Leading Customer Experience Consultant Christopher Brooks discusses CX matters with Scott Fleming, the Chief Customer and Commercial Officer with the Bank of Cyprus UK…


Scott, thanks very much for agreeing to meet up and share with readers the value and role Customer Experience is playing for the Bank of Cyprus UK. The crossover of commercial and customer in your role must give you a great perspective on creating ‘value’, but first, for those less familiar, perhaps you wouldn’t mind starting by sharing an introduction to the business.

Scott:  The bank’s been operating in the UK since 1955. Originally it was a branch of a parent company, but now it’s a regulated company in its own right, authorised by the PRA and regulated by the FCA and PRA.

The business has evolved over time from its origin of being there to service the Cypriot community in the UK. Today we offer a range of deposit products and banking services for both the retail and business markets. We have developed a deep expertise in business lending, such as professional Buy-To-Let and Property Development Financing, and we have recently extended our range of products to include residential mortgages.

We are recognised by property entrepreneurs, business owners and retail customers as a challenging alternative. Our mission is for our customers, communities, and our people to prosper.

We are a business based on the strength of our people. Our people are key, not only because of our community-based heritage, but because they make our service stand out and differentiate the bank. Relationships are integral to what we do.

Do your customers typically have an association with Cyprus? And how, if at all, does that impact their banking Customer Experience expectations?

Scott: A significant proportion of our customers do have some connection to Cyprus, which is unsurprising because of our history – it’s where we’ve come from. We also have a significant number of Cypriot residents who hold an account with us. The link to Cyprus continues to be important to us.

For example, we help meet the needs of Cypriot students coming to study in the UK, by allowing them to set up accounts prior to relocating here, which makes for a smooth arrival in the UK and start to their studies.

However, today we find ourselves extending way beyond this. We have a growing number of customers who have no connection to Cyprus. In addition, we are extending our coverage throughout the UK. We have opened several offices throughout the UK to support our business growth.

In addition to London and Birmingham, we now also operate in Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and Brighton; and these locations were chosen for their proximity to businesses that would benefit from our offering.

We’ve started from a community, but we have grown, due to the quality of our service. Our customers have the same expectations of their bank as anyone else, and our purpose, first and foremost, is to fulfil our customers’ needs and help them realise their ambitions.

Having had the pleasure of meeting your Chief Executive Nick Fahy a couple of years ago, I know he is very committed to adding customer value through Customer Experience. How important would you say it is to have backing from the very top?

Scott: Absolutely critical. No one else in the business will take customer value seriously if it doesn’t come from the CEO and his top team. For example, the first item the senior team discusses at every meeting is the customer. It’s always the first topic on the agenda and permeates through other agenda items such as sales, regulatory changes and competitive/economic landscape.

Having worked at several retail banks, I haven’t seen that anywhere else.

That makes a strong point to the rest of the company. According to research by Prof Dr Phil Klaus, companies can be classed as Preservers, Tranformers, and Vanguards, according to their commitment to and proficiency in Customer Experience. With those at the top end maximising the ROI from CX. Where would you say you are against that scale?

Scott: I’d say our ambition is to be a Vanguard. We are beyond what I’ve seen at other companies. We don’t just focus on fixing what’s broken.

We are more than preservers, I would say we are a Tranformer because it applies to everything we do. Whether developing propositions, improving processes, optimising customer journeys, or other essentials, we are always looking to improve the experience for our customers.

For us CX is not a project, and it can’t be seen as just that. ‘Customer first’ is one of our five cultural values of the business. It impacts everything from our induction process, through to the business strategy, development plans, roles, and responsibilities.

At UK board level, the customer agenda is presented on a quarterly basis. We provide updates on our progress and our KPIs in CX which are our regular NPS and Effort <CES> scores to show how we are progressing. We also have additional metrics, but these two are key board views of Customer Experience performance.

We share what’s been delivered and what’s planned in the in next quarter with the board. They will challenge our plans to make sure we are ambitious enough. However, they will also make sure we operate at the right pace so we don’t over promise. By doing so they are safeguarding the bank’s reputation.

You’ve been in your role for 18 months. In your time, how has Customer Experience moved forward?

Scott: The set-up of our Voice of The Customer programme happened just as I arrived. This programme delivers a benchmark for measuring customer experience.

Using the programme, we’ve been able to build our understanding of what drives key metrics such as NPS and CES. We’ve built other KPIs which, along with these two, are now tracked, reported and action plans are set each month for every function in the business. Our people care about hitting, and exceeding, targets because they know it means customers are happy with us.

