Posted: 8th November 2013

Having posited the existence of the particle in 1964, Peter Higgs was awarded the Nobel prize for Physics in October after evidence of the Higgs particle (or the “God Particle”) was discovered in March this year. The Higgs boson is so rare it only appears once in every ten billion particle collisions in the large hadron collider at CERN. Striving to find evidence of something so rare and previously unfound took immense curiosity, will power, huge investment and some of the greatest minds in the world. Can the financial services learn from this endeavor?

The Higgs boson and Higgs field give everything and anything mass; they cause atoms to form rather than spin off quarks and photons into outer space. The missing link between particles and mass is important. Its importance is noted through many bottles of champagne being popped, lots of pats on backs, but, actually, very little impact on us apart from that. But rightly so a prize – in fact $1.2m – and award of great prestige were presented to the scientist who came up with it.

Imagine if staff at financial services firms saw the pursuit of good customer outcomes as scientists do the unknowns of our surroundings. For every ten billion customer transactions or interactions with firms in the digital financial services in 2013, how many sparks of good or bad result? Is your firm rewarding its staff to always look for the next frontier in better customer service, more relevant products or proving the existence of a cause of complaints previously unknown? What if we put huge investment and our greatest minds into discovering ways to create good customer outcomes and avoid bad ones?

A scientist recently quipped how, at dinner parties during the 80s when she mentioned she was a scientist, conversation would dry up and quickly move on to the weather. These days, however, the whole table wants to know about her work. Your complaints team, or any area of your business, may have forgotten or never discovered the delight of exploration for better customer outcomes whether in sales, service or complaints. In fact, your senior management may have forgotten to be genuinely interested in those outcomes and encourage thought, research and action to improve them. Perhaps a Nobel prize for customer service is required.

The Higgs boson was almost impossibly difficult to find but find it they did. Despite this discovery, nothing notable has changed in our lives. Complaints come in every day yet financial firms fail to identify the root causes and stop them. Here, however, the impact on the way firms function, outcomes for customers and the experience they receive would be material. In reality, understanding a complaint and fixing its cause is much more important than finding the Higgs boson. But whilst we think science is cool, it is likely to be particles of no immediate consequence which fill the papers, not a well handled complaint and removal of its cause.

Fact: The Higgs boson is also known as the “God particle”; this is not because it answers questions about the fabric and even meaning of life. It was so aloof that the original paper on it – or the lack of it – was called the “God damned particle”. This was unacceptable to the publishers so they dropped the offending word, leaving its current nickname.

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