What it took to give Perpetual a digital facelift

Website overhaul is 'first and most important step' in digital journey, says its senior manager of digital content

Perpetual's John Joyce
Perpetual's John Joyce

Like a lot of companies, being old isn’t good enough anymore for Perpetual, its senior manager of digital content, John Joyce, said.

The challenge was the financial service’s Web presence and customer-facing interactions at the 130-year-old company were getting old and tired.

“We were facing into a whole lot of customer issues that a company with a great tradition doesn’t necessarily have itself set up to deal with,” Joyce told a crowd of attendees at the Sitecore Trendspot 2017 event in Sydney.

Perpetual is a financial planning business specialising in high-worth individuals, and manages the investment of native title trusts, 1000 charitable trusts, as well as corporate trusts. It’s also one of the biggest owners of Australian shares in the country.

“We are now competing in a space where there’s tons of information available, where fintech is a threat to all of us, where even our large, old competitors like the Commonwealth Bank, for example, are highly prized for their technical skills,” Joyce said.  

“We are dealing with clients who are increasingly ready to go hunting for information on their own, who aren’t waiting for us to tell them what to do. We are traditionally a company that cares very much about the individual, so we needed to integrate that with providing services in a digital fashion.”

The organisation recognised clients are now looking at Perpetual through multiple devices and are “willing to experiment”, Joyce said.  

“They aren’t just going to stick with Perpetual anymore because we have a good brand name. They are looking at other companies who have as good brand names; they are looking at companies who are coming in from overseas,” he said.  

Consumers are also no longer comparing companies to their direct industry competitors, but the user experience they get at companies like Uber.

A mandate for change

It was clear it was time to change. What really got things going, in addition to ever-increasing customer demands, was the fact Perpetual received a negative score after hiring outside consultant, Forrester, to do a customer experience rating.

“The point we were trying to make to our executive and board is that the customer experience at Perpetual, largely through our website, was so poor it was actually affecting the brand,” Joyce said. “Our competitors were starting to look a lot better than us, even though we were performing as well, if not better than them.

“We had to change pretty quickly because with each passing year, we were getting worse and worse.”

The first step in Perpetual’s digital journey involved a complete overhaul of its website.

“For some, that might be old school or something you did yesterday, but it was a big step forward for us,” Joyce said. “The thing that happened as soon as we built that website is that people who had been quite sceptical about the value of it, or not really helpful in creating it, suddenly kept saying to us, ‘What’s next? What are you going to do next?’”

For Joyce, trust is a key factor in determining customer service. “If your website isn’t good and you don’t deliver the right information to your client, then the trust you’ve built up with that personal contact, quickly goes out the door,” he said.  

Moreover, the implications of a substandard website can permeate across the entire organisation.

“If you’re website is outmoded, the people who work on your website, who work creating content, are going to think in that outmoded way. They are going to think in small spaces,” he continued. “I can’t put a video on this article. I can’t put in an infographic. Nothing I want to do I can do because the website is so bad. So you are affecting the whole influence of the organisation, particularly the marketing function.”

Perpetual’s website overhaul was complicated as the three-silo business had nine different business segments. “We threw out something like 600 pages. There are thousands of pages on the website. It took a lot of work,” Joyce said.  

The company also had to build for mobile. “We have an old client base, a rich client base, but we also do a lot of work in high-net worth. And some of the chronically high-net worth people in Australia are doctors. So mobile is very important to us for an interesting reason - we do a lot of work with medical specialists,” Joyce said.  

Changing mindsets

Perpetual’s website overhaul, which Forrester reviewed six to eight months after launch, offers an enhanced customer experience thanks to enriched content, including video content of advisers running the charitable trusts. The company has also tapped into its 800-strong database of medical specialists and created a series of videos featuring medical specialists talking about their financial positions, a powerful tool to win the ‘trust’ of medical experts and turn Perpetual’s ageing database into a strategic asset.

“We have gone from being the worst site in our competitor set to being in the top 3 per cent, as assessed by Forrester,” Joyce said. “We got the job done - and then we got lots more work straight after that.”

Website traffic has increased by nearly 30 per cent, with 37 per cent growth in community, a 30 per cent increase in engagement, 32 per cent new visitors, and a 13 per cent increase in returning visitors. 

“People spend longer there. They don’t get there and then run away, as they used to do,” Joyce said. “Those are the key immediate metrics for us. Forrester told us the client experience was working, and the people who came to the site seemed to be enjoying themselves when they got there.”

The website facelift has also provided an engine for business growth. “Thanks to the arrival of the new website, it not only changed what we could do in the digital space, it changed the mindset of the company,” Joyce said.

“It’s not just functionality or capability, but a mindset shift. We now think about the website in a completely different way, and our digital channels in a completely different way,” he said.

As an example, Joyce said the company is now advertising on Facebook, doing syndicated content, and exploring personalisation as a way to improve the ‘nurture cycle’ when keeping in touch with clients.

“It is not genius on our part, but it is just giving our clients the ability to interact with us in the way they want to,” he said, adding 87 per cent of new clients now come through a combination of an interaction with a digital channel and a human channel (BDMs and financial advisers).

Next cabs off the rank are marketing automation, lead generation and lead nurture. 

“As a business, culturally, I still think we have a lot of work to do in terms of turning the start we've made in digital into making Perpetual a digital business,” Joyce said. “But it's a lot better than we were a year-and-a-half ago.” 

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