Guide – how Building Society customers and staff can gain mutual benefits from portals

LondonA lot has been written and said about portals – but you’d rarely associate them with the Building Society sector.

Portals aren’t just windows. They’re not just access points into companies either. They’re all about information – fast, efficient ways of placing all the details staff and customers will ever need at their fingertips. Nowhere is this more important than in financial services, where competition for customers is great, regulation is tight, and the quantities of data held are vast.

What follows is a short guide to how building societies can make portals work for their business and for their customers.

1. Happy customers, happy staff

Getting a ‘single view of the customer’ is part of the standard CRM mantra. Trouble is, when the necessary information has been gathered via a number of channels and is scattered around over various systems, it seems more like management theory than business reality.

It’s a huge barrier to customer retention in a market that’s more competitive than ever. Needless to say this is an area that has never been more difficult, nor more of a priority, for most building societies.

Portals allow staff to access all of a customer’s historical details in real time via a single interface, regardless of where, when and how the data has been acquired. What’s more, they enable the sales team to develop tailored marketing prompts for effective cross- and up-selling opportunities. So staff become not only more effective but also more motivated, as everything they need is a click or two away.

Externally, building societies can use portals to provide relevant, tailored and up-to-date information to their customers. It’s a way of harnessing the speed and flexibility of the Web with the personalisation of one-to-one customer service – a key differentiator in what can be an extremely tough market.

2. Old systems aren’t always bad systems…

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the old adage goes. And it has to be said that many systems still do their jobs extremely well. Equally, the costs of upgrades can be extremely daunting when you consider the expenditure and hassle caused by porting so much data across to new data warehouses and CRM systems.

Building societies obviously hold a great deal of customer information. Trouble is, often it’s located on disparate, unconnected systems so consistency, access and overall knowledge can fall short of the
required standards.

The answer could lie in putting a fresh face on old technology. By introducing portals into the organisation, a building society instantly provides users with a flexible user interface to draw information from legacy systems, and return on investment is fast and guaranteed.

3. Tackling corporate disintegration

Portals are particularly suited to a legacy environment, as they enable users to draw data from multiple sources, consolidate it and display it in a format that’s most appropriate for them.

By focusing on the front end and linking it effectively to systems in place, integration costs are lowered and there’s no need to duplicate information across servers.

4. Addressing the efficiency deficiency

In short, portals allow employees to do their job effectively and efficiently. Of course, this is what every technology has claimed since the dawn of the micro chip, but portals have greater justification than most in this area. A single, tailored front end means users have everything they need at their fingertips, eliminating lengthy searches and maximising efficiency.

To add to this, single sign-on across an organisation ensures that users only have to log in once to a single interface in order to carry out any task they’re authorised to do (as well as keeping them out of areas where they shouldn’t have access). Fast, efficient, secure access without the hassles usually associated with a distributed computing environment.

5. Creating the catalyst for collaboration

The success of an organisation lies increasingly in how well it collaborates with partners. No company is an island nowadays, we’re all part of an extended enterprise incorporating suppliers, partners and regular customers.

Typically, building societies have a large number of external parties which they need to liaise with – from IFAs to insurance companies – and this can create management headaches. What if, for example, financial advisors don’t have access to the latest offers? How many potential sales do you miss in
this way?

Portals are crucial to developing and strengthening these relationships, as well as making them as seamless as possible. They allow common access to a central site – in real-time – adhere to accepted and pre-determined security standards and combine the delivery of shared services with the ability to enable autonomous operations.

6. Selling more by selling smarter

To sell products and services, it’s a huge advantage to know key details about the customer and deliver relevant information and offers to them – fast. Portals provide easy, tailored access to CRM systems and information, as well as marketing databases and financial information. This means building society sales assistants have access to all the ammunition they need – in a split second – to tailor and close sales.

On top of this, they can also deliver automated prompts on new, enhanced or complementary products to the salesperson or customer. This makes both parties’ lives a whole lot easier and provides invaluable support to the
sales process.

Combine the cross- and up-selling opportunities that portals provide with the in-depth customer knowledge at staff fingertips, and the potential opportunities immediately become evident.

7. Consolidating the known, the unknown and the essential

In any business situation where information is required, there are three key criteria: the stuff you know, the things you don’t and the guidelines you have to follow to make sure everything is above board and legally proper.

By using a portal, employees can access all relevant data, as well as call up information that was hitherto unknown to them. In this way, they can make decisions based on a full, rounded picture.

By building compliance procedures into the front-end interface and automating them in response to given prompts and triggers, building societies can ensure they follow FSA regulations to the letter in every process they carry out. Portals are also an effective way of communicating accurate and up-to-date information to intermediaries, so the details given are
always correct.

8. Know your enemy

Portals aren’t just there for building and consolidating internal
intelligence – they’re also a highly effective tool for finding and distributing information about the market to the business as a whole.

Through the use of portals, building societies can, for example, collate their competitors’ rates and offers and monitor for press releases on defined subjects. They can then react to these or ensure that everybody follows the company line on responses to them.

9. Empowering employees

‘Singing from the same song sheet’, may seem like marketing talk, but it’s a crucial element of customer service. People calling the help desk don’t want a conflicting message or service when they go in via the Web. Portals can help by creating a common method of categorisation and delivery, and therefore enable businesses to deliver standardised messages across the organisation.

In addition, portals provide building societies with a common enterprise search facility, so that two staff, for example, who are looking for identical information in two different buildings will find identical data. By giving each employee access to these powerful yet standardised tools, building societies can quickly create a highly knowledgeable, consistent workforce pulling together for the same goals.

Additionally, by incorporating e-learning facilities into the company strategy and deploying and managing these through specific portals, businesses can rapidly increase staff skills in a controlled and highly-managed environment.

10. Satisfying the financial department

As well as the operational benefits outlined above, portals have a number of crucial financial and management-based benefits that can provide real value to the financial department. They can assist with tracking processes and activities, monitoring key performance indicators, providing alerts for predefined conditions and ensuring the consistency of value messages throughout the organisation.

So whilst employees and managers have more powerful tools and accurate information at their fingertips, it will never be at the expense of hitting targets, maintaining consistency and moving the business forward in line with strategy.