Measurement & Analytics

9 ways Aussie Home Loans made CX transformation and culture stick

Head of strategy and customer experience transformation programs talks us through the key steps required

It was when strong year-on-year growth rate levels started to slow that alarm bells began ringing for the team at Aussie Home Loans.

With a number of external factors impacting the wider banking and broker industry at play, from the Royal Commission to new competitors entering the market and consumer behavioural change, Aussie knew it had to do something different in order to win over customers and fulfil growth ambitions.

So in 2019, the business embarked on an end-to-end customer experience (CX) transformation to rebuild the way consumers perceive the brand. According to Aussie Home Loans head of strategy and customer experience, Liz Fowler, despite an NPS of 73.5, experiences were inconsistent and fraught with unmet expectations.

“From a logical perspective, any business outcome comes back to a customer making a choice,” Fowler told CMO. “For example, when a customer chooses to go to a bank versus a broker to understand their home loan alternatives. I wanted to understand why, if they went to a bank, they chose that path given brokers have access to a range of options. It’s the same if they choose to go to a broker – why us versus other brokers? And if they do come to us, why do they potentially drop off along the way? All of those things we could see in the business metrics – the clues are all there.

“Just consider marketshare – what you’re looking at is customers choosing where to go. Breaking that down further, there’s conversion points along the sales pipeline.

“Adding the customer element into the sales pipeline helps you see why those numbers are occurring. And if you understand why, you can influence the drivers and business outcomes.”

Aussie’s concerted CX effort incorporated executive leadership through to systems, processes, measurement and technology kicked off. Here, Fowler dives into the steps taken to transform the approach.

1. Build foundations through research

Aussie’s CX transformation project kicked off with a foundational piece of qualitative and quantitative research, undertaken with Forethought Research, into the needs and expectations of customers. Importantly, research explored the factors and drivers in their choice so the Aussie team could start to influence them.

The research revealed 72 per cent of business is driven by repeat customers and referrals, factors primarily influenced by CX. The research also showed Aussie had the highest brand awareness but much lower conversion rates.

“That then interacted with our qualitative and quantitative research to give us our quantified customer expectations along the journey. We then overlaid their pain points on that end-to-end journey,” Fowler said. “What we ended up discovering from the research was the most important points of the very long and protracted home loan journey quantitively, plus the most important stages in that journey to customers, therefore impacting business outcomes.”

Aussie previously followed a ‘journey’ in terms of sales process. What was different here was the language and customer’s perspective of those key stages. Changes to broker induction training and ongoing training programs ensued, repositioning the stages of journey from the customer’s perspective.

“For example, there is that ‘dreaming and exploring’ early phase; then that appointment, which is a moment of truth for customers and where they are evaluating whether their choice in broker is right or not,” Fowler said.

Subsequent dives into customer feedback also showed there was an ‘epiphany’ moment with the broker where they were seen as a hero by the customer. “That’s something you can really amplify,” Fowler said.

“Often, people think market research stops at the qualitative phase. But you can’t take action unless you have quantitative research off the back of that. That was critical for us to changing people’s perceptions and focus.”

2. Use customer stages to prioritise work

Having secured quantified data on the impact of customers’ needs and expectations on a business outcome specific to the home loan broker market, Aussie also had a clear handle on which stages were the most important to focus on and fix first.

“We knew out of the five stages within the journey, one of those accounted for 36 per cent of overall conversion, while another was 32 per cent. Yet a third was just 4 per cent,” Fowler continued. “So it becomes easy to prioritise when you focus your activity.

“We did that with the executive team, looking at the full journey. We knew we had a list of strategic projects we wanted to do and plotted against that customer journey to show where they might have most impact. Where one would only impact on that 4 per cent stage, we could delay that work versus focusing on would deliver the biggest bang for buck. That is what quantitative research allows you to do when you know those customer expectations.”

3. Reset the business purpose

Another spoke to the CX wheel was recreating Aussie’s purpose overall to be customer focused.

“We built that into strategy, taking action from there,” Fowler said. “That’s where human-centred design and all the different triggers come into play throughout that customer journey, the ideation, prioritisation and the activities and fixes. You reimagine the experience versus just fix the pain points. The final step was measurement and how we impact the CX. It’s a very cyclical thing, and it was critical to get all that working.”

4. Get whole-of-company buy-in

This was also instrumental in getting organisation-wide buy-in for change. “Buy-in doesn’t occur unless you start to engage right from the beginning and right from the top,” Fowler continued.

“We had to ensure our CEO was bought into this. Luckily, he was naturally customer-centric, but he was also sales driven. It was being able to work with him that saw him leading that customer-driven purpose across the business. Once people saw him speaking about customer, it became natural for them to then hear from the rest of the executive team plus head of strategy around CX programs we had in place and that we wanted their help to deliver.”

But organisations equally need a groundswell of support from cross-functional teams and the people at the coalface to orchestrate CX change. To achieve this, Aussie set up a customer champions group, incorporating people from across the organisation.

“We educated these employees on customer experience and the technical nature of it so they could take that knowledge back to their business unit,” Fowler explained. “We also got their input on customer problems we wanted to solve each month and discussed these via workshops. We used their skillset to solve problems in a practical way. That led to most of the frontline changes we made.”

Fowler’s team reached out to every department to ensure the broadest representation possible, back-end and front-facing. This sat alongside a small CX team established as part of the transformation, along with a newly created chief customer officer role leading the charge. New specialist roles were created by repurposing existing employees and hiring new CX specific skill sets including human centred design and advanced insights roles into the business.

5. Have governance and accountability in place

Another innovation was establishment of a customer forum. This put customers at the centre of a human-centred design innovation process driven by continuous learning principles.

