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Episode 5: “Knowing Your Peers Through Competitive Benchmarking” with Michael Ellison, President of Corporate Insight

“How do our communications compare to our peers?” This is an all-too-common question that we receive, but it’s an important one. Having insights into competitors’ strategies can assist with idea generation and building a case for a communication redesign. Matt Swain and Corporate Insight president Michael Ellison discuss the strategic value of monitoring competitors’ bills, statements, and other communications.

The Evolution of Corporate Insight:My dad started the company back in the early 90s. He left the marketing research world and started on his own, doing focus groups and surveys and so forth. He was working on a project for a financial services company, and they asked to see if he could get statements from some of their competition. Essentially, they wanted to benchmark their statement relative to what the rest of street was doing. The only way you can really do that is by having accounts at these firms, and the client said if he did that on his own and syndicated it, they'd buy into it. That’s how he launched Broker Monitor and that's how we got going.”

Introducing the Internet: “After the internet was introduced, my dad started getting a lot of calls from clients asking what their competitors were doing on their websites, what the experience was like, and what could they do. That is when he asked me to come onboard. I helped launch what we call E-monitor, which is still around. The focus of E-monitor is to look at a brokerage website and the client experience from a capability standpoint. You have to remember what websites looked like in 1996; it was not a pretty scene compared to what we have now. We figured out a way to package the website content and capabilities reviews, how sites were changing over time, and then offered monthly best practice reports, benchmarking various aspects of the customer experience. It's evolved from a channel focus into how to deliver successful customer experiences across all channels. We're able to not only look at the online experience, but we also evaluate the phone and call center experience, we conduct branch mystery shops, and we provide account-opening studies. We cover the entire ecosystem of the customer experience.”

Competitive Benchmarking: Strategy Meets Intelligence: “It's hard to derive and devise a strategy without knowing where you are right now... It's one thing to figure out on a map where you want to go, but if you don't know where you are, you can't plan how to get there. Our work helps clients understand where they are right now and provide insights into how to get to the next level. We've expanded beyond brokerage and wealth managers to banking, mutual funds, credit cards, retirement, and healthcare. We measure the true customer experience – what happens in their day-to-day interactions with firms, down to the ‘runway level’ – and we deliver those insights to our clients. We provide guidance into where our clients need to go to improve it.”

Score!  A Transparent Framework: “We rate websites on about 350 different attributes, and it's not just, yes, they have it or no, they don't. It's more about how well they implement it. When we're assigning a poor, fair, good or excellent grade, each has to meet a certain criteria and we share that with our clients. Our clients can then understand what gaps they need to close and how they need to close it…. It's an evolutionary thing. Frankly, the criteria that we use in an audit this year is going to be different from the criteria we used last year. We have clients who get evaluated every 12 to 18 months because they recognize there's been a lot of innovation in the market.”  

Sometimes It Just Takes a First Step: “We’ve had clients who had a regulatory document requirement, like a welcome kit with a client agreement, and say, ‘I take 20 pages to say what my competitor says in 3. Why?’ They use our research to go back to their compliance department and say, ‘Look, we can't give our clients 20 pages of legalese to go through; they're not going to read it. This is what our competition is doing.’ Sometimes it just takes somebody to take the first step and then the industry will follow.”

Communication Innovations: “The advent of AI and big data is presenting some interesting opportunities for companies to reach out to their clients. We're also seeing multi-directional communication with the sophistication of chatbots. It’s driving more meaningful responses. We've seen one firm even use emojis in their responses to customers and it's all powered by AI behind the scenes. One day you might be talking to Alexa and asking to place a trade through her or something like that… Just think about it from the client experience. You've probably been on the phone and had to enter your social security number, this number, that number only to get to an actual human who then asks the exact same questions. If you can cut all of that upfront out with AI, it will be a huge cost savings for the company and a better experience for the customer.”

To dive into these topics and more, check out our podcast, Reimagining Communications.