Credit Suisse learns about customer experience from top down

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BOSTON - There is a lot of talk about the customer experience these days, but unless you have actually called your contact center and asked about an online order or filled out a credit card application you cannot empathize with your customers.

That was the message from David McQuillen, vice president of customer experience and voice of the customer at Credit Suisse, Zurich, Switzerland, in his keynote speech here yesterday at the Annual Conference for Catalog and Multichannel Merchants.

Asking the executives of a Swiss bank to call their contact center or to open an account in one of their branches is like taking them to the dentist "because they do not want to do it," Mr. McQuillen said.

Nonetheless, he started a customer immersion program at Credit Suisse with the blessing of the company's CEO after he realized that surveys about the customer experience did nothing to bring about change. Executives, he said, look at the results and say "Thank you" and you go through the same process the following year.

So Mr. McQuillen tried something else. At one presentation he placed a telephone on a stage that was miked into the audience. He asked one of the executives to come up on the stage and call their contact center and ask for something.

There was "terror on their faces," Mr. McQuillen said. He quickly realized that executives in the room had never called the contact center or visited a branch to open an account.

Perhaps Mr. McQuillen's greatest achievement has been in persuading Credit Suisse to make its branches more accessible to the disabled. It was no small accomplishment in a country where the public voted down a referendum that would require businesses to be accessible to the disabled.

"If you have a disability [Switzerland] is the Stone Age for rights for the disabled," Mr. McQuillen said.

The idea to offer equal accessibility came from an employee who is visually impaired. Mr. McQuillen developed a business plan highlighting the 350,000 people with disabilities in Switzerland, but executives at Credit Suisse did not respond well to it.

That was when he decided to apply the customer immersion process.

First, Mr. McQuillen and his team tried experiencing what it was like sitting in a wheelchair all day.

"It had nothing to do with doors and hallways," he said. "It had to do with dignity and the way people treated you."

So he invited 50 executives to a presentation about the accessibility strategy and put them in a room where they could sit in a wheelchair, learn about what it was like being blind and deaf from people who were visually and hearing impaired, and wear a special suit that made them feel as if they were 75 years old.

The company's CEO went into the room as "the greatest opponent to the program and came out its greatest champion," Mr. McQuillen said. The CEO initiated a program to make Credit Suisse more accessible.

Some of the initial results include the addition of wheelchair accessible ramps in front of bank branches and Web site certification that signifies the company's Web site is accessible to the visually impaired. Browsers can use screen readers that magnify type or read the type aloud.

"I'm convinced this wouldn't have been possible without taking the executives through the customer immersion process," Mr. McQuillen added.

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