Fowler described Aussie’s approach as ‘speed over precision’. While many organisations think they need to wait for heavy technology investment and elaborate business cases, the home loan broker used the in-depth research to develop a robust strategy and just started executing. As CX capability developed, the team could demonstrate the ‘why’ behind each CX improvement project.

“You can understand the customer, put a strategy in place, have champions chatting away about things and have these individual workshops to come up with solutions and measure progress. But if you don’t fix the root cause of problems at a process level and hold people to account on what their commitment is, at that exec level, the program will just fizzle out,” Fowler said.

Aussie’s customer forum had a charter, executive-level representation and employed a governance structure already in place across an existing broker forum.

“This ensured the customer forum reported every month to the board through the risk forum and committee. Risk teams were so onboard because customer outcomes are at the heart of mitigating risk,” Fowler said. “That provided governance, but importantly, transparency of customer issues and accountability for people closing out what they said they would do.”

6. Respond to every piece of customer feedback

Then there was improved capability for listening and acting on customer feedback. Historically, Aussie had not been tuning into customer feedback to drive decision making.

“We realised there was an NPS survey going out via the marketing team, but it wasn’t tied to action or results,” Fowler said. “We built a daily ability to close out any customer complaints and compliments. It has to be a two-way street with the customer every day.

“Rather than address the 10,000 surveys sitting there, we set up a spreadsheet and asked for volunteers across the organisation to go through the feedback and scores n recorded the day before. That group decided who would close out the actions for that and who would make the customer call, whether it was a broker or internal contact centre.”  

Initially a manual process, it quickly became clear Aussie needed a CX management system to automate and driven better analysis of voice of customer (VoC) insight. The business rolled out InMoment’s technology platform – but not before the team had processed nearly 30,000 pieces of feedback manually.

The platform brought with it natural language procession (NLP)-based text analytics to unlock greater context. A real time close-loop program was established to turn detractors into promoters. 

“It was a good thing we got the system in place and that’s where ultimate accountability of closing out actions comes in,” Fowler said. “A customer fills out a survey via the InMoment technology and we have all the right programs behind the scenes happening automatically, plus reporting that spits out whether the action has been closed or not.”

Throughout the journey, Aussie has leveraged VoC data and driver modelling to demonstrate opportunity areas and then prove results, hence justifying continued investment in the transformation.

“We also built this into KPIs. That’s another important part of cultural change,” Fowler said.

Off the back of this, regional sales manager case closure rates have gone from 13 per cent to 100 per cent. And again, reporting is driving a culture of accountability for customer outcomes, demonstrating the value of closed loop processes.

This program of work led Aussie and InMoment to be recognised with the Best CX Transformation Award in 2021 at the CX Awards.

Read more: Why H&R Block is upping the ante on voice of customer

The do’s and don'ts of voice of customer programs

How REST revitalised its voice of customer program

How Carsales lifted its CX game through a fresh voice of customer program

7. Take reviews seriously

It wasn’t just about NPS data, however. A conscious effort from the beginning was personally responding to anyone who took the time to review Aussie’s products online.

The first focus was on the Product Review website. Actively encouraging people to have a voice and improving CX saw Aussie’s consistent low score of 2.3 out of five stars consistently climb to 4.7 out of 5 across more than 3000 reviews.

“What I love about that is you get to read the customers’ stories and see what they’re saying day to day. That’s the power of social media and world we live in today,” Fowler said.  

8. Choose the right metrics for your business

NPS is often referred to as the one core metric that leads all CX. Initially, Fowler’s team challenged that.

“But when we got the results back, we decided it absolutely is for us. Recommendation, referral and repeat business drive 72 per cent of the market we operate in. Just over 30 per cent within that is to do with repeat business,” she said. “If people aren’t happy, they won’t come back and you’re going to miss out on that whole bucket of business. And if they’re not happy, they won’t tell their friends. And it becomes either a virtuous cycle or a declining one based on the voices and feedback you can see online.

“You do have to make sure NPS is relevant for you and will make a difference. It’s not right for everyone – it happened to be for us because of the elements that are driving our market.”  

Over the first 18 months of the program, Aussie’s NPS score lifted from 73.5 to 82.2, an 8.7-point increase. Response rates were another important engagement metric, lifting from 8.4 per cent to 17 per cent. Repeat customers are up 25 per cent year-on-year, unique customers grew 2.7 per cent and record loan settlements have been realised, increasing by 11.5 per cent.

9. Keep evolving your CX approach

Aussie’s CX transformation program phase might be done, but that doesn’t mean the CX approach isn’t continuing to evolve. In May 2021, the group merged with online broker, Lendi, leading to a new business structure. Most recently, Fower has taken on the head of home lending remit.

“I’m taking that CX knowledge into new programs – it’s a skillset people can take into business-line ownership jobs, powerful knowledge and I’m building it into what I’m setting up now,” she said.  

CX commitment has been paramount to Aussie’s approach through the bushfires as well as Covid-19 pandemic.

“If you are going to put the customer at the heart of everything you do, it’s sticks no matter what the changes in the external environment,” Fowler said. “If you have the listening posts and the systems of responding to customer feedback and what changes are happening in their lives, it evolves from there.

“Having a customer-centric approach meant the second Covid hit, we were having standups with our executive team about the impact on our customers and specific stories we were able to surface. Because we had all the systems in place and importantly brought that to the forefront of our culture, everyone just knew what to do and what support to give to our customer when it was most needed.”

CX thinking remains a cornerstone of daily decision making, Fowler said. “If you have the customer truly at the forefront of what you are trying to do and are trying to do the right thing by them, it becomes a much easier decision for the exec team to make,” she added.

“People notice executives making those decisions, then they start to take those down into their day-to-day dealings with customers too.”

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