Rich Dorfman is the vice president of Customer Experience at Eastern Bank. His expertise falls in the banking, insurance, financial services, and professional services industries. He is passionate about customer experience and has a proven track record of innovating and operationalizing industry-leading CX discipline.
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Dan Gingiss: Tell me a little bit about you and Eastern Bank and what you do.
Rich Dorfman: Sure. Next month will be 13 years that I’ve been at the bank. I was a consultant to my current employer before I was an employee. And I had my own consulting company in financial services for about seven years or so. I had a chance to peek into a lot of the community banks that were my clients and said, you know what? If it came around to an opportunity to work somewhere again as an employee, Eastern would be the place. Great folks, wonderful management, a customer-oriented organization. When the financial services crisis hit a dozen years ago or so, that was the right opportunity for me. So, when I got there, I came into the marketing department with a title that was very new. It was called Customer Intelligence, of all things.
My first question to my hiring manager was, what the heck is that? He explained that it was a new role. Management wanted to create an opportunity for someone with a skill set to help our business leaders. The goal was to make better, smarter, more intelligent, quicker decisions to augment their experience. I said, OK, that sounds good. I can help them do that. And part of the onboarding process I have done in other client engagements was to talk to my colleagues and understand where they were coming from. We needed to understand what they needed, what was keeping them awake at night. I learned a lot of things in that first month or two that brought me to where I am now.
First of all, I’ve been in banking for 30 years. So it was no surprise to me that we were drowning in customer operational data. How much, how many, how long… they can cite stacks of data around that. When I asked the questions, “What do your customers want? What do they think? Why did they bank with you? Why do they not put all of their funds with you?” I was getting a lot of blank stares.
That opened up the door to me to understand that we had no experiential data; what customers were believing. There was no place that we were having a repository of that keen, important insight. That opened my eyes to the fact that, wow, we have a blank void here in terms of making intelligent decisions. You can’t just make a decision based on only that which you know about the operational understanding of the client’s needs.
You have to understand what their motivations, attitudes, and preferences are, and have that in a disciplined way. That opened my eyes up to the customer experience realm, which I then brought to the organization. Today we are now running VOC programs across all of our 15 lines of business so that our business leaders not only know what the operational underpinnings are, they understand what motivates their clients to do what they do or not do what they don’t want to do. And we bring that bridge together and it’s still, like you said, a work in progress.
But we are fundamentally more advanced in our understanding and more client-centric than we’ve ever been before. And it is absolutely helping us make better, smarter, faster decisions with the customer in mind to help co-create value with them, not in a vacuum. So that’s sort of the long story that got me to where I am here and why I’m with you today.
Dan Gingiss: Tell me something that may have surprised you or the team over the years that once you started listening and you started building this VOC? Obviously, when we ask customers for feedback, we get it. But what was something that you guys didn’t expect, but then you were able to act on?
Rich Dorfman: It’s a work in progress still. What surprised me then and still surprises me now is that even though we are good at customer service and always have been, it is not the same understanding across the board as customer experience. You can have a great smile and we do. We can be very empathetic, which we are. But the discipline of customer experience takes into account a lot more of that, and not everyone still gets that. You have to look at the things that customers do even when you don’t have a smile in front of you, the things that they see in your ads, or when they’re self-servicing on their online and mobile banking apps. It’s an entire set of touchpoints that I’m trying to create that understanding around, across our organization, that it’s the entirety of one’s interactions with the brand that matter.
The small things, not just the big things. Not just the in-person things or the voice-to-voice in our call center. I think that is still a reckoning that we have to do. Our management, our senior leaders, have to get the fact and are getting the fact now that as customers themselves of other brands, they know when things are working when things are not working. And we have to understand that there’s a constant continuity of this feedback that allows us to make course corrections along the way and to keep those listening posts activated in a way that customers want to engage with you. Not just in the way you prefer to engage with them.
It’s a battle internally as much as it is organizationally because we’re competing for resources. It takes time and effort and money for alignment around this. And those who are in the CX profession know that we are as much change agents as anything else in our job description. And that is one of the hardest things to do in an organization, especially when there are so many competing resources for attention, funds, and focus.
