Marketing-Touchpoints - The UBS story
A manager at Global Financial Services player UBS paints the following picture when describing the essence of touchpoint management: “Imagine that the overall experience at UBS is like a fishing net where each knot within the net represents a contact point between companies and customers — every one a so-called touchpoint. However, if just one important touchpoint is not actively in place, a hole is created in the net and the customers slide right through.”
Companies often are not even aware when these touchpoints take effect, how many touchpoints are in play, or the ways these touchpoints communicate the company’s message to customers. As a result, resources are wasted. On one hand, not understanding the touchpoints results in different and uncoordinated messages being sent to customers. Additionally, the company is required to expend energy repairing the resulting damage from those mixed messages to restore the customer relationship. With every contact with the company — intentionally controlled or not — the customer gathers positive and negative impressions which eventually lead to one conclusion: “Is this bank the right one for me?” A defect in a single important “knot” can destroy the customer relationship. For example, how would you feel if your bank statements were suddenly sent to your neighbor?
Shaping the customer experience
With the aforementioned net in mind, leading companies are increasingly taking a touchpoint management approach in order to tighten control of the contacts with their customers. This system requires identification of all of the relevant touchpoints from the customer’s point of view. It also involves formulating and coordinating the touchpoints in such a way that they not only provide the best support for customers in their decision-making process, but also guarantee a uniform and unique market and brand appearance. In the bank example, such contacts could involve a meeting with a customer service representative, a visit to a branch, a product advertisement in a newspaper, or an invitation to a financial assets seminar.
The management of UBS, one of the leading financial institutions worldwide, understood the important added value of systematic touchpoint management and initiated a three-phase project. In order to advance and implement the program internally, a project sponsor with the required seniority was appointed along with the additional support of a steering committee. A cross-functional team performed the project work with members from the strategy, marketing/branding and market research functions, as well as from the core business. Here are the steps they followed:
1. Identifying and Prioritising Touchpoints
In order to control contacts between companies and customers more tightly and to accomplish a consistent and relevant brand experience, it is critical to identify all possible touchpoints at the outset. This requires expanding the marketing team’s perspective going directly to customers and asking: How and where do customers and interested parties come in contact with a company? Marketing studies or competitive analysis, for example, qualify as additional external sources for determining possible touchpoints. Examining market research reports, market and marketing analyses or customers’ complaints can also contribute to this process.
The next step should involve discussions with decision makers, with or without direct customer contact. These conversations serve to enhance understanding of the inventory, identify internal areas of responsibility, and establish wider support for the project.
The touchpoints should then be prioritised according to their importance. It is recommended at this point to include different criteria in the assessment. It is valuable, for example, to consider customer and brand-oriented criteria as well as internal and external determining factors using point scores for each.
The UBS program generated a list of more than 300 touchpoints, which were then prioritised and reduced to a list of about two dozen. This process underscored the value of speaking with customers along with evaluating a variety of other sources. Without this broad perspective, it is likely that critical touchpoints may have been overlooked.
2. Touchpoints Review
Up to this point, prioritisation of touchpoints had come from within. The goal of the second project phase is to review these assumptions by comparing them with customer opinions, those of the company, as well as customers of the competition. The process involved asking customers from different segments and regions to comment on individual touchpoints contained in the temporary set or add new ones from their experiences.
Here, we have to consider the customer lifecycle, which assumes that customers go through three basic stages during their relationship with a company, in this case a bank: “Look for a new bank”; “Become a new customer of a bank”; and “Maintain a relationship with that bank.” Depending on the desired accuracy, those three basic stages can be broken down into very detailed sub-stages. In doing so, it is important to consider that the model is theoretical and may not apply to every customer. In reality, customers may not go through the stages or sub-stages in a particular order, but actually skip individual stages, go through them again, or even exit the process altogether. Despite this limitation, the lifecycle concept must be factored into the analysis when exploring which touchpoints are most important to customers.
UBS performed such an analysis in Europe, Asia, and the United States among their customers, interested parties, and customers of regional competitors. This allowed them to identify not only a set of 17 of the most important touchpoints from the customer’s point of view, but also establish the importance of each touchpoint during different stages in the customer lifecycle. This process confirmed the project team’s initial assumption that the customer service representative is the most important touchpoint by far.
There were surprises, however, when it came to evaluating the importance of individual touchpoints. For example, customers identified mail delivery of the balance statement as considerably more important than previously thought. This opened the door for UBS to consider possibilities for increasing customer satisfaction with what had been a barely noticed touchpoint. It also became clear that some touchpoints have positive or negative influences in bringing customers from one stage in the banking relationship to the next or causing the departure of customers to another bank. The way individuals represent the brand — customer service representatives providing positive personal experiences or senior managers speaking to investors, for example — has an enormous effect on the customer experience and on converting interested parties into customers.
3. Formulating and Implementing Touchpoints
The third phase of the process aims to optimise every touchpoint identified by customers as important and to coordinate them. This does not mean that all customer suggestions should be implemented at all costs — in trying to please all customers, the company would be an undifferentiated player and likely please no one. However, the question remains: How can one decide which touchpoints are most critical? To make these decisions, it is recommended to use the company brand, or a brand filter consisting of the core promise defined by the brand identity.
When employed to help define touchpoints, the brand filter helps to “form” every contact point according to specifications of the brand and the brand promise. This part of the process has two advantages: Every touchpoint formulated this way is brand-compliant and does not send confusing messages; and all touchpoints are consistent. By speaking a uniform language, the touchpoints together form the basis for ongoing, meaningful interaction between customers and companies. In this manner, customers receive pertinent messages no matter how, where, or when they communicate with the company.
The UBS project used a brand filter to help guide formulation of its touchpoints. Three core promises of the UBS brand were included:
- We take our time in understanding the needs and goals of our customers.
- We provide customised solutions.
- We provide access to the know-how and the resources of a global leader.
If the customer experience at a particular touchpoint needs to be improved, the planned changes must first go through the filter in order to ensure their consistency with the brand and, ultimately, to provide a coherent market appearance. For example, an automated information menu would be inappropriate for the call-center touchpoint, because it could not satisfy the core promise of “we take our time in understanding the needs of our customers.” Instead, a personal agent is required to listen to the concerns of the customers.
Beyond brand-conformity, other aspects for a successful customer experience should also be considered: How do the customer interactions need to vary in the different customer segments? Do the customers have different requirements for a touchpoint during the different stages of the customer cycle? Which regional characteristics should be taken into account? How can the touchpoint facilitate a differentiation from the competition? What internal resources are needed to launch the touchpoint successfully? Once these questions have been answered the enhanced touchpoints and accompanying communications can be brought to market. Experience has shown that the project team has the greatest success when it sees itself as an internal service provider. This can be achieved by communicating the recommended course of action to the respective people in charge as early as possible and following up regularly throughout implementation.
We’d like to conclude with one of the biggest Ahas! of our project. One of our most interesting findings was that customers rarely mentioned their experiences with a single touchpoint in discussing their relationship with a bank. Rather, they talked about an overall positive or negative feeling, which was based on a series of experiences with a number of touchpoints. It’s these overarching feelings that speak to the strength (or weakness) of the “fishing net” UBS describes. Each touchpoint knot must be tightly wound and intertwined to ensure against any customers slipping through.
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