Recently I celebrated a birthday and found an email in my inbox, which – much to my surprise – was a birthday note from a restaurant that I had only visited once before.

In the note, the restaurant wished me a happy birthday and offered me a free three-course meal at my next visit. It was indeed a lovely surprise, but my immediate thought was “Why didn’t I get such a note from my bank, my insurer or my super fund?”

At a time when financial services firms are focused on creating and maintaining the optimal customer experience to build member engagement and intimacy, we might forgive them for overlooking the simple things. The simple things, those that do not require hundreds of staff, months of planning and execution or a lot of money, may not be seen as a priority in a multi-million dollar fund.

However recent CoreData research found there are three key elements of an optimal customer experience:

  • Easy escalation – customers can easily access information to resolve questions or issues and escalate depending on complexity
  • Effectiveness – customers get value from the experience through relevant, up-to-date and useful information
  • Emotional engagement – customers feel good about the experience

Financial services firms tend to be better at the first two.

Most firms recognise that there is a need for a website and possibly a live chat function for less complex questions or issues, as well as a call centre and a possibly a branch or an office for more complex questions or issues.  Most firms also spend considerable effort making their communications as relevant, up-to-date and useful as possible.

It is the last element where we find that some organisations are better than others. Here there is room for ‘hero’ brands to carve out a competitive advantage. Emotional engagement involves empowering staff to resolve questions or issues in the customer’s best interests, as well as proactive contacts to anticipate customer needs through, for example, predictive analytics.

Granted, this could be difficult. But it does not have to be. One of the simple things that firms can do is reach out to customers on their birthdays and provide them with relevant and useful information that relates to their life stage and preferences. This information could relate to saving and budgeting tips, paying off debt, wealth accumulation, taking care of family or living a comfortable retirement.

We all know the mantra that customers are real people and not just a number. We may not know everything about them, but every ‘real person’ has a birthday. Why miss the opportunity? After all, like the saying goes, it’s the thought that counts.