Customer retention strategies for the new economy

They say, “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush” …and the same can be said about customers in a portfolio. Studies have shown time and again that the cost of acquiring a new financial services customer is many times higher than the cost of keeping an existing one.  
Retention has always been an integral part of portfolio management, and with the market finally on an upward trajectory, there is all the more need to hold on to profitable customers. Experts at CEB TowerGroup are forecasting a combined annual growth rate of over 12% for new credit cards alone through 2015. Combine that with a growing market with better-informed and savvy customers, and you have a very good reason to be diligent about retaining your best ones.
Also, different sized institutions have varying degrees of success. According to a study by J.D. Power & Associates, in 2011 overall, 9.6% of customers indicated they switched their primary bank account during the past year, up from 8.7% a year ago. Smaller banks and credit unions did see drastically lower attrition than they did in prior years: just 0.9% on average, down from 8.8% a year earlier. For large, mid-sized and regional banks unfortunately, it was a different story with attrition rates at 10 to 11.3%. 
It gets even more complex when you drill down to a specific type of financial product such as a credit card. Experian’s own analysis of credit card customer retention shows that while the majority of customers are loyal, a good percentage attrite actively—that is, close their accounts and open new ones—while a bigger percent are silent attriters, those that do not close accounts but pay down balances and move their spend to others. 
Obviously, attrition is a continual topic that needs to be addressed, but to minimize it you first need to understand the root cause. Poor service seems to be the leading factor and one study* showed that 31% of consumers who switched banks did so because of poor service, followed by product features and finding a better offer elsewhere.
So what are financial institutions doing to retain their profitable customers? There are lots of tools ranging from easy to more complex e.g., fee and interest waiver, line increases, rewards, and call center priority to name a few. But the key to successful customer retention is to look within the portfolio combining both internal and external information. This encompasses both proactive and reactive strategies. 
Proactive strategies include identifying customer behaviors which lead to balance or account attrition and taking action before a customer does. This includes monitoring changes over time and identifying thresholds for action as well as segmentation and modeling to identify problem. Reactive strategies, as the name suggests, is reacting to when a customer has already taken action which will lead to attrition; these include monitoring portfolios for new inquiries and account openings or response to customer complaints. In some cases, this maybe too little too late, but in others reactive response may be what saves a customer relationship. 
Whichever strategy or combination of these you choose, the key points to remember to retain customers and keep them happy are:
  • Understand your current customers’ perceptions about credit, as they many have changed—customers are likely to be more educated, and the most profitable ones expect only the best customer service experience
  • Be approachable and personal – meet customer needs—or better yet, anticipate those needs, focusing on loyalty and customer experience
  • You don’t need to “give away the farm” – sometimes a partial fee waiver works
* Global Consumer Banking Survey 2011, by Ernst & Young


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