Customer Experience

Winning through customer experience - An interview with Tracy Garrad, Chief Executive, first direct

First Direct has been named as the UK’s leading customer brand in KPMG’s 2016 UK Customer Experience Excellence analysis. We talk to the chief executive, Tracy Garrad, on the role of customer experience at the bank.

by David Conway (contact)
7 minute read

First Direct create positive brand memories for its customers through quirky advertising and outstanding customer experience - and knowing when to make things quick and simple for customers. In this interview, Tracy acknowledges how First Direct achieve this and the important role its staff play, recruiting for attitude, training the skills and empowering staff to make decisions.

What level of priority does customer experience have in your business?
Our customer's experience is everything to First Direct. Everything we do starts and ends with the customer. When we are talking about new products or system changes it always comes back to the customer journey; what will the impact be on customers; how can we make it better for customers. Customer metrics are constantly under discussion at the most senior level in our business and every member of my leadership team (from the CFO to the Head of Risk) has CRI and Customer Satisfaction measures in their personal and team objectives.  

First Direct is ranked 1st in the 2016 Customer Experience Excellence Centre analysis. What do you think has driven this top performance?
We don’t settle for second best; we work extremely hard to make sure we never forget what makes us different is the way we deliver our services. Customers can access market leading and award winning products and accounts online and on their mobile and tablet 24/7. Every time you pick up the phone, so do we, because a real person answers every single call, whatever the time, day or night. It’s about always looking to improve our service for customers, while offering a consistently great level of service, no matter when you call or what you are calling about.

What investments has the business made over the last year or two to drive improvements in customer experience?
We’re always looking to make improvements to the customer experience and in the last year or so we’ve made quite a number of positive changes to the way customers can bank with us. Some of these include improvements to the functionality on our banking app, enabling customers to do more standard transactions securely from their mobile device. We’ve also added greater digital functionality to our verification checks, launching Touch ID verification, and now most recently Voice ID. We're the first retail bank in the UK to make this the primary method of verification for customers on the phone. We’re always looking to enhance the training we offer our people and to make sure we provide them with what they need to be happy that they can talk with confidence to customers.  

First direct particularly stands out within the financial services industry for the pillar of Empathy. This is one of the hardest pillars to excel in, so how does first direct achieve this?
This again comes down to our people. We spend a lot of time making sure we recruit ‘people people’. Getting the right people for our culture is something that permeates throughout all levels of the business. All of our people are passionate about maintaining the customer first culture and this particularly shines through in our contact centres. Talking to our customers every day and making a small part of their life that little bit better, is something we genuinely enjoy. The kind of customer service we’re built around is not the old school banking of queues, red tape or processes, but going the extra mile.

Have there been any changes in organisation structure to enable greater focus on customer experience?
Our focus has always been on the customer experience and always will be. We are always making changes to the business to make sure we’re delivering what customers want and need. We haven’t had the need to make changes to our organisation as everything is geared around making the customer experience a great one.  

How do you ensure a consistently great experience across all channels for your customers?
Our people are very highly trained. We spend a great deal of time with people before they even join us in making sure they’re the right fit for our culture. Then, once they’re on board we have a comprehensive initial training plan to make sure they understand our products and systems and culture. And only once they’ve gone through this are they able to engage with our customers. We don’t think training is a once and done experience though and further training is then part of their ongoing routine, so we can make sure they feel as comfortable as they can be before they start taking calls. We also communicate as much as we can internally to make sure everyone knows what is happening and when, and most importantly, why it’s happening. Beyond that, in our digital channels we've embedded customer feedback into the design and test stages of features development with real customers working with us in these important areas.

Thinking specifically about the increasing importance of the digital experience, how does your organisation aim to deliver a superior digital experience for your customers?
We may have launched as a telephone bank in 1989 but we’ve always been at the forefront of innovation. We launched our PC banking service in 1997, we were text message banking in 1999, and internet banking in 2000. And whilst the big wide world is now changing at breakneck speeds, we'll continue be at the forefront of new trends too. We’re known for our customer service, but our digital offering is equally powerful too. We’ve a strong focus on banking on the move and our app is enhanced regularly to add more and more functionality. One thing to remember about the digital experience for customers is what is running behind the scenes - in terms of our cutting edge fraud protection systems and our customer verification systems. These can make the customer experience better without them really noticing. Using Touch ID and Voice ID to verify who you are instead of just using passwords means it’s never been more convenient or secure for customers to access their accounts.  

What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing financial services to deliver an outstanding customer experience?
First Direct is currently Britain's most recommended bank, but we never take this for granted. The customer experience is something that you can never park, you can always improve and so one of the major challenges is meeting the well-intended regulations in a way that is additive to the customer experience and doesn't detract from it. Digitisation is great and brings many advantages but you can’t get away from the fact people like people. Companies in our sector need to always respect their customers and remember they appreciate being able to talk to real people.    

Looking to the future, what do you think your organisation will be doing in the next ten years to continue on the path of customer experience excellence?
Understanding our customers is a big part of why we are the UK’s most recommended bank. We will continue to embed customer insight into our development cycles, and speak to our customers to get us closer to their daily lives and understand how they really use smart technology so we can be sure to provide the banking services they want and need. 

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