Building lasting customer relationships has many benefits, including increased revenue, positive word-of-mouth recommendations, and saving on acquisition costs. But how does one build customer relationships that truly last? In this interview series, we’re speaking with CROs and other RevOps professionals who can share their “Top Five Tips For Building Lasting Customer Relationships.” As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Curtin.
Thank you for doing this with us! To begin, can you share a bit of your backstory and what brought you to this career path?
I’ve always been drawn to opportunities where you can be involved in making business decisions that depend upon enhancing the customer experience. I’ve worked for three companies—Disney, Hewlett-Packard and Visa—before coming to Bank of America, and during my time at each, there was an existential moment where we were trying to figure out how to architect a brighter future for those companies than their storied pasts.
I’ve learned throughout my career that when it comes to building lasting customer relationships, that the companies who are best set up for the future are the ones who are thinking digitally first and trying to think through 21st century marketing practices that generate more awareness and appreciation for the products and services that those companies offered.
I think right now, given the economy and the fluidity of coming out of the pandemic, this is an incredibly vital time to adapt and grow the way we build our client relationships at Bank of America. To be affiliated with the leader in this space of banking and financial services, as we architect and author our future is very exciting.
Can you share an interesting or amusing story that has occurred to you in your career so far? What was the lesson or takeaway?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the years is to not take yourself too seriously. Especially when the work you do is very consequential and impactful, try not to get caught up in the hour-to-hour, day-to-day, meeting-to-meeting ups and downs. Instead, find a way to relish in those seemingly more mundane moments—which, I know, is easier advice to give than to take—but sometimes you need to sit back, exhale and try to have a smile on your face as these moments happen.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? Tell us about it!
At Bank of America, we have an award-winning financial rewards program called Preferred Rewards. We do loyalty better than anyone in the marketplace and we are constantly evolving the program to meet our clients’ needs.
Moving forward, we’re expanding our offerings to focus on younger demographics, clients who prefer smaller form factors, digital accounts and platforms where they can interact with their favorite brands and businesses. The opportunity ahead to interact with this generation in a way that is even more meaningful and different than what Bank of America has done in the past is a compelling opportunity for me and my team.
To that end, I think the excitement and energy our team is already putting towards stewarding these new client relationships will hopefully serve to create a positive experience for younger consumers as they choose to grow their relationship with us.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience with building lasting customer relationships?
There is a lot of temptation in marketing and sales to focus on the prospects—the customers that you don’t have. World-class brands are focused on the customers they DO have. They appreciate them, recognize them, and try to earn the right to expand their interactions with them. When done right, this can turn those customers into evangelists for the brand. If you take care of your existing customers, new ones will follow.
At Bank of America, we do that by recognizing the trust that goes into placing your finances with us. As you go up the staircase of broader and deeper engagement with us, we continue to recognize that trust. We are not cavalier about that, and we don’t take it lightly. We know our clients have choices, and we compete every day to make sure they are getting an experience that they consider valuable from us.
In today's fast-paced and constantly evolving landscape, what strategies do you employ to maintain a strong connection with your customers and anticipate their changing needs?
My colleagues and I remain connected to the client experience because we are all clients ourselves. I get feedback every day from my teams, and I welcome it. People are candid about the areas they think we should be working on to make their own banking experience better, improving the experience for all clients in the process.
Management of money is a deeply personal experience for everyone. Clients need to know they can trust their financial services provider and expect the experience to be seamless. We aim to customize that experience for each of our clients, ensuring that their relationship with us grows and adapts as they move along their financial journey.
What strategies can companies employ to strike a balance between driving revenue and profitability, and focusing on building customer relationships and loyalty?
The best companies are the ones who champion their customers. The strategy is simple: when you put the client experience at the forefront of business decisions, the revenue will follow. As we continue to adapt to the ever-changing needs of our clients, they reward us by entrusting us with a growing share of their financial lives.
Our unique relationship-based approach to loyalty, through our Preferred Rewards program, helps us create life-long relationships with our clients and has helped generate record levels of client satisfaction and retention among our members. Plus, as a member’s qualifying banking and investment balances grow with Bank of America, so does their level of rewards and benefits. This structure helps us create deepening value with those client relationships.
How do you measure the success of your customer relationship-building efforts, and how do you identify areas for improvement?
Our Preferred Rewards program members have shown us that they value their rewards by expanding the products and balances they have with us, so they can maximize their rewards earnings. Since launching in September 2014, our Preferred Rewards program has grown to over 10 million members who hold more than $1.5 trillion in assets and has a 99% retention rate.
Steve Jobs said that “a brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” We know that what clients are saying about us matters. We have a best-in-class survey program called Voices that provides insights into our clients’ needs in real time. This feedback is used to help us better understand where our opportunities for improvement lie and develop action plans to meet those opportunities. In April alone, we received 1.1 million survey responses.
Regarding customer-facing teams, what steps do you take to ensure they can deliver personalized, proactive, and efficient support, tailored to the needs of each individual customer?