There is a great ethos in the company – the customer is always central to what we do. We run customer forums with employees from all business functions. We look at the anecdotal feedback we receive from customers, not just complaints but mentions of inconvenience, as this is an early indication of where we can improve.

As a retail banking company, how are you finding the arrival of new ‘Internet of Things’ technology and the adoption of self-serving customers?

Scott: We will achieve our vision because of our people. It’s about our people, being supported by appropriate technology. If we can use technology to make doing business with us easier for customers we consider it. But we are careful how we develop things. More important is the employee engagement aspect. We need our employees to understand how technology helps our customers to bank with us.

As we extend our reach with our small business proposition, we will be evolving our digital support accordingly. As customers come on board through pure digital channels they will have different expectations of the experience we provide. We must adapt to that as well.

How do you keep the customer-first agenda alive within the organisation? What tools are you using to keep customer insight fresh and optimised for decision making?

Scott: ‘Customer-first’ has been a valuable focus for the last 18 months. It’s embedded from induction, but we also have regular awards for teams, for individual, for doing the right thing, for being your best etc. It’s important to have the customer embedded into celebrating success because it engages and motivates people.

We also run staff forums and surveys to gather suggestions on how we can do more for customers. We have very good VoC feedback rates, but staff hear things that aren’t always captured in VoC feedback, so we operate multiple means of feedback.

Being transparent about our customer experience performance is important, so we communicate directly with our customers on improvements we’ve made as a direct result of their feedback. We’re also developing a new set of ‘customer promises’ which we hope to launch soon, but these must be meaningful to our customers.

In addition to our relationship NPS measurement we’ve chosen to focus on Customer Effort rather than a transactional NPS. We feel it’s more meaningful to get a read on how hard or easy it is to do something with us.

In retail banking it’s often the ‘stress’ and ‘anxiety’ points of pain for customers when your CX must work its hardest. Is that fair or do you have positive moments where the Customer Experience can shine through?

Scott: I’d have to agree. Customers just want their bank to work the way they expect it to. Customer Experience is mainly focussed on reducing anxiety and stress points which can occur in customer journeys. We are building our taxonomy to better understand context and sentiment as well.

Customers want us to take care of issues. They expect us to take action when it goes wrong for them. You need to make contact as easy as possible whilst ensuring good security. You make a real difference when you make the customer experience simple.

Reflecting on the year behind us, are you where you want to be with your CX strategy?

Scott: Yes, we are very pleased. There are many regulatory changes occurring within financial services, particularly with the arrival of PDS2, GDPR, etc. All these initiatives directly impact Customer Experience. It is essential that we keep the Customer Experience in mind as we incorporate and adapt to new regulations. Ultimately, these regulatory changes are opportunities for improving the Customer Experience.

This highlights how far you’ve come with Customer Experience to be considering customers along with tech advancement and compliance adherence. Do you see Employee Experience as an essential part of this as well?

Scott: Yes, Employee Experience goes hand-in-hand with Customer Experience. We are always trying to improve on our Employee Experience and we are looking at how we improve team working across business units and work more closely together.

We are creating an internal service culture – serving one another. Which includes looking to embed awards and remuneration to make CX more than a number. With an effective employee engagement model in place, employees can do even more for our customers.

As you are making progress with Customer Experience, who do you look to for inspiration?

Scott: We obviously keep an eye on our direct competitors, whether they are dealing with business or retail customers or both. We are all striving to differentiate ourselves from the big banks by providing a better Customer Experience.

Beyond this we share great stories throughout the business based on personal experiences about the differences people can make in almost any industry. We care about our people so it’s important to find and share good evidence of CX that reinforce the importance of personal service.

As CX matures at the Bank, what will become the most important focus?

Scott: It is then about keeping it alive. When you’ve made the important changes, it’s a marginal gain business. I liken it to Dave BrailSford’s approach with the Team Sky cycling team – get the fundamentals right and then look for  one percent improvements in areas that are being overlooked by others. The cumulative effect of small gains will add up to a remarkable improvement.

If we can ensure we have good levels of interaction, and keep delivering small and meaningful changes to delight our customers, we will be a success. This will also make sure our employees are engaged and enthusiastic. It’s important not to have CX tucked away as another function. It has to be embedded across the business in order to sustain CX and succeed.

Finally, if you had the chance to go back and tell yourself one piece of advice when it comes to driving CX forward, what would that wisdom have been?

Scott: I would say gather even better quality data on customers, much more beyond the transactional level normally associated with banks. For instance, enhancing your data with social media sentiments relating to what matters most in customers’ lives, away from their transactions and interactions with us. All you are trying to really do is understand what your customer expects from you and how you can exceed those expectations.

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