It starts with employee advocacy. Strong leadership, clear and consistent messaging and building pride internally are all essential.
Today people look for company recommendations from those employed at the organisation, not only as a place to work but also for their products and services.
This is particularly true in banking and it’s a more effective way to build market share and loyalty than the old-fashioned method of throwing money at advertising. It is also something I did not fully understand 30 years ago.
Advocacy, as Sir Martin Sorrell was the first to say, is an evolution of advertising. You need happy colleagues and happy customers because they recommend you to new people. Our approach now should be to look at how we go to market and what we do in order to stimulate advocacy.
Events at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which is still 73% owned by the UK taxpayer following the financial crisis of 2008, have led to a deep phase of introspection where we have had to assess our culture and values.
What we need are fully engaged employees and there are indications we are making fantastic progress. We are now closer to the norm for financial services globally. And on some of the indicators, such as the tone from management, we are well ahead of the financial services sector and pushing against some of the best performing companies in the world.
Someone who joined this company 15 years ago would have been working for a small Scottish bank and would have seen it become the biggest bank in the world in 2007; bigger in brand value than many of today’s top companies. Then came the crash and the government rescue.
This is a company that has been through dramatic growth and the trauma of the financial crash, and our first step has been to restore our colleagues’ faith in the business.
That is one reason why we are changing our focus from the main RBS brand to our family of strong customer-facing brands: from wealth management experts at Coutts to Natwest for England and Wales and Ulster for Ireland. We also have powerful small brands, such as the military bank Holt’s.
In Scotland, we have already moved back to the Royal Bank of Scotland branding. That is the bank brand that people have traditionally had a strong relationship with and it’s the brand that people were once proud of, and they can be today.
The RBS brand will remain but will be a quieter, more considered brand for our employees and investors. Our central purpose across all our brands, however, is to serve customers well and become number one for service and advocacy by 2020. We recognise this is an ambitious target but we are determined to earn back the trust of our customers.
As part of that, we are conducting a root and branch review and are offering our customers a simpler and fairer service. For example, we have removed teaser rates from the market and no longer offer 0% balance transfers. We have also recently introduced home insurance products on the same basis and reduced our fees and charges to one page. The goal is to make sure that we are transparent and fair in all our dealings with customers.
Principles are not principles until they start costing money, so this is having an effect on our bottom line but it is also generating a positive response. This shows how serious RBS is about doing the right thing for its customers and putting their interests first.
We are also working hard to meet the needs of digital customers. We were among the first major banks to launch Apple Pay and have the highest net promoter score for our mobile app, building advocacy with customers aged under 30.
We know that consumer expectations are changing and they want banking to match the fast pace of their life. We are also looking to speed up and simplify our processes and to make sure our customers can bank with us wherever and whenever it suits them.
We are under no illusions that the road to rebuilding our reputation will take time. The first step is to build trust and engagement starting with our primary stakeholders: the people who work in our business.
Our tracking data shows that we are making progress but this is just the first step on a longer journey.
David Wheldon is supporting the WFA’s Project Reconnect, which champions what’s good about marketing and showcases its impact. The Project intends to improve perceptions of our industry. Follow the cause at: @WFAReconnect and @WFAmarketers