We recognize that no two clients are the same. Each person has specific needs and financial goals, and they have different preferences when it comes to managing their finances. No matter how a client chooses to interact with us, our strategy is to deliver a seamless experience across all channels and to be there for them when and where they need us. We tailor our products, guidance and rewards for each client; instead of providing solutions for people like you, we suggest solutions specifically for you.
To do this, we’ve built integrated digital solutions that are both approachable and personalized, empowering clients to achieve their financial goals. Life Plan, a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive digital financial planning solution for Bank of America’s clients to set and track near- and long-term goals based on their life priorities, and better understand and act on steps toward achieving them.
Launched in 2020, Life Plan is our most rapidly adopted feature of all time, with more than 10 million clients setting up their Life Plan. This digital platform leads to more in-person engagement with our services; since launch, clients using Life Plan set up more than 2.3 million follow-up appointments with Bank of America financial specialists—both in-person and virtually—helping to inform collaborative discussions with clients about their financial goals and strategies to achieve them.
What tips do you have for responding to negative feedback from customers, and what steps can be taken to turn those experiences into positive outcomes?
There is really no such thing as negative feedback. Every piece of feedback provides an opportunity to learn and improve our offerings. Listening to client feedback and leveraging data enables a better understanding of individual needs and improves overall client satisfaction. We focus on what we are doing well, and what we’re not doing well, so we can quickly and successfully adapt.
For example, we received feedback on the number of clicks from the home page it took customers to access their benefits and how customers were alerted about new benefits they have earned. That type of feedback is important to us, because we want to make rewards and benefits as accessible as possible.
How do you use technology or AI to enhance your customer relationships, and what tools have you found to be most effective in building and maintaining them?
While we have always prided ourselves on being a leader in digital banking, the pandemic supercharged our focus to deliver a superior digital experience. It was critical that we provide digital banking solutions that were robust and powerful enough to allow clients to execute all of their banking needs remotely. We never stop looking for innovations that make the client experience secure and convenient.
We’re focused on being open, flexible and fast as we invest in state-of-the-art digital banking technology to help our clients manage their financial lives. A great example of this is Erica.
Erica is the first widely available artificial intelligence-driven, virtual assistant in financial services. Erica employs the latest technology in AI, predictive analytics and natural language to provide clients with personalized, proactive financial guidance and help make managing their finances easier. For example, Erica proactively informs clients when they are eligible for Preferred Rewards, highlights the benefits of the three-tiered membership program, and guides them through the simple enrollment process.
Year over year, more clients continue to engage with Erica through the Bank of America mobile app. In fact, more than 17.8 million clients interacted with Erica in Q1 2023—an all-time high. Just recently, Erica exceeded 1.5 billion client interactions since launch.
Based on your experience and success, what are five key components of building lasting customer relationships?
1. Be champions for your customers. The customer relationship should provide value in both directions. Companies should make customers feel like they have a champion, that they are valued and appreciated for making the decisions they have as a consumer. This will help show the customer that their feedback is desired and their decision to entrust us with their finances is of upmost importance to us.
2 . Be relentless in pursuing a better customer experience. This starts with the CEO but needs to flow throughout the organization. It should be part of the DNA of the company. Everyone on the team needs to have a relentless instinct for excellence and improvement—customers will be able to feel that you have it, or that you don’t.
3 . Listen. The best businesses are the ones that listen. While that may sound simple, there is often a big gap between collecting feedback and acting upon it. And the wider that gap is, the less value customer input is to the ultimate experience. Teams must constantly commit to taking the feedback they receive from customers and using it as the basis for improvements to products and services that make the customer experience more enjoyable—and rewarding.
4 . Invest in digital. Everyone starts and ends their days with a mobile device, so by definition, their portal to the world is digital. Today’s customers are going to base their interactions with you by what they can see and feel in the palms of their hands. No company can succeed without investing in their digital experience. It should feel just as seamless and as meaningful as any experience they would receive from your company in person.
5 . Lead with empathy. At the end of the day, we’re dealing with human beings here. I don’t think a brand should expect customers to care about their business if the customer doesn’t feel like that business or brand cares about them. Our clients need to know that if they have a problem, there is someone from the Bank on their side of the table that is eager to help them solve it.
How do you ensure that these ideas are implemented throughout the customer journey?
Our culture of client care really comes from the top and is deeply ingrained in the fabric of the organization. Every employee plays an important part in shaping the client journey and building those strong relationships. At Bank of America, we live by one common purpose and unified vision—to help make our clients’ financial lives better through the power of every connection. We’re committed to creating exceptional experiences and building lasting relationships with each of our clients.
We design our products to grow with our clients. As they take steps to grow their personal finances with us, they are rewarded in a variety of ways with an expanding suite of benefits and perks. The tiered approach to our Preferred Rewards program is a great example of how to provide a dynamic client
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
I would like to try to inspire self-belief in people. I’m a dad of three daughters and I want to make sure they know their voice can be heard. Our world is a marketplace of ideas, and the more that we empower people to know that their perspectives are valued, the better off we will be.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
To learn more about Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards loyalty program, you can visit www.bankofamerica.com/preferredrewards.
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