TD Bank’s winning approach to customer service (Q&A)

SVP/CMO Theresa McLaughlin on satisfying consumers in the new era of banking
Theresa McLaughlin

Theresa McLaughlin

“Put the customer first” may be the mantra of many organizations, but few actually deliver on that promise. For TD Canada Trust, the proof is in the research. For the 10th year in a row, the financial services company ranked first in overall customer satisfaction on J.D. Power’s annual Canadian Retail Banking Satisfaction study.

TD is also on a winning streak with its marketing campaign, #TDThanksYou. Last July, TD set up “Automated Banking Machines” that gave pre-selected customers personalized, big-ticket gifts. The online video has more than 22.5 million views on YouTube. In its latest video, TD Bank thanks customers for letting the bank be a part of their big moments in life. In just one month, the video garnered more than 5.6 million views.

Theresa McLaughlin, SVP of Canadian marketing planning and CMO of Canadian banking, auto finance and wealth, talked to Marketing about how TD stays in tune with its customers, the so-called death of the bank branch, and why TD wants to be more like Disney.

What is TD doing right in the area of customer service?
Everyone talks about being a customer-centric organization, but TD really lives that day in and day out. A big part of what we’re doing right is we listen. We spend time really talking to our customers and understanding what their needs are, which are changing. In a fast-paced world where customers are interacting with us through many different channels that didn’t exist just 10 to 15 years ago, the most important thing for us is to keep up with what our customers say is important to them. And we do that on a regular basis.

Can you talk more about your own customer research?
The method we use is a proprietary method of measurement. We have our own technique that we have developed and that we can evolve every year to make sure we’re truly staying on the pulse of what customers tell us. But what I will tell you is we measure end to end. We don’t just expect that when customers walk into a branch that it’s the only place of interaction. Literally everyone in the organization from top to bottom is incented to, and measured on, how we serve our customers back and forth… Our measurement is extremely robust in terms of giving us real-time information so that we can continue to take our game to the next level to serve our customers.

What does today’s banking customer want and how does TD meet their needs?
The interesting part about research and talking to our customers is that the underlying themes don’t dramatically change over time. Service is defined in the eye of the beholder. At TD, we call it ‘comfort’ and we constantly refresh that messaging… Our brand position has been [around comfortable banking experiences] for quite some time. But what we’re focusing on today and what customers are telling us is, ‘if I don’t walk into a branch what does a comfortable banking experience feel like on my mobile phone?’ So we’re constantly developing new innovations that provide that service.

One example is being able to pay your bills through your phone. We didn’t just say ‘look, other competitors have this service, let’s just duplicate that service.’ We’ve thought about it and we’ve said, ‘what are the pain points in that?’ We’re spending a lot of time on the customer journey, which is thinking through the entire experience of using a product and service. An icon in this area is Disney. Who would have thought that parking your car should be a part of the experience of going to the park? Yet it is. And calling their phone centre and hearing Mickey Mouse answer the phone. It’s all part of that end-to-end journey. It’s not just going on the rides. They pioneered that early on and banks are beginning to catch on to that and say every part of the process needs to be thought through.

Going back to mobile banking, one of the pain points we learned was that sometimes when people are taking a picture of a cheque for remote deposit, unless you keep the camera very steady, you have to redo it two or three times. We found out that was a pain point, so we put a stabilizer into that service to make it easier to get it right the first time. It sounds like something small, but when you ask what our secret sauce is, it is that customer detail.

Your recent marketing campaigns centre on real customers and surprising them with things that are meaningful to them. Can you talk about the strategy behind that and how you bring your focus on customer service to life in your marketing?
For years we have been celebrating our customers through an annual customer appreciation event. We’ve done that in small ways, whether it’s coffee and donuts in the branches, etc. But we really took it to the next level last year when we did the TD Thanks You campaign… It was all about celebrating our customers and bringing that to life for them.

This year we picked a theme that was very topical on social and that’s the concept of nostalgia. Throwback Thursdays has really taken off on social media and it’s a fun way for people to look back on their lives. Our customers are doing it and they want to celebrate those moments in life. We thought as their financial partner, we have been there through births and starting businesses and other huge milestones. So we thought, ‘what better way to thank our customers than to help them bring that to life?’

Is part of your strategy to reach millennials?
Millennials is certainly a target for us… We study that group carefully and understand what’s important to them. They interact with the bank very differently than the baby boom generation, for example. What’s important to us is that we’re serving them in the way that they choose to be served. So this whole notion of omni-channel becomes really important to us. We’re not going to force them to use an ATM or a branch or use a phone: we want to enable comfortable experiences that you can start in one channel and finish in another.

A recent survey by Accenture found that retail banks play a less important role for consumers and millennials are most likely to switch banks. How are you addressing the threat of switching among millennials?
I’ve seen the same research and they talk about lack of loyalty with millennials. I don’t think it’s about lack of loyalty. My understanding is they want to connect with brands that have a higher purpose and that have meaning and connection to their lives… We are a purpose-driven brand. We give back to the environment, for example, which is hugely important to the millennial generation.

People make decisions not just based on prices and products. TD is never going to be the bank that competes just on price or products because competitors can do that. We really want to have an emotional connection with our customers and we know that for millennials that’s hugely important.

As people have migrated to online banking, what is the role of bank branch now?
This is the long-raging debate in banking – is the branch dead? The interesting part that we have seen is that customers—millennials included—need a branch. They want to know that there is a branch there when they need it. They may not be using it as much as they used to, and statistics bear that out. Transaction volume is down overall in banking in branches, and that’s true for us as well. But if you think about the omni-channel experience, it’s the connection between the channels. Customers want to use the branch when they want to use it, they want to use the phone when they want to use it, and [there’s a] connection between the two.

Do you feel TD has become truly omni-channel, or is there still work to be done?
There is certainly work to be done because I don’t think anyone knows what omni looks like yet. I think that we are continuing to stay on the cutting edge of what’s a fad versus what’s important to our customers… We talked about the Disney experience. That’s really our goal. We want to understand what’s working in that process and what are the pain points. We want to do the customer journey work, which is a fancy way of saying really talk to our customers and watch them experience products and services, and then make sure that we’re delivering things that are excellent. On that journey we have made terrific progress, but we’re certainly not done.

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