Westpac: Lean in to complaints to transform your CX

Westpac took to the stage at Forrester’s Annual CX event in Sydney to talk complaints

Most business might consider complaints negative and something to be avoided, but Westpac has decided to ‘lean in’ and use complaints to transform its organisation and customer experience (CX)

In the wake of the Financial Services Royal Commission, all banks are facing some regulatory and customer-instigated changes. Smart banks are using it an opportunity to change the way they service their customers. 

Westpac took to the stage at Forrester’s Annual CX event in Sydney to discuss how it is using the 40,000 customer complaints it receives each year in order to transform itself. 

“What if we transformed the negative connotations around complaints and instead welcomed them, to make them something positive?” Lisa Pogonoski, general manager of customer resolution at Westpac, said. 

Pogonoski, who has been with the Westpac group for 25 years including as chief customer officer at BT Financial, said the complaints-handling team was buried in the organisation and needed to be brought to the fore for it to be effective at not only addressing customer complaints, but in actually instigating change across the group. 

From July last year, Pogonoski combined all the customer complaints teams across the entire group into one, and embarked on a transformation of culture, process, and infrastructure.

The team staged a 50-person in-depth interview with complainants and a 1000-person survey to better understand customer complaints and how they are dealt with across Westpac 

As you might expect, the news wasn’t great: Customers had to engage with 8.3 separate people, on average, to get their complaint handled, with some customers having to deal with up to 20 people. 

“Not surprisingly, customers enter the complaints process in a negative state, but not always because of the actual problem, but also because they had to speak to so many different people within our organisation just to get it resolved,” Pogonoski said.

“Customers were also saying we weren’t empathetic to their problems. Customers expect complaints to be handled in five days or less, but only 46 per cent were dealt with within five days, and 80 per cent of complaints involved dealing with multiple staff,” she said. 

“Customers also felt in the dark about the status of complaints, 68 per cent of expectations were not met, and 51 per cent had no proactive update. We weren’t communicating with them.”

However, Pogonoski said, complaints can drive value for an organisation, because one in four customers change financial institutions post-complaint. 

She undertook a strategy to transform complaints under the umbrella of Westpac’s overall ‘Service Revolution’. This involved four key aspects: Culture and customer connections, service excellence, priority support, and root cause and complaint prevention.   

“We use insight from complaints to improve our organisation moving forward,” she explained.   

“Culture and customer connections was an important one, and involved taking something hidden and bringing it front and centre. There is a willingness within organisation to deal with complaints, and we focused on the perception of complaints.

“They are a second chance to drive opportunity for customers. Previously, we didn’t have all teams logging complaints as they should. So we empowered teams to ‘spot it, log it, solve it.’ As a result, 93 per cent of employees completed complaints training in three months. We saw an initial increase in complaints, which was expected, because more were being logged. We saw a cultural shift very quickly to an organisation that welcomes complaints.” 

Westpac also changed its websites to make it easier to complain, created a series of complaints tools, and thanked customers for giving it the opportunity to respond. The bank has since seen a 22 per cent reduction in solution time in 1H19. It now empowers branches and contact centres to get it right before it goes to the complaints team, and it surveys all customers around complaints. 

A vulnerable customer action plan was also implemented within priority support. 

Moving forward, complaints are now being used to transform the organisation. 

“We took the burden of root cause of complaints from the complaint handlers. They need to deal with CX, so we created a separate team to analyse those complaints. We found we had group-wide issues, but no one owned many of them,” Pogonoski said. 

“We get all of our complaints data and feedback into one system, and analyse the hell out of it to create improvement across the organisation. We are only nine months in, and we are looking at key game changers. We have already seen the transformation of complaints, process and systems, and are doing very well on cultural transformation.” 

Technology being used includes speech analytics in contact centres, which will be rolled out across complaints handling in the future. AI analyses verbatims and negative sentiment; however humans still categorise all complaints when they come in. The AI technology is being used to read verbatims as well, so the AI can learn as it goes. The complaints are being bundled with the some 2 million phone calls the organisation receives every year, to give richness behind the data and to provide a case for why change should happen. 

“We are not at level maturity yet where we have every piece being analysed, but we are we are looking at what customers are also saying in NPS and customer satisfaction surveys,” Pogonoski said.

“We are bringing it all together and by leaning into complaints, we are getting a rich source of feedback. These customers are happy to tell us what’s wrong with the organisation, they are open to the conversation, and they are happy to be engaged. Don’t be afraid to call a customer who has complained.”

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