Customer Loyalty or Customer Acquisition?

Watch Mark Mullen, Chief Executive Officer First Direct, speaking about customer journey, employee engagement, customer-centric approach, customer loyalty and customer acquisition and much more!

What part does employee engagement play in the customer journey? Is it possible to deliver a great customer experience without employee engagement?

Not really. I think it's important that your people feel as valued as your customers, in the service business especially, because they're the primary contact that you have with your customers. If they're not motivated, if they're not engaged, it's hard to understand how they're going to give their best and be up for it. And let's face it, all jobs are monotonous to an extent. You've got to be a bit imaginative and a bit ingenious to keep people excited, and just to make the days interesting. So all of us suffer from the ups and downs of coming to work on a Monday, and a bad day, or whatever. So it's all the little things that you add together that keep people engaged and interested. It's hugely important.

How do you inspire cultural change at First Direct? What has to happen for an organisation to embrace a customer-centric approach?

It's a great question, I think, for another business. It's not such a good question for First Direct because my challenge at First Direct is inspiring cultural continuity. It's very easy, if you're in First Direct, to give up on some of the things that you believe are important to the spirit of your business. But we've always been very different from the industry, and we've always been very different from other brands and other banks.

So it's about protecting a culture, nurturing a culture. It's not about building walls around it, because you've still got to be connected to the world outside the window. But, really, it's about valuing it and standing up for it, and how do we do it? You know what, we all do it. There are 3,000 of us. And it's a very open, very honest, culture. There's not a great deal of hierarchy. If somebody doesn't like something, they'll tell me.

How is technology changing the way that you engage with your employees, and what impact does that have on your customers?

It's difficult for me to tell you what impact it has on our customers, but I can certainly tell you that our employees are as connected to the world of technology as our customers and as anyone else, and you forget that at your peril. So they have their social media networks and they have their digital networks and they have their personal physical networks, as it were. I think, to be effective, you've got to be participating in as many of them as you can.

But, and there is a but here, you're not here to intrude. So a lot of our people, in fact all of our people, me included, have a life outside work, and that's a life outside work. And we have, then, a life within work. And then there's that grey area between the two of them. And you have permission to be there in that middle ground, but you've got to be very careful, because you're not there to watch, you're not there to listen in. You're there to participate, but do it respectfully.

You've got to respect the boundaries of your work and allow people to have the freedom to be who they are when they walk outside the building. Hopefully, if you get it right, there's no schizophrenia about it. In fact, you find people who are consistent and bring their whole selves to work, so that you get true characters. And you've got to be very, very careful about involving yourself in a conversation where you weren't invited in.

What is it about First Direct's culture that makes it so unique, and how does that affect the overall business operation?

If I were to serve up one word to describe the First Direct culture and what makes it unique, it would probably be family. The longer I've spent in the business, the more a sense of family that I get from it. And with the family there are all the positives of support and nurturing and care and fun, but there are also some of the overheads, the negatives, the frustrations, and the fact that people have to sometimes tread on tiptoe around issues.

In the end, we're in it together, and that feeling that it's us against the world, or it's us against the man, creates a hugely robust team that you really only find in families. You forgive families so much more than you might forgive other people because, at the end of the day, it's family and that's what makes First Direct unique, I'm quite sure of it.

What is your primary focus - customer loyalty or customer acquisition?

I've got a really neat way of answering that question because, certainly, one-third of our customers join through recommendation. And, actually, half of our people join the bank because a friend recommended them. So the loyalty of the people you've got today... As a friend of mine once put it, you've got to dance with the one who brung ya; it's massively important.

And if you are loyal and if you do look after the customers and the people, the employees, that you've got today, and if you get it right, they'll bring more with them. And what is more powerful than word of mouth? Because the age of advertising and making claims, I think, has evolved to the point where you get so bombarded that what do you believe? But you believe a friend. And so I think you focus on loyalty and the rest follows.

If you were going to give one piece of advice to a financial service in 2013, what would it be?

I made a comment in the presentation I made earlier which was about how you organise your business. If you don't organise your business around customers, it's very hard to understand how you're going to become customer-oriented. And that may seem like such an obvious thing, but how many meetings do you attend where the focal point of all decisioning is through the customer, as opposed to through the product, or through the price, or through the risk. You've got to think about the structures and how you make decisions, because if the customer's the way that you make the decisions, then, actually, over time, you're going to become a more customer-oriented organisation because you can't help but do it. So that's what I do ' I change the way I make decisions in my organisation.

Who is you all-time hero and why?

My all-time hero is Abraham Lincoln. And I know he's in the news at the moment, but I'm a history graduate, so I studied history, and he freed people. What's not to love about that?