The emotional site of trust

After being a loyal customer for many years, I lost trust in my bank in a wink of an eye. The direct reason was a shortcoming in delivering on what is seen as the core service of a bank: A financial  transaction. Denial of the emotional impact and rigid communication made it worse. I must admit, I was a passive customer, a so called ‘sleeper’. Too lazy to consider switching to another bank for better service and price. Now I’m not a sleeper anymore, I would switch banks as soon there is a better option.

While this example is about me and my bank, any company could face a similar situation, especially if its customers are consumers: For 25 years I was a happy customer, trusting my bank completely. Without hesitation I switched to online banking and payment banking apps. Until a month ago my confidence suddenly vanished. My payment for our holidays had left my account within one day, using the online banking. However, after 2 weeks my hotel reported that the money still hadn’t arrived. My money was lost for more than one month. My emotions went through different stages, from rage, disappointment to frustration. Not only, the communication of the bank didn’t help, it made everything worse. Don’t get me wrong, it was correct and followed the process. But it was not emphatic. Each interaction with the bank – except one – left me with the feeling that this is purely my problem. There is nothing they could have done wrong and therefore it is not their problem to solve.

What they offered though, is to start an investigation. This investigation however would take 6 weeks, so it would end after the start of my holidays – and the agreement with the hotel was ‘prepayment’. The investigation couldn’t be accelerated and it would cost me a fee. I was furious, but there was no alternative and I agreed. From that moment on, it turned out to be impossible to get any status update, nor by e-mail, nor by phone. I came to the conclusion that a service desk is about avoiding costs by preventing me to speak directly to the department involved. I felt so angry. After 3 weeks I received an email from the payment department that they had sent a mail to the bank at my holiday destination, but hadn’t received a reply. I thought that this is a bad joke. How is sending an e-mail a proper investigation? Nevertheless, it finally gave me the opportunity to contact the department involved directly. One hour later a real person called me back and listened to my frustration. Lastly I felt taken serious and my anger faded.

After 4 and a half weeks the hotel communicated that they had received the money. My husband and I have a joint account and this time it was my husband who notified the service desk of our bank. To my surprise, one day later the payment department send me a message that they still had no reply on my payment status, completely unaware of the fact of our notification of the bank the problem had been solved. This again confirmed my view that they were not in control of the process and that internally the bank was hopelessly siloed. It made me think if even a normal bank transaction, what I consider as a basic service, is not properly taken care of, what else I could go wrong in future? This again undermined my view that this was just a ‘one-off’. Tomorrow, it could happen to me again.

After this incident the magic moment of the blind trust in my bank was broken. It was my wake-up call. So, what went wrong? Yes, I realise that processing international payments is an extremely complex process with many regulations. Many banks still have siloed legacy systems and there are many risks involved trying to transform it. Banks also rarely have interoperable systems with banks in other countries. And despite the new ISO2002 standard as a worldwide payment code, different procedures continue to exist. Nevertheless, via the online banking the international payment process seamed unbelievable simple. And prior to performing the transaction, the bank even encouraged me to use online banking. Banks tell us about digital transformation and seamless services, but it will still take them many, many years to make this promise true. But while I am confident that they will work hard to resolve the technical issues, I am much less confident that they will solve – or even address – my issue: I lost trust, because they ignored my emotions.

Losing the customer’s trust through one incident can happen to every organisation. And it can happen even more easily the more customer interactions have been digitalized. Despite all the hype about Big Data, AI, Deep Learning etc., digital interactions always have to follow a predefined path. They can not find a creative solution to an individual situation, they are not able to recognize emotions and they are not able to show empathy.

So let’s get a deeper understanding of trust and emotions in relationship with companies. It is important to realize my emotional context: I was to looking forward to my holidays. Instead I was 4 weeks deeply concerned about losing both money and holiday. For the bank this was just an operational error. Organisations need to understand the very deep emotions that drive customers’ trust and loyalty. Most organisations tend to focus on the logic and rational side of the customer experience, gathering data on price, speed, quality etc. The famous Nobel prize winner Kahneman argues that what people remember in an experience is the peak emotion and the emotion they felt at end. Those form a memory. Loyalty is a function of memory: When a customer does not remember, she/he is not able to be loyal because every experience would be new. Customers tend to remember the last experience and a negative experience more than the positive ones.
In regards of retaining or losing customer trust, also don’t underestimate the role of the front-office in my case. They need to have freedom and easy access to all of the information, account stakeholders and departments for an adequate advice. They also should be able to provide simple online status updates on how the case is handled. Incentive should be a happy customer, not on keeping the conversation short.
I still don’t know what went wrong in my particular case and probably will never find out. But the bank missed an opportunity to learn from this failure and, if needed, to improve their operational processes. Rebuilding my trust would have been possible by genuine acknowledging that there was an problem and that they were focused on fixing it. Maybe an unexpected gesture of apology after the matter was solved, would have  softened my last emotion. The bank didn’t. So now I have forgotten about what the bank did, but not how they made me feel.

Do you want to learn more about what drives the emotional  journey of your customers and how to build and retain a relation of trust, don’t hesitate to contact me at Leapstrat:

✆          +31 62952 6605
✉        Irene.vanderkrol@leapstrat.com

Leapstrat is a consultancy firm that helps companies to be successful in the markets of the future. A future that will be fundamentally different, a future where trust is the ultimate currency. Leapstrat has developed an integrated 4-step approach that helps you to architect your own future that fits who you are and who you want to become, with an action plan that starts today.

PUBLISHED BY IRENE VAN DER KROL

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