solid expertise across key financial services functions that will serve them well throughout their careers at OFX and beyond.

But finance knowledge is just part of the job. When customers come to OFX to send through their first transfer they may be feeling a variety of emotional and mental states from excitement, impatience, anxiety or confusion. A huge part of our training is placed therefore on emotional intelligence and empathy. A seasoned OFX team member can read a customer’s emotional gauge in seconds and take appropriate actions to help calm them when needed and then utilize that solid financial education to walk our customer clearly through the process of making a successful transfer.

As a result of an emphasis on extensive training and personality fit we have found our team members make fewer and less costly mistakes while reinforcing the customer trust that the company is built on.

Customer retention

So, would any of this matter to the customer? After all, international money transfer firms, including ours, compete fiercely on price which remains a primary driver of customer buying behavior.

We don’t measure success by call times, rather we look at satisfaction and resolution. This is the reason we have recorded high levels of customer satisfaction and retention such as through rising net promoter scores and positive TrustPilot reviews. Happy customers build a positive feedback loop that supports word of mouth referrals for those ready to have their first money transfer experience with OFX. We recognize that some of what we provide has to be experienced and isn’t really a value that we can successfully market since it is embedded in the actual experience itself. What’s more our customer service teams have a high job satisfaction rating because they know they are helping people in meaningful ways.

Not every online business needs high touch customer service, but for those where it is a reality, try reframing the costs as investments that can drive growth, loyalty and profitability.

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