Posted: 2nd March 2016

In my conversations with senior members of financial services firms, I often hear of their desire to make their respective organisations 'the John Lewis of financial services'.

It’s certainly an aspiration I can get behind, given the retail giant’s perennial ability to excel in the competitive world of retail. But what exactly is John Lewis doing so well that has them being held aloft by firms who are striving to improve their own reputations and customer satisfaction scores?

The commitments they make to their customers, and their values, are well known and often repeated:

  • Extended guarantees on a wide range of products (quality)
  • Never knowingly undersold (value)
  • Expert and professional services from knowledgeable staff (service)

The retail market is a hostile environment in which to do business. Fierce battles rage between firms looking to increase market share, retain customers and disrupt through innovation. Somehow though, the John Lewis partnership has held a steady keel, holding onto its reputation as an established and trustworthy business in a landscape which has seen institutions as well-loved as Woolworths fall by the wayside.

Translating to Financial Services

Returning to the customer commitments listed above, a very clear message is being articulated that quality, value and service are at the heart of the John Lewis offering. It sounds simple and, as with many things, it works because it is just that: simple.

Underpinning the customer commitments is the fact that John Lewis, quite some time ago, made the decision that customers should come first. However, perhaps the most vital step in following through on their commitments was informing customers of the values they sought to uphold, and holding themselves accountable if they fell short of these values.

It's not by chance that most people can recall John Lewis's brand values; they are repeated by the business's marketing and PR teams and serve almost as a mantra within the business itself. Crucially, they are backed up by real action, for example, in the event that a customer finds an item is cheaper elsewhere (their price match promise), or they wish to return an item for a ‘no-quibble’ refund within 90 days, even if they no longer have the receipt for their item.

Where many retail firms may limit the customer’s future options by refusing to exchange an item without a receipt or enforcing a 14 day grace period for refunds, John Lewis know that the value added by their quality service will likely be repaid in terms of customer advocacy. This is typical of their approach.

So how can financial services firms recreate what John Lewis does? On the surface, it's a hard task without physical products to sell that require a guarantee. Price points can be competitive, but that alone isn't what John Lewis is all about; they aren't knowingly undersold on value (a crucially different concept to price alone).

As we’ve seen, customers’ interpretations of value are not necessarily based on price. The perception of brand and quality can go a long way here (Debenhams languishes behind John Lewis in the department store league table, but has a seemingly similar product offering in many instances).

What is it about your firm that adds value and could be the 'x factor' required to make a good price seem like a great deal? Here, customers’ understanding of the features of the product they’ve bought, plus instilling confidence that any complaints they make will be dealt with timely, fairly and impartially can add real value.

Additionally, vulnerability in customers should be striven to be understood by firms in order for them to protect and continuously improve the experience of those customers. The positive effects of this will extend further than the outcomes for those particular customers – families, friends and colleagues are often engaged when someone has a great experience with an organisation. When you’re offering true value, word most certainly gets around.

John Lewis's third commitment to customers is that of service. Specifically, they are promising that if you are in their store and you speak to an employee, you will be dealt with by a friendly, professional and knowledgeable person. Here we have something that can be more easily transposed, and can actually be seen as an extension of value. Training and competency schemes that focus on customer outcomes and satisfaction are starting to supersede those that look primarily at adherence to policies and processes.

Giving your front-line staff the tools, training and empowerment to deal confidently and effectively with customers is key to the provision of quality service. Firms that woke up to this first are beginning to see the fruits of their labours, and as their reputation grows, so will their customer base and loyalty.

Realistic reflection

John Lewis is often touted as the utopian model that financial services firms seek to emulate. Fundamentally, good culture is the breeding ground for the decisions that will lead to a closer alignment to our idols in retail. The strategic decisions being made internally within firms directly impact the experience of your customers.

An important step is to ensure that from the top to the bottom, all staff members truly understand and live the values of your firm. John Lewis ensure that from the boardroom to the shop-floor, those individuals who aren’t passionate about delivering great value to their customers are either given training to help them or aren’t kept on.

Excellent training, a robust recruitment process and a performance management and appraisal system that prioritises customer outcomes are all at play when it comes to making sure all areas of their organisation move forward in a clear and cohesive manner.

To ensure your best foot is forward, consider what you can do about quality, value and service. Answering these questions from the viewpoint of the customer is what has given John Lewis their formidable and enviable reputation.

Wherever you are on the road to your reputational and cultural goals, a customer-centric culture has to be the aim of firm if it is going to become what it truly aspires to be: the John Lewis of financial services.

Huntswood h purple

Huntswood - Insights


Keeping up-to-date with the latest industry topics and regulatory issues can be quite time-consuming! 

Thankfully, our regulatory experts are here to help you stay on top of it all. Fill in the short form below to receive a monthly round-up of our insight, news and analysis.