Companies typically make changes to their products and services to improve the customer experience – be it throughfeatures discounts, enhanced services or perks. However, sometimes they are forced to make changes that they know will make customers unhappy – whether it is meant to cover costs, increase profit margins or because of a change in policy. Two examples of how two very different banks approached this challenging problem provides guidance of what to do (or not to do) when you have to break the bad news.
Customer experience approaches when making unpopular moves: learning from Monzo
Take for example Monzo, a U.K. challenger bank, which announced in 2017 that it was to start charging a percentage fee for ATM withdrawals abroad, which were previously completely free. While this was an unpopular move, Monzo had a compelling approach: they communicated the imminent change, explained the reasons behind their choice and asked their customers to vote for their preferred pricing option. Monzo also gave the opportunity to members of their community to suggest a different way of structuring the fees. The explanations given included the reasons why the charges were necessary (to make the bank sustainable as FX fees rose) as well as a clear description of what was going to be impacted and what was not (e.g. they made clear that there would still be no charges for use at point of sale machines abroad). Inevitably, not every customer was happy with the move, but Monzo definitely opened up a transparent dialogue with their customers and their approach was impressive and is worth examining further.
Compare this to the approach taken by Bank of America, the U.S. based incumbent bank. Earlier this year, Bank of America introduced a $12/month fee for online checking accounts which were previously free. The charge was only applied to some of Bank of America’s customers – and because this fee applied only to those depositing less than a certain threshold – they were accused of targeting those on low incomes. The move resulted in substantial backlash on social media, including Bank of America customers who were not online checking account customers but vowed to leave the bank over the issue. Additionally, an online petition against the change obtained 383K signatures.
So, why was there so much backlash about the introduction of fees for Bank of America and more importantly, what can we learn from Monzo’s approach?
When we compare these two events, transparency is a key differentiator. Monzo approached their customer base upfront and in advance about their plans, explaining the reasoning behind them (to make the bank sustainable as FX fees rose). This approach was transparent and reflective of Monzo’s CX focus. Bank of America’s messaging did not – as evidenced through the indignace of the responses on the change.org petition – effectively justify the change, surrendering the narrative and allowing its customers to infer whichever agenda they wished. This lack of transparency made the situation far worse from a CX perspective because it bred resentment and allowed speculation to run amock. Following the backlash, a Bank of America spokesperson said that the bank was not aware how many of their customers would be impacted, indicating that the move was not fully calculated with the customer in mind.
By contrast, the understanding that Monzo’s foreign ATM withdrawal fees would be charged to help “to build a sustainable, viable business” steered the narrative in a positive direction, influencing the way in which customers viewed the introduced fee.
Another strength of Monzo’s approach was that its communications were abundantly clear: not all transactions internationally would be impacted, only ATM withdrawals. It ensured that the customers knew what would remain free and what would not. Part of Monzo’s ethos is to make banking simple and easy to understand, which is exemplified in this situation. By contrast, Bank of America did not clearly communicate that not all of its low income customers would be charged and did not explain that certain account activity would exempt them from the charge, which may actually have mitigated a portion of the backlash.
Giving a voice to the customer
Finally, Monzo’s decision to give the customer a voice went a long way with getting them on board with the change. When announcing the changes, Monzo emphaised this in their announcement, claiming that 6,000 members of the Monzo community voted for this outcome: £200 free allowance at ATMs per month, with 3% charge for foreign withdrawls thereafter.
The examples of Monzo and Bank of America emphasise crucial CX points to companies attempting a move which may be necessary, but is likely to be unpopular with customers. But what should we conclude? Well, first of all, customers appreciate transparency from their bank, and more importantly transparency allows the bank to influence public narrative over the change. Clarity when adding additional fees is crucial. Monzo ensured emphasis on what would remain free: avoiding confusion and resentment building among its customer base. Finally, this example shows us the value of giving a voice to the customer. Monzo consulted its community, listened to responses and ultimately made a decision based on what their customers felt would be best, truly making the best out of a (potentially) bad CX situation.