Dan Gingiss: Yeah, I keep thinking of the phrase “death by a thousand paper-cuts” as you were describing that. Oftentimes when we lose a customer, it’s not because of a single incident. It’s because for so long, we have just stood in their way and poked at them and been annoying and frustrated them. At some point, they have had enough. I love to suggest to people in really any industry to go through your forgotten password process. It’s probably one of the most frustrating processes to go through as a customer.
Go through your process and then tell me that it can’t be improved. Of course it can. It’s as if the process was built on purpose for security reasons to be complex and difficult and annoying. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways that you can keep the security and still make the process easier for people. I’ve had plenty of occasions where I can’t remember my password, and I get stuck, and then I give up. I’m like, I don’t want to be a customer anymore. I’ve got better things to do than to go try to reset my password at some company that I didn’t really care that much about in the first place.
Rich Dorfman: Dan, in your example, I’m actually feeling your emotion. So, the key to this whole thing is that customers are frustrated from trying to get the job done that they want to get done and they can’t do it. It’s not just the fact that they can’t get it done. It’s an emotional experience. And we need to be sensitive to that, as the practitioners, to understand that you want to be a human in this process, not just getting something done to lower the temperature and understand the issue, to fix it, and to communicate that it’s fixed. But, to your point, you need to understand the millions of little things that make up a good experience.
Any one of those things that could go off the rails could derail what could otherwise be a great experience. And sometimes when something does go wrong and you fix it and communicate it, that elevates the loyalty of that customer. But for sure, the organization that does the right thing in understanding, synthesizing, fixing, and communicating the things that do go wrong, that’s a sign of a mature CX organization that puts the customers at the center of their activity.
Dan Gingiss: Yeah, I completely agree, and one of the things that I used to teach my team both at Discover in the financial services world, and at Humana and healthcare, is difficult to hear, but I’m willing to be blunt when it matters. I would say, look, nobody wakes up in the morning wanting to come to their credit card website. It’s not a goal of anybodys. They’re there because they have a task to accomplish.
Do they want to accomplish that task quickly or slowly? They want to accomplish it quickly. OK, so why are we standing in the way and making it difficult for them to log in? And then once they’re logged in, we’re throwing pop-up messages at them and cross cells and up cells and making them click three or four times to get to the place that they wanted to go. Why are we doing all that if we know they don’t want to be here in the first place. All they want to do is just get done and leave. Let’s build the experience that way.
To Discover’s credit, that’s one of the things we did in a particular part of the experience where we made it so that people could just log in, see what they were looking for and log out without clicking on anything. Discover’s satisfaction scores went through the roof because people were like, you get me! I just wanted to do this one little thing. I wanted to be in and out so I can go on with the rest of my day. And folks, unless you work at Starbucks or Disney or some company that people do want to spend time – and more and more time – engaging with, you’ve got to get that communicated internally. Our job is to help customers accomplish their tasks quickly, and that’s going to make them happy and satisfied with us.
Rich Dorfman: Sometimes things do go wrong, or the issue is not easily solved in a self-service way. As you know, with a fraud situation, that is a difficult thing to self-serve. So that’s when you pick up the phone or you do a chat with somebody and that’s when the emotions get a little bit higher and there’s more at stake. It’s a moment of truth.
If your emotions are at their peak because there’s a fraud situation happening, your finances can be at risk. So that’s when the experience is paramount. And not only do you need empathy, but you also need the skill set to get things done. They need to be done in a way that the agent and the customer can have clarity in that communication to get the issue resolved as quickly and as efficiently as possible. But in a way, that is a human-to-human experience.
When it comes to financial services, everything is moving to digital, and everyone wants to do things self-service and fast. Sure, why not? But we know, too, that banks like ours are highly dependent on traffic into the branches. So, we need to have all of our engagement activities optimized. Especially when that issue does rise to a person-to-person resolution. We need to make sure that it’s with a well-trained, understanding, customer-focused individual who can solve that customer’s issue quickly, empathetically, and in a way that wants that customer to come back. That’s where the loyalty factor comes into play.
Dan Gingiss: For sure. We look to companies at those moments of truth when the chips are down, when there’s been fraud on our account, or when it’s time to file a claim with the insurance company. That’s when the rubber hits the road. The salesperson was great and I’m happy to pay my fee every month. But when I have a claim, then it’s time to see what you guys can do. I think we’ve learned this in spades over the last year and a half with COVID-19. Customers looked to companies that were there for them when they needed it. And we needed a lot of the companies that we did business within a different way than before. It was very apparent, at least in my experience, which companies were there, and which companies were just completely lost.
