Wespac, the Australian bank, has introduced a new idea. It is going to make outbound calls to credit card customers who are “exhibiting payment stress issues.” The first thought I had when I read about this was that you could have a bit of fun writing the scripts for the outbound callers to use. Something along the lines of “Oi, listen up! You’ve been spending too much money on beer, mate, and not paying us back on time.” But in reality, the people doing the calling are going to need far more skills than merely script reading to pull this idea off.
The concept of early intervention in these cases is a very good one, if the team conducting the calls has enough clout in the business. Then the employees making the calls may well be able to inform the new business process, which could wind up making Wespac a very responsible lender.
I remember our local vicar writing about an altercation he had with his bank when it kept mailing him large loan offers. His point was that anyone at the bank could see what his salary was and that, therefore, he would be unable to pay such loans back. He asked to be taken off the list for those mailers. The customer service representative said that, because he was an account holder and the offers came with his bank statement, it was impossible. He closed his account after 30 years with the same bank.
‘So often the obstacle getting in the way is the need for short-term return on investment.’
I love the idea that a company is up for having something of a “shaping” conversation with customers. By “shaping,” I mean the bank is prepared to communicate with customers to get them to consider changing their behavior to something that will be more helpful to both the customer and the supplier. So many successful organizations are not up for doing this; there is just too much more money to be made by following a trend. Following a trend is much easier and requires minimal marketing and no innovation. All you need is a web optimizer and you are off. The trouble with this kind of attitude is that there is a payback in the end, as Northern Wreck (the troubled U.K. bank Northern Rock) can testify.
The whole financial industry is now heavily regulated, which is the government’s answer to any number of issues. There is another way: Focus on delivering the outcomes the customers want. I hear a number of reasons why companies don’t do this, and some of them even seem quite sensible when they are said quickly enough. But I don’t think they are sustainable.
A sustainable business plays its part in sustaining its customers. If a company’s processes do not allow this to happen, then there is something wrong with the thinking that generates these processes. And this is likely to cause an issue at some point. If organizations want their users to feel confident about their products and services, the organizations need to have a long-term agenda for those users. Doing this offers a clear benefit, repeat users and a loyal and bought-in customer base and staff, who can genuinely feel they are adding something to their customers’ lives. How much fun would it be to run an organization where this occurs naturally and as part of the daily process? And wouldn’t life be better for the lucky customers? So why aren’t more organizations jumping at the chance to run such sustainable concerns?
As a lecturer on a master’s course on sustainability, I know there are individuals who really want to motivate their employers to grasp the opportunity, but so often the obstacle getting in the way is the need for short-term return on investment. How can an organization show that it is being sustainable, while also hitting ROI targets that have nothing to do with sustainability?
The short answer is that it can’t, with its current measurements. But if it changes its measures, it can—and is very likely to see short-term profitability measures improve. This is not always the case, and improvements may not be in the expected areas. The long answer is that they need to take into account in their measurements the benefits and outcomes their customers and users expect. We call these measures “Halo measures,” as they measure further out than the purely transactional things that logic would dictate need to be measured. It measures in the relationship area, where emotive benefits are felt.
Realigning measures in this way requires a steady nerve—and a clear line of sight about what it is that the customer receives from the organization. It requires a willingness to understand and work with the thought that it may not be what those in the organization thought it might be and to think broadly about how they can deliver on these benefits.
We have just completed a project for an excellent organization that builds hospitals using public finance initiatives (PFI). Executives thought their objective was to provide hospitals for the benefit of local communities. When we dug deeper, we found that the nursing staff saw this as the objective, and nurses were very happy. But the contract managers who worked for the local National Health Service (NHS) Trusts had a very different objective. They thought the PFI hospitals were there to alleviate NHS cash-flow issues. Marrying up the two differing needs and aligning our client to meet both needs was relatively easy once we diagnosed the core needs. Trying to run the contracts without this clarity was confusing and time consuming. We used the Halo Process to discover what benefits were expected and then to measure how well the company was delivering those benefits. Where delivery was perceived to be lacking, we restructured the business.
Delivering on the real benefits an organization seeks is easy once you know what those benefits are and you measure into that space. If Wespac is able to help customers master their money, it can’t help but become a sustainable organization. It will have customers who know that the bank is on their side. Good luck to Wespac. Any organization that gives real credence to working alongside its customers deserves to succeed, as long as it remembers the golden rule: Focus on the benefits your customers think they have bought, not the ones that are quickest and easiest to sell.