Chris Pope, ServiceNow’s vice-president of innovation during a recent visit to Toronto. Photo by Paul Darrow.

Published: August 15th, 2019

Most companies assume they’re giving customers what they want. In reality, they couldn’t be further from the truth.

Eighty per cent of chief executive officers believe they deliver superior customer experiences, but only 8 per cent of their customers agree on this – it’s a statistic that has lingered since 2005 when it first appeared in a Bain & Company survey. But it remains relevant today. As businesses grow, they frequently lose touch with their customers and struggle to find out why they became customers in the first place, pointed out Chris Pope, ServiceNow’s vice-president of innovation during a recent visit to Toronto. Rapidly changing customer buying habits and values add further disruption to the equation.

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“The generation that’s coming into the workforce now has very different views of the world and different views on how work gets done,” he said.

Steady growth can prevent executives from spotting the opportunities that lie elsewhere, but unlike a few years ago, before the stampede of vendors operating under a subscription-based business model, the consequences of a company fixated on the numbers and not on the experience were less severe. Customers were either locked into a long contract or unable to find an alternative. Now they can jump ship and sign up with a different SaaS vendor within minutes. The big banks falling behind in the Uber-fication era – also known as the era of people expecting things quickly through an app – have had to start sharing the table with fintechs, leading to what is perhaps the clearest example of what happens when the customer experience suffers, said Pope.

No matter what improvements banks have made to their online services, people still want to call in and talk to an agent, he pointed out. Sadly, trying to reach an agent can be a nightmarish task, and it’s exactly why fintechs and startups are “eating banks’ breakfasts,” indicated Pope.

“Fintechs and startups discovered how to do one thing, and one thing very well,” he said.

As a startup, Toronto’s SecureKey realized there was room to improve how people interacted with online services. In 2012 it was awarded a government contract to develop SecureKey Concierge, a convenient and private way for citizens to use their online banking login to access government services online. It’s used by more than 1 million Canadians today.

Mark Saunders, EVP and CIO for Sun Life, talks about the value of strategic partnerships. He points to their own partnership with SecureKey and its http://Verified.Me platform. Photo by Paul Darrow.

SecureKey has since moved on to create Verified.Me, a similar service that allows users to sign up for a wide variety of online services using their online banking credentials. Last year, one of the oldest insurance companies in the world signed up for the service, instantly simplifying the lives of existing clients and rapidly attracting new ones. Suddenly, Sun Life Financial didn’t have to worry about committing massive amounts of resources to simplify the onboarding process for new clients, and instead, gained the freedom to shift the majority of its focus on refining the customer experience.

“Partnerships have the power to push new solutions to market, open the door to new clients and help organizations surpass the usual barriers of scale by taking advantage of the core competencies of each participant,” explained Sun Life’s executive vice-president and chief information officer Mark Saunders.

Creating customer experiences that are easy to use is complicated, but according to Pope, one of the most important parts of any solution today is the ability to connect it and “balance functionality with costs”. Sometimes the answer lies internally, sometimes it’s through a partnership.

“It’s what will help you take an experience from good to great,” he said.

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