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Mark Mullen, First Direct: We don’t build our business on CRM

15th May 2013
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“The cardinal rule of CRM is that if you put crap in, crap will come out.”

So says First Direct CEO Mark Mullen who adds that regardless how sophisticated your CRM system is, if you’re unable to obtain correct customer details you’re not going to strike the right relationships with your customers.

“I can count on one hand the number of businesses that actually have a CRM system that can record my name and where I live and play it back to me. We talk about advanced CRM systems but at First Direct we’re dealing in an industry where we have very small outbound telephone contact teams. We don’t build our business on CRM. I wish we did but we don’t.”

Instead, First Direct pursues a strategy to be different in an industry that is heavily regulated and restricted by legacy systems. Speaking at the European Customer Experience World conference in London, Mullen explains that this strategy to be different is what defines the customer experience at First Direct.

High street banks may be the destination for the majority looking for current accounts but founded in 1989 on a principle of 24/7 365 convenience, Mullen believes that First Direct created a paradigm shift in the industry. With an emphasis on providing the very best level of service, there is no IVR on the phones at First Direct – if you want to speak to someone, a human will answer.

And benchmark reports certainly indicate that this is the kind of service that customers now demand and expect. Recent figures from the Institute of Customer Service showed the First Direct excels across all sectors in terms of customer satisfaction and considered in the top three of all customer service brands in the UK, only trailing behind John Lewis and Waitrose.

The biggest challenge that First Direct faces is deploying new technologies to embody that principle of convenience. “Translating those principles into new channels is the most intellectual problem we face. One of those challenges relates to CRM: we’re still yet to see major systems deliver on-time and on-brief,” he says.

“The banking industry is good at compliance but not good at anything else. The problems are below the waterline when trying to connect new systems with legacy systems. Every technology we add to our business adds a layer of information and a layer of risk and cost and we never take anything away.”

He concludes: “Simplicity is divinity; and getting it right and simple at the front end matters.”

Mullen recently caught up with to share some lessons in customer experience excellence. 

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