Banking’s ‘911’ Moments of Truth

Companies earn trust and loyalty during key 'moments of truth,' when consumers are facing an emergency and have the most invested in the final outcome. Superb handling of these moments requires a quick and decisive response, putting the consumer's needs before the company's agenda.

In the world of customer experience, we often hear the term ‘moment of truth.’ What is a moment of truth? Simply stated, it is a point in time when a consumer needs a pivotal interaction with a service/product provider to work seamlessly. And it is an interaction where the consumer either forms or changes their impression of an organization.

Subscribe TodayFor example, let’s say you have a medical emergency and need an ambulance. The moment of truth is when you make the 911 call – you need immediate response from the person on the phone. You need him or her to be calming, and at the same time work efficiently to get help to your location. Lastly, you need the ambulance to arrive quickly with EMT’s ready to give you medical care.

As the ambulance arrives and the 911 operator tries to keep you calm, imagine the lasting impression that is formed by you, your family, and your neighbors. In today’s environment, these positive moments of truth are not only lasting, but potentially viral.

The ‘911’ Banking Emergency

So what is a comparable ‘911’ moment of truth for the retail banking industry and card issuers? Let’s examine a scenario where a consumer’s account has been compromised through the loss of a debit/credit card or a retailer breach, such as recent events at Target and Home Depot.

Your customer is on a business trip to New York and her wallet is stolen. In it are her debit card, several credit cards, photo ID, some cash and family photos. She realizes the wallet is gone, panics and then goes into survival mode.

Like the example of the medical emergency, she is having a mental emergency. She must figure out how to contact her bank about the debit card, as well as the credit card companies to close her credit card accounts and open up new accounts. The ultimate moment of panic happens when she realizes she has no ID. She thinks, “How do I get home to Chicago?”

The representatives in your customer care center have to mirror real 911 operators. They must act quickly and, at the same time, calm the distraught customer. In the 911 scenario, the operator can help regardless of the emergency – heart attack, stroke or baby on the way. Can your ‘911’ operators do the same?

Are your debit and credit card care center representatives able to provide support regardless of the issues that the consumer presents, or must she speak to multiple operators to resolve each one? If you do not integrate the customer experience, it is likely to result in a poor moment-of-truth experience and prove deadly to your loyalty efforts.

The ‘911’ Banking Emergency Response

The key to successfully managing the ‘911 call from your customer is adherence to five key customer experience principles:

  1. Assume every consumer will have at least one 911 moment during their lifetime. So, be prepared to manage that moment. Drive an overarching strategy focused on understanding those key moments in our customers’ lives. Every consumer has crises to manage, and they need banking partners that will get them through those crises.
  2. Welcome the 911 moments as opportunities to evaluate your processes and technologies. Prioritize what you need to upgrade, fix or replace. This interaction gives you an opportunity to build loyalty for life.
  3. Empower your front line to get consumers safely to their destination when they have a 911 moment. Make sure a single person can solve the issue and that they understand what they can and cannot do to resolve a situation. And, ensure they have a clear escalation path for issues outside of their domain. People helping people is a key element of a functioning society and equally so in a functioning consumer/company relationship.
  4. Learn from the best. How do 911 operators manage heighten issues and very stressful situations? Do some research to identify best practices that can apply to your consumer support efforts. Establishing a strong people development plan is critical to servicing your customers’ moments of truth. In addition to communication and training, proper incentive planning is vital – making sure incentives are outcome-based.
  5. Develop your own 911 SWAT team to train and consult with your care center representatives. The best defense is a strong offense. Once you have developed principles 1-4, creating your own 911 SWAT team will enable you to deliver strong consumer experiences that are driven by a set of common consumer care capabilities.

At the core of all these principles is a belief that we, as financial institutions, are here for our customers when they really need us and that we can and will step up to exceed expectations.

Integrate Digital ‘Early Warning’ Signals

As with all elements of our daily lives, it is important to provide digital ‘early warning’ capabilities in the hands of your customers. Just like there are ways for consumers to monitor their physical health to avoid a 911 emergency, financial institutions need to integrate ways for consumers to monitor their fiscal health.

These tools range from low balance or overdraft alerts to notifications when a customer’s account may have been compromised. These ‘early warning’ signals are welcomed by consumers and can build loyalty and trust with your organization and the mobile apps you provide.

Finally, provide tools that allow consumers to take action on their own. This may include the ability to turn on or off their debit/credit card, or shut down their accounts completely. There can even be a easy ‘push to talk’ functionality in their mobile banking app that connects them with the ‘911’ operator.

Often in our business models we solve for what is expected. The 911 banking emergency is an unexpected, seminal moment – the moment of truth when all our customer support people, systems and processes are tested. But the competitive differentiator for financial services firms does not start when the 911 call is completed. The differentiation lies in the adoption of a customer-driven operating model, which, when tested, has the capacity to put into practice meaningful and effective responses when the unexpected happens.

The ultimate payoff is that there is proven link between positive ‘moments of truth’ outcomes and share of wallet. These moments include the ‘911’ emergency and, to a lesser degree, other times when a consumer needs our assistance. All offer the potential for moments when something can go wrong, causing a potential defection. Only a few can provide positive moments – opportunities to intensify the customer’s loyalty to our organization.


Dr. Patricia Sahm is the Customer Experience & Channels Practice Lead for Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group. She has over 20 years of experience serving clients in the financial services industry. Prior to joining CG, Pat was a Managing Director at ACG and a Manager for the Retail Banking practice at McKinsey & Company. Dr. Sahm received her Doctorate in Information Systems and Organizational Behavior from Case Western Reserve University. You can follow Patricia on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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