Designing Services for the People: An Interview with Bank of Ireland

Companies in today’s business climate understand that they risk market share and revenue if they do not have a customer-centric approach. Customer-centric businesses and innovation don’t just happen out of a vacuum—they are intentional. Many companies say they do these things, but rarely do they put into action what they tell their customers.

With an “all good intentions” mindset, many businesses try to take a customer-centric approach. But they often forget the most vital element: the human. That is where the practice of Design Thinking comes in—aligning complex problem solving with a consideration for people and their needs. Design Thinking is a human-centred approach that aims not only to fix a problem but also to discover solutions and actions that will lead to a better status in the future.

At Genesys, we can work with customers who share our passion to create the best customer experiences and build solutions that make it easy for customers to do business.

I had the opportunity to host a Genesys event with Bank of Ireland, a Genesys customer who is passionate about building their business seamlessly into the daily lives of their customers. Transforming established enterprises, especially ones like a financial institution, can be daunting. However, Bank of Ireland has bridged the gap between design and business.

In my interview, Aine McCleary, Director of Direct Channels at Bank of Ireland, explains how the bank translated design-led solutions into the language of business and the boardroom.


Q: Design Thinking often can be a humbling experience, especially for established institutions. How did you approach this and transform it into a business practice?

McCleary: Design Thinking in Direct Channels at the Customer Care Hub of the Bank of Ireland is about putting aside our own biases, harnessing the voice of the customer and listening to what matters most to them.

We handle approximately 16 million customer contacts each month—14 million across online and mobile; 1 million proactive SMS messages; and 780,000 contacts across phone, email, chat and video.  As you can imagine, the contact centre is rich with customer data, which allows us to better understand requirements, pain points and what works well. We can use these insights to ensure that we continually improve and enhance our services to better meet and exceed customer expectations.

Our selected approach is to apply Design Thinking to everyday service management. It is not something that takes people away from their scheduled activities; I believe it works best when you embed it throughout the process of everyday activities.

To do this, we ensure that empathy is a key recruitment and training competency, and something that is embedded into how we handle every customer interaction. We use our front-line team to define problems and work within their teams to ideate and prototype solutions. We believe in a quick test-and-learn process, which is underpinned by a continuous pivot process that we measure and adjust on an ongoing basis.

It’s a customer-led approach that empowers our people to listen, understand, support and fix.

Q: How have you successfully put this customer-led approach into action?

McCleary: Team Problem Statements: Each team develops its own local problem statement, such as “What’s the biggest pain point for the customers you support?” As a team, they define a problem, a solution and work locally or within the wider organization to fix the issue. This may mean the problem gets solved through another part of the organization, but the team owns the change and ensures that it delivers benefits for their customers.

Coming to Ireland Team: This is a new Universal Advisor team setup, providing sales and service support to customers returning to Ireland or customers moving to Ireland. Through listening to customers and staff who joined us from other countries, we noticed a challenge with the basics, such as setting up a current account, setting up new car insurance, or finding and procuring new property. This customer segment need was different than our mainstream customer needs, and it had to be handled differently.

The Coming to Ireland Team was established late 2016, and offers a dedicated support service to this customer segment. The team is empowered to support customers through the product set-up process by delivering these services and offering additional support outside of the banking ecosystem for things like driver’s license, culture, local clubs, etc.

Repeat Caller Team: This team was deployed in 2016 to help the contact centre better understand why customers are not adopting Digital Channels, and instead choose to call the contact centre repeatedly.

These customers were transferred to this team when they called. The team had access to extended customer information via the Genesys Agent interface (IWS) to understand the customer’s interaction history e.g. last three reasons for calling, and last digital login.

The team are empowered to spend as much time as needed to support customers through the digital process, and to take full accountability for addressing other issues that drive customers to call repeatedly. We’ve had a very successful outcome with customers transitioning to easier ways of banking, increased customer satisfaction, and a reduction in repeat calls.

This team has evolved to a sandbox-type model to enable the contact centre to test new ideas in a controlled environment, where we continue to pivot until we have the right model to roll out to the wider contact centre.

Q: Traveling is a huge part of my role, and there is nothing that makes me feel more vulnerable and panicked than when I think I have lost my wallet. Luckily, (knock on wood) I have not had the misfortune of losing my wallet or having it stolen while traveling. But others are not so fortunate. How does Bank of Ireland use the voice of the customer to design solutions that help customers during distressing times?

McCleary: Through the voice of the customer (listening and in meetings), we established that customers most emotional contacts are when they have suffered theft or fraud losses on their accounts. The main issues they encounter include:

  1. Being without immediate funds in an account;
  2. Having a card that was canceled and a new one issued, leaving them without this facility for a few days.

A dedicated customer support account was set up for this very purpose. Front-line advisors are empowered to assist customers who face these difficult circumstances.

We have had situations in which customers traveling abroad have been subject to theft—leaving them with no cards to access their funds and no cash. In this instance, our advisors can transfer emergency funds for collection, for example at the nearest Western Union. We also developed a wider checklist to support customers with their immediate needs. If their wallet is stolen, for example, we text a checklist where to report other bank cards stolen, where to order a new driver’s license, etc.
This gives you a sample of how using the design thinking concept has helped us launch many new services in a rapid, controlled way by empowering and engaging our front-line team. It’s important to point out that, for this to work, there must be a commitment from top-down to embed this new way of thinking into the company culture.

Making the Shift to a Customer-Centric Practice 

Many of the initiatives that the Bank of Ireland team have put into place seem straightforward from the customer point of view. But it is a major shift for traditional institutions like banks to transform how they do business—from one-way transactions to a 360-degree relationship. It takes the entire organization—from front-line, customer-facing team members to internal operations teams—to design, organize and support these initiatives. It truly takes a village.

At Genesys, we have adopted the Service Design practice to create SMART, which has use cases to help our customers streamline their implementations. SMART doesn’t offer best practices; it takes the time to discover and clearly define the vision of business outcomes.

How are you innovating your services? I challenge you to adopt human-centric design practices, such as Design Thinking and Service Design, to better learn how customers interact with your organization so you can identify their unmet needs.