Understanding customers has always been the very core of customer service. Yet, getting this right in practice and responding to customer needs is no easy task.
Aware of the challenge, HSBC not only continues to groom a strong team of professional frontline staff, it has also perfected a sophisticated customer relationship management system (CRMS) to strengthen customer rapport.
"Every customer is different," notes Susanna Cheung, head of retail banking, personal financial services, HSBC. "Therefore, it is important to build an individual portrait of each customer. In this way, needs analysis can be more tailored, and we're more likely to gain behavioural insights. This helps our staff apply predictive analytics to build effective relationship strategies."
The CRMS database prepares staff from different functions of the service chain to take proactive steps to address customer needs, thereby enhancing rapport.
"For instance, when a customer phones our centre indicating an interest in certain products, a personal file will be opened. When the same customer walks into one of our branches, our customer service staff will be able to access the file, identify areas of interest from the system and address the situation proactively," Mrs Cheung explains. "Similarly the system can alert us when a customer's fixed deposit expires, and our financial planner can then approach the customer to gauge interest in other savings products."
In essence, anticipating real customer needs and responding professionally and coherently in a timely fashion are unbeatable customer care initiatives.
Interpreting analytical data from CRMS clearly requires a team of professional financial planners and customer service officers.
To maintain its solid reputation as a customer-centric bank, HSBC has a comprehensive set of ongoing development programmes to ensure staff act on the CRM knowledge in ways that foster trust with customers.
In addition to helping staff attain the necessary qualifications, Mrs Cheung says that detailed programmes on specific products help planners to keep abreast of the latest product developments.
"We also equip staff with wide-ranging market knowledge, including analysis of the financial products offered by competitors, so customers can profit from their panoptic view of the market and gain optimal financial benefit," explains Mrs Cheung.
Besides ensuring financial planners are technically competent, the development programme also covers soft skills such as communication and presentation skills that are necessary to build good customer relationships and project a professional image. Mrs Cheung adds that with the support of the customer profiling information system, these well-trained financial planners can gather customer information from a wealth management tool to identify any investment or protection gaps for customers.
The comprehensive nature of HSBC's retail banking arm, with the emphasis on the interdependence of analytical tools and proactive staff set against the supportive backdrop of a banking goliath, has put HSBC analysts in pole position at the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (the HKIB) Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards.
Organised jointly by the HKIB and Career Times for the third consecutive year, the competition recognises top professionals in the field.
Mrs Cheung says the competition is a good benchmarking experience for industry professionals and HSBC offers additional in-house training opportunities for the bank's financial planners preparing for the competition.
The first round of the 2008 assessment was announced in August, and eight HSBC financial planners were awarded a certificate of merit.
Mrs Cheung attributes this achievement to the bank's holistic approach where both professional service and sophisticated customer analysis tools contributed to making trusting relationships possible.
At HSBC, investments in service are not restricted to technology and employee training. The bank recently reiterated its commitment to delivering quality customer service with the renovation of the Mongkok flagship branch. Mrs Cheung remarks, "The new design and decor of the branch enhances the retail experience and demonstrates our commitment to improving customer service."
The 54,000 square foot flagship branch operates 12 hours a day from 8am, breaking the traditional norm of banking hours. "More importantly, it demonstrates how much we care about our customers and their banking experiences," Mrs Cheung concludes.