Rich Dorfman: I was just thinking about this past 18 months and Eastern Bank, like everyone else, just had to make adjustments on the fly. We had to figure out these PPP loans in literally 24 hours with very little direction from the Small Business Association. Our small community bank did more PPP loans than some of the largest banks in our area. Simply because we chose to focus on it. We created shortcuts with our Eastern Labs group to create a more manageable, facile way to get those loans in and approved. Our relationship managers were busy doing outbound calls to all of our business and commercial customers just to see how they were doing.
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There was a Herculean effort being done by our technology teams, as well as our relationship managers, to try to keep the lights on. This was true with our companies and with our consumers, too, who were fretting around fees, overdrafts, and such. We were eliminating fees for a very long period of time to console and keep these customers from going off the rails in terms of their financial stress.
It was an incredibly challenging time. And that also pertained to the employees who were also required to move offsite if they weren’t in a branch or doing critical on-premises work with the technology. So, it actually opened our eyes to focusing more on internal customer-employee experience, in addition to the external customer experience. It was a transformative time, as you probably know, both inside and outside the organization. I actually think it’s accelerated our maturity as a result of all this challenge.
Dan Gingiss: Well, and it sounds like all these people that you helped get the PPP loan more quickly, or that you waived fees for, these are the people that are going to continue to be loyal to Eastern Bank because you were there for them when they needed you. And that’s what drives loyalty. One of the best companies in the world at this is Amazon. It’s about understanding that you might lose money on a single transaction. You had a fee that you could have collected and now you didn’t, therefore, revenue is down. But when you compare that to the lifetime value of a customer that’s now going to stay with you another 20 years because you were there for them when they needed you the most, it’s a no-brainer to do that.
That’s why Amazon makes it so easy to return products. Sometimes you don’t even have to send it back to them and they just give you the refund and you get to keep the product because they know that you’re going to stay loyal to them. Because of that, it’s OK if they lose money on a single transaction. I think if more companies understood that they would be able to apply the same principles more effectively because they’d have the freedom to be able to make the right decision for the customer, even if, in that one particular instance, it doesn’t make the company the most amount of money. It’s the long-term play.
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Basically, at the end of the day, a company ends up just fine because you guys built a whole lot of loyalty during that last 18 months, even if it was a tough financial year and a half.
Rich Dorfman: Well, it was a tough year and a half. But the proof is in the pudding. Our NPS and overall satisfaction scores are at peak levels now that there’s some stability in the minds and souls of our customers. So, we’re tracking this and it’s lovely to see. Our CFO is reporting that we’re on track for record earnings because our customers are rewarding us with their loyalty by doing more business with us and recommending us more. It really is incredible to see what it’s done. It’s made our whole organization even more focused on the value of customer-centricity and customer experience.
It takes a village to create a happy customer. Truly, it does. But it also takes a village to align around this because customer experience, as you know, is still a relatively young discipline. When I started in my role in 2008, CX was barely a thing. This wasn’t even an organization yet. And customer centricity is one of the CEO’s top three initiatives in the majority of companies around the world these days. So, it’s important, but yet it is an evolving discipline that requires constant care and attention because customer expectations are always evolving and always going higher. Not just looking at your peers within the industry that you’re competing in.
You mentioned Amazon. Our customers are Amazon customers, too. And if they’re getting a great experience, then they’re expecting it from their bank as well. So, we have to bring those best practices into how we run our shop.
Dan Gingiss: I don’t think you need me here in this interview. I’ve just got to let you keep going because you are dropping some awesome knowledge bombs here. What I love about this is that you work for a bank, right? And when you think about it, again, from the consumer perspective, who loves their bank? It’s not a loveable industry. Healthcare, same thing. I’ve worked at companies like this. So, I say that with some knowledge.
You’re not Starbucks, you’re not Amazon, you’re not Disney. And yet everything that you’re saying from the CEO having customer-centricity in his goals to having it require a village to create customer experience is a great example. It’s got to be a cultural thing in the organization. Maybe we have to be willing to forgo a fee here or there in order to help the customer at a time of need. These are all the things that every company and every industry should be doing. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. You also mentioned customer expectations, which is totally right. If you spend all of your time looking at other banks for inspiration, you are not going to be very inspired. You’re going to find your inspiration from the companies that are doing amazing things.
We did a segment on our podcast, Experience This!, where we talked about Universal Studios and how much they spent to make waiting in line an experience. You go to these rides and sometimes it’s a 45-minute or hour-long wait in line. They realized they had to do something to make that wait more interesting. And anybody that’s been to Harry Potter World in Florida knows that there are people that literally wait in the line and don’t go on the ride because the line is so cool; you get the tour of the castle and that sort of thing. So, what does that mean for a bank or for whatever industry you’re in? When are you making your customers wait? Are you making them wait on hold?
My favorite example in the banking industry is when you have to wait for a letter to come in the mail because we can’t give you a decision online. We have to send you a letter that you’ll get in five to seven business days. These are moments that are the same as waiting in line at an amusement park. And you can learn some things from Universal Studios to apply to the part of your business where you’re asking customers to wait. So, this is the reason why I was so excited to have you on the show, is that I feel like there are so few in financial services that really get this and that are pushing forward as much as you guys are to change the perception of what it’s like to be a banking customer. I think that’s awesome.
Rich Dorfman: Great, thank you. Appreciate that. Yeah, I love this conversation, and this pushes my buttons when we talk about this stuff because you feel good about doing what you’re doing. And maybe I was meant to do this throughout my career, but it just was a matter of self-discovery to get into the profession of being a customer cheerleader, if you will, to get your organization aligned around this.
It’s about evolving your relationship with your customers because things never stay the same. COVID-19 has taught that in spades. We want to make sure that we are always connected to them again. When I started 13 years ago, we were having tenuous connections. Maybe a handful of the relationship managers knew what was going on, but we knew we didn’t have the interconnectivity of customer feedback and communication.
Now we’ve created an entirely new vocabulary of promoters and detractors and what customers want and don’t want and what their pain points are. We’ve created an entirely new ecosystem of data and insight that is now operationally running through the veins of our company. It’s part of our DNA now. So, we can’t rest on laurels. No one ever can. But I think that hard work in this space pays off if you stay dedicated to it.
Dan Gingiss: Yeah, I love it. So, you asked me to remind you about Kimpton Hotels, which I know always inspired you. Tell us quickly about that story.
Rich Dorfman: Talk about getting inspiration from other industries in the hospitality space. Years ago, my wife and I were celebrating a special anniversary, and we were going out to Sedona, Arizona. A magical place in and of itself on a recommendation from a family member. We said, OK, let’s make a reservation at the Kimpton Hotel. They asked me if we were going there for a special occasion. I told them, yes, it’s our special anniversary and we’re very much looking forward to it.
So, we drive into the parking lot after a long day of travel. It’s probably six or eight hours into our day. We’re tired. We pull into the parking lot, and a valet comes out. They welcome us and they saw our name, the Dorfman’s. They get our bags and told us, “We’ll bring them into the lobby, and we’ll check you in.” In the minute or so from that greeting to the time we walked to the front desk, the folks there were welcoming us by name, Mr. and Mrs. Dorfman. Somehow, they knew exactly what was transitioning from the parking lot valet to the front desk. They said, “We have your room all ready and there will be a little welcoming gift there for you.”
Sure enough, when we get there, there was a bottle of champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries with a little note that said, “Happy Anniversary, Mr. and Mrs. Dorfman.” They just blew us away with not just the niceties of all this, but how interconnected all of the touchpoints of that experience were. And that was how our entire stay was. Just that first three minutes of the arrival set the tone.
I’ve told this story probably a couple of hundred times at this point because they created a memorable experience. Yeah, it’s a hotel. It’s not a bank. So maybe they’re starting at a higher place than balancing your checkbook. Nonetheless, they create an experience that made you feel like you don’t want to ever go anywhere else. And I’ll never forget how they did that. It takes a lot of work to do that, but they figured it out.
Dan Gingiss: I love it, great example, we’ve got to get the Kimpton folks on the show, and just so you know, my dad has never used an ATM because he still likes walking into the bank where they say, good morning, Mr. Gingiss to him. So, I get it. And people appreciate the personal aspect. It’s been so much fun having you here. I feel like we could talk for hours. Thank you for bringing your wisdom to the show and thank you for what you’re doing at Eastern Bank. You guys have some lucky customers, so keep doing what you’re doing.
Rich Dorfman: Thank you. Have